What Would The Rabbis Say?

Matthew Wagner writes:

Throughout nearly 2,000 years of exile the Jewish people’s high regard for life has been repeatedly exploited by ransom-seekers. As a result, the Jews have developed an extensive rabbinic literature dealing with the redeeming of hostages. Over the centuries, prominent (and not so prominent) Jews have been kidnapped, imprisoned and ransomed by criminals armed with the knowledge that Jewish sensibilities would not permit a Jewish hostage to remain in captivity.

There were times in history when kidnappings were so common that extreme measures had to be taken. An example was the case of Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg (1215-1293). Rabbi Meir, a major rabbinic figure, was taken hostage by a German vassal named Rudolph who demanded an exorbitant ransom.

The imprisoned rabbi, in an act astounding in its selflessness, issued a ruling from his cell ordering his students and followers not to pay.

True normative Jewish law obligated the Jewish community to free a major rabbinic figure like Rabbi Meir at any cost. But the rabbi knew that if the ransom were paid this time, there would be no end to extortion attempts against the Jewish community. Rabbi Meir died in captivity seven years after he was kidnapped. He was buried on the prison grounds.

Unfortunate stories like these offer modern rabbis precedents that can aid them in deciding present-day challenges. However, Rabbi Meir’s plight is only partially instructive for the decision makers of Israel in the 21st century.

We might be able to learn from Rabbi Meir how to avoid the exploitation of the Jews’ emotional attachment to life. But there are some things that we cannot learn from Rabbi Meir’s story.

We cannot learn from Rabbi Meir or any other Jewish source that it is permissible to endanger Jewish lives to retrieve the body of a Jew. Only for the sake of saving a life is a Jew obligated to go to extreme lengths. Assuming Regev and Goldwasser are dead, there would be no Jewish legal precedent for freeing terrorists in exchange for their bodies.

About Luke Ford

Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist at Avondale College in Australia, Luke Ford moved to California in 1977. He graduated from Placer High School in 1984, reported the news at KAHI/KHYL radio for three years, attended Sierra College and UCLA, was largely bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years, and converted to Judaism in 1993. From 1997-2007, Luke made his living from blogging. Living by Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com), he now teaches the Alexander Technique (moving the way the body likes to move). Lessons cost $100 each and last about 45 minutes. In 2011, Luke completed a three-year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles. His personal Alexander Technique website is Alexander90210.com. Luke is the author of five books, including: » The Producers: Profiles in Frustration » Yesterday’s News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism
This entry was posted in Rabbis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.