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October 12th, 2011
09:23 AM ET

Shalit swap based on 'ultimate value of human life,' rabbis say

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN)–
Israel's government approved an extraordinary deal Tuesday night - agreeing to release more than 1,000 Palestinians from prison, including hundreds serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis, in exchange for a single slender young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But the exchange of 1,027 inmates for a single captive does make sense in a Jewish context, Rabbi Arik Ascherman explained Wednesday.

"Judaism places ultimate value on human life. Therefore in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish law, redeeming captives trumps just about everything else," said Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights. "It takes priority over anything else you can possibly do."

Jews around the world greeted the news that Shalit would be released after spending more than a fifth of his life in captivity with overwhelming joy, said William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America.

"We have prayed for his release. We have met with his parents, we have sat with his family in their tent outside the prime minister's residence, we have marched for Gilad's release," he said.

"When I announced the news of Gilad's forthcoming release at a reception with Jewish leaders on Capitol Hill this afternoon, it was met by tears, applause, and a spontaneous prayer of thanks," he told CNN late Tuesday.

"Jews across the world have been pining for Gilad Shalit's release for over five years," he added.

Many have left an empty chair in honor of him at their seders, the family meal marking the beginning of Passover, Daroff said.

"We are indeed thankful that Gilad Shalit will soon return to his family and to the Jewish people. It is long overdue," he said.

But the exchange is not without controversy, said Ascherman.

"There has been a very, very difficult debate about this and similar cases over the years," he said.

There is a question in Jewish law about whether it's moral to free a captive in a deal that could potentially endanger other lives - as many Israelis fear will happen when Palestinians who have killed Israelis are released.

Ascherman sees the benefit of the deal.

"On the one hand, we have somebody who - if he isn't redeemed - faces death or danger or captivity, versus a theoretical possibility that someone could be harmed if these people go back to terror," he said.

"I would say it is possible to redeem the prisoner you definitely know," he argued. "But it's certainly a terrible dilemma and Israelis are coming down on both sides."

The spiritual leader of Hezbollah praised Israel for its dedication to repatriating its citizens, dead or alive, during a previous exchange, in 2004.

"We have a fierce enemy in Israel, but I stand here in respect for the enemy that is concerned about his captives and bodies of his soldiers and works diligently day and night addressing those concerns," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said as Israel handed over hundreds of prisoners for a kidnapped businessman and three bodies.

"We should acknowledge positives in our enemy when it exists. Whatever their motive is, the fact that they are concerned about their captives, their dead or the bodies of their dead is something to be respected," the Hezbollah leader said.

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum is not certain the swap for Shalit is wise.

He too cites Jewish law, or halacha, and says the literature is so vast that there's no clear answer.

"Unfortunately there is an abundance of halachic literature about the redemption of captives," he said.

He cited the example of the 13th-century German Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, who refused to allow the Jewish community to pay a ransom for him when he was held by the Emperor Rudolph.

"He feared that his ransom would encourage any cash-strapped person to grab a hostage. You can't create an incentive for kidnapping," the rabbi said.

"He did not allow the community to redeem him. He died in jail," said Rosenberg, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and writer. "The idea is that you shouldn't encourage further kidnappings."

The precedent still applies, he argued.

"You see in any Latin American country in which captives are ransomed, it becomes a major criminal activity," he said.

But he, too, circled back to the value Judiasm places on human life.

"However one arrives at the balance in this case, the redemption of captives is a tremendous value," he said.

He said one of Israel's most important rabbis, Shas party spiritual mentor Ovadiah Yosef, had backed the Shalit exchange, and that government ministers must have discussed it with him before it was announced.

"The Shas party would not have voted for it otherwise," he said.

"A friend of mine in the gym the other day asked me why so many government ministers have been going to see Rabbi Yosef," he said. "This has obviously been in the works for some time."

CNN's Paul Colsey and Michael Schwartz contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Ethics • Israel • Judaism

soundoff (598 Responses)
  1. Jason

    Most of the middle east is semitic and its soo surprising for me to see that the biggest Anti–Semites are the Jews themselves, preeching hate and violence against the arab neighbors.
    Most of the prisoners in Israel should have never been in jail in the first place, this whole media blitz is just a show for Israel to lie about how nice the Israelis are, they're not talking about how most of them are political prisoners that went to jail for speaking out against Israel, I wonder why CNN doesnt bring that up

    October 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • mary

      Antisemitism is defined as discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews. Not against semitic people living in the Middle East. PRetty sure you know that, and if you don't, now you do.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Anti-semitism has nothing really to do with Semetic ppl. The term was coined in the 1800's and was directed only at the Jews. Even the United States govt recognizes anti-semitism as a hatred directed only to the Jews.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @Uncouth Swain you again show yourself to be dumb... the word Semetic was not coined in the 1800's... it is a term first used around the roman times to talk about the peoples of the stepps.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Hippy- I will do you a favor...look up anti-semitism and Wilhelm Marr. I willl await your apology.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • hippypoet

      lol here , do me a favor, shut up, then look up semetic people and language.... the term anti semetic may have become popular in the 1800 but the word and its meaning come from a world ago! now shoo fly!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      didums get your feelings hurt? I am sorry you decided to make a dumb statement and was wrong. Maybe next time you'll pause before writing.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      now...let's review. Semetic is a term that was used to describe a language group and those that spoke it. No one ever said anything to the contrary.
      The term Anit-semetic came up. It's a term that was created in the 1800's. The term DID NOT exist before that time. It was directed only toward the Jews and not toward all ppl that could be connected to the semetic languages.

      Yes...I helped you hippy...you needed it 😉

      October 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • hippypoet

      so i guess you won't be getting the correct answer then... well thats ok, i wasn't going to post again to anything you have to say untill you show proof of your statements of semetic 1800's beginings!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Hippy..you don't read very well do you? I never once said that ther term "semetic" came from the 1800's...not once.
      The term "anti-semetic" did. Through Wilhelm Marr and Moritz Steinschneider the term anti-semetic was created. It was always used toward Jewish ppl. Now if you can show where the term anit-semetic was used toward Arabs prior to the last 4-5 decades I would like to see. For real, because I never seen one yet.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "The Way to Victory of the Germanic Spirit over the Jewish Spirit" by Marr (1880) used the term anti-semetism. Does that help?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i will search till i find proof but i can tell you that when the romans marched in and started killing the jews and other in the judean region the term was used then, it has been found in the historical record, used by the jews towards the romans for being anti jewish and and anti towards there culture. i will search now!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Fair enough. Heck..if you find it..it would be interesting to see. I've learned it the way I have posted it. Even studied it in my Nazi Germnay 333 course. I know that the Romans probably hated the Jews and had their own words for it probably. But I just never heard of a latin form of anti-semitism.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • hippypoet

      ok well thats kinda sad because the word anti is latin as well as the oranginal word semetic.. and i don't mean this as insulting.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      lol...you would think that somewhere in their many many centuries..they might have put the two together somewhere.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      oddly enough...going through the dictionary I did see that semitic is latin...neo-latin. Neo-latin consists of words that are made after the 1500's. So the term semitic is barely 500 years old in that sense.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Gotta Laugh

      I am torn on this: I am anti-semi quite often - they hog the road and cause dangerous situations; but then again, I do appreciate having products delivered to local outlets 🙂

      October 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i am sad.. as i can find plenty of anti jewish remarks from all over dating from 2300 to today... i can't seem to find anything that comes out and states anti semitic..... but i know i have a book at my home library that has a passage, however the more i look into it, i find that only the romans would have used anti jewish type words untill the latter years when semitic ideals became known as only jewish ideals.. SO you are correct that the use of the "term" anti semitic was used against the jews from the end of the 19th century. however i will add that because the latin speaking world was controled by laws of language usage, i don;t know if you have ever studied latin but it has more laws then any other spoken tongue i have ever heard of. so in that light, only a use of the general and more ignorant person would have said semitic and only meant it towards jews. I will still look thou. I have seen it before.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      I took two years of latin in high school...it does have a lot of rules.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  2. D

    Not sure which is worse...the Palestinians making the demands or the Israelis agreeing to it.

    Unbelievable.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Once they have Shalit...they'll bomb the region he came from.
      And heck..those 1,000 got caught easily enough the first time...they will be caught again if they didn't learn their lesson.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  3. Howard

    I'm very surprised at a number of the comments in here. its quite sad to see such Anti Semitism still existing today.
    I can at least take comfort in the fact that, as evidenced by the success of many Jews, and the love of same by the general public, these horrible comments are the ramblings of a rather vocal and hateful minority.
    With each generation, there are fewer and fewer bigots. I hope your children learn from life and not their small minder bigoted parents.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • D

      Not to mention the ones that hide behind their computers and refuse to say it to your face. At occupy Wall Street on Friday, right before they did the services for Kol Nidre, I stood next to 2 guys and one said "Oh look, its the Jews, what the hell are they complaining about now?" When I butted in, explained the reason for the gathering and asked if he had any questions..he turned bright red, lowered his head, and slithered away.

      Cowards...every single one of them!

      October 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Ojay

      Just becasue I don't agree with the Jews and there handling of situations in the middle east, doesn't mean I am anti-semitic. I have no hate for the jewish people as a whole, I hate their actions against others.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  4. Ann

    One Jewish life is worth more than any other, so go for it Israel. Be strong & keep faith.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Nobody you know

      That's disgusting.

      You make me sick.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • k

      I agree

      October 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Partha

      This is the exact arrogance that lot of people don't like in Jews. This religion based superiority complex should end. Yes, follow your faith, but don't have to belittle any other.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @oh the irony- what is the point in making an ignorant statement about a whole ppl? Was their a point?

      October 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • dude.....

      The US was NEVER for " all people being created equal", Even when that quote was written only rich white land-owning males could vote in this country...Women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Indians were secluded from that... You need to read "the people's history of the united states" by howard zinn..

      October 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  5. CSnord

    This deal had to be made because leaving Gilad to his fate was not an option. The Israelis had to get him away from the animals holding him. The release of hundreds of potentially very dangerous terrorists and criminals is a problem and eventually will likely cost Israeli lives. Also, this action has established the value of an Israeli soldier at 1,000 Palestinian terrorists and will embolden the Palestinian terrorist leaders to capture more Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips. Still, the deal had to be done.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      What about the criminals stealing the West Bank? Why do you think these people are so angry?

      October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  6. bill

    the life of one israeli really is worth a thousand arabs. I knew it to be true, but here we have it in writing. Divide all middle east casualty figures by 1000 to find out actually how many people died.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  7. D

    Its too bad Gilad knows nothing of this deal, he'd likely give his life so those terrorists stay in prison for life.

    Although, I am sure the real bad ones will be taken care off eventually.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Garnet69

      Agreed.....I wouldn't want 1000 killers and/or potential killers released for me, either.

      October 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  8. A thousand eyes for one

    I hope Israel has no more prisoners because they have just opened the door for Hamas: Cross the border, kidnap an innocent Jew, and Israel will release 1000 prisoners to get that person back. How about an alternative approach for Hamas instead? Cross the border and kidnap one of my citizens. You have one hour to return him unharmed or I start executing prisoners every hour on the hour. Harm my citizen? I will execute 100 prisoners. I wonder how long it would be before the Jewish prisoner would be returned unharmed.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • EG

      I hear what you're saying; my guess is this is a diplomatic exception and it puts Israel in a positive light as they are making a statement that negotiations can be possible. But I do agree w/you that it should not be a precedent in terms of dealing w/Hamas. The Israelis have been dealing w/these and other terrorists for a long time. They'll figure out the proper responses and solutions.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • oh the irony

      ok tough guy, LMFAO!!!! how are y'all any different from the arab "terrorists"? you're just as barbaric as your arab counsins. the only reason you speak so boldly is because we Americans are stupid enough to continue to financially & politically support you animals. what we Americans need to do is entirely remove ourselves from y'alls little domestic disagreement between you & your arab cousins so that y'all can just slaughter each other into extinction. our support for you animals is the exact reason that our nation was attached by your damn arab cousins back in 2001. go back where you came from & leave America alone!!!!!!!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  9. bsitz

    Is that what Israel's army looks like? No wonder they need our help....

    October 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • VampireJack

      Yup – and the US army is so powerful it needs Great Britain and other European countries to help them out every time they invade a foreign land....

      Remember also that Israel doesn't really get any military aid from the US.
      The weapons they get are BOUGHT from the US so are keeping your economy running.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • ERWEEN

      Israel has compulsory service for all citizens. So, no, they aren't all going to the same. Plus, he just spend the last 5 YEARS of his life being held captive!

      October 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  10. Anne

    1 to 1027 is a fitting proportion for the amount of Israelis to Palestinians being held in captivity.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      It's way low. Should be 1 to 10,000.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Or it could mean, to Israel, one Jew is worth more than a thousand Palestinians. They Value Life as long as it is Jewish and Israeli.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  11. citizenUSA

    "On the one hand, we have somebody who – if he isn't redeemed – faces death or danger or captivity, versus a theoretical possibility that someone could be harmed if these people go back to terror".

    If this is the Jewish way I'm glad I'm something else although it's great for the soldier. These prisoners are already guilty of causing harm. Does Israel really think they'll just go home and watch TV? No one knows for sure but I'd bet they'll be outraged for being locked up and will cause more harm. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      The F-16 pilots are out of reach of the Palestinian jails.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Moosa

    I only wish if the jews had also bailed out the life of Jesus, the son of Mary, 2000 years ago from the Romans. After all he was their Rabbi. Was Jesus life not worth saving???

    October 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • EG

      Get over it. It was 2,000 years ago. You think Jesus is upstairs worrying about that right now, with everything else going on? People who are "religious" 24/7 and obsess over scriptures and rules and commandments are out of touch w/reality.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Way Smarter than you

      With out the death of Jesus you would be a sinner. He died for your sins and for the salvation of your soul. You are a crappy christian if you don't know this and accept it. Shame on you.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Chuckles

      he was also a trouble maker and being a shmuck. There was also the tiny issue of the entire roman army controling the area and the jews didn't exactly have anything to haggle with.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  13. Ashy

    I just wonder if it was a Christian Israeli if they would have made the same deal.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • ReplytoAshy

      They have done so to get Bedouins and Druze freed, too. Look up Azzam Azzam.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Ashy

      Great! I did not say they wouldn't and I was unaware if they have...

      October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Aye

      I am a christian Israeli. The value of human life has nothing to do with being a Jew or not. I am a mother expected to send my son to the army one day. All Israeli's go to the army. How can a mother send her son if she is not fully trust that he will return home one day? How can a soldier go without knowing that EVERYTHING will be done to bring him home safely? This is why it is so important to bring any soldier, dead or alive, back to his family. (and forgive me for saying this, what would a Rabby understand in how if feels? they are the only ones that do not part take in guarding the land of Israel.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  14. kayass

    "judaism places ultimate value on human life" – on Jewish life because 1000 palestinians woth one Jwish soldier

    October 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  15. SCAtheist

    Their prayers were answered. It wasn't the prisoner swap it was God.

    Life is so precious as long as it's Jewish.

    Nice that some Palestinian children got to go home too.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • EG

      Children? Ah, the atheists....always operating from a victim mentality. Well done. Why don't you take a visit over there and see what really goes on before you start a pity-party for the Palestinians.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      I'm not anbody's victim. I just can't stand stupid theocracies like Israel or Iran or anyone else.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Sal

      Hey EG why do you think the Atheists side with the Arabs and not the jews? They have no vested interest in either religion or peoples. Maybe because the Arabs are victims of genocide and the jews are the modern nazis.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • BGuserette

      The 'childred" you are referring are those who try to wipe America along with everyone not Muslim out of existence..

      October 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  16. Sagas

    Why are you asking the Rabbis about value of palestianian lives. Did any muslim value live of an infidel. Slowpokesssss!

    October 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • EG

      Great feedback, Sagas. Your true colors and the colors of the Muslim world come out in full force. Islam is a religion of war, hatred and death.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  17. Benyamin

    This makes me so happy!

    October 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  18. Colin

    1,000 to 1. I think it's fair to say that Hamas won that negotiation!

    October 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • EG

      Hurray! You can go out and celebrate in Detroit.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • CSnord

      It is about the appropriate exchange rate for Israelis and Palestinians. There is equivalent value in the deal.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  19. Blergh

    Amazing how jewish people think they are always right, always the good ones. makes me sick...

    October 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • EG

      Not amazing and not suprising that you choose not to capitalize the J. You're an anti-Semite. Jews are not ALWAYS right or ALWAYS wrong. It's a cloudy, grey situation. Try living over there before you make assumptions about what's really going on.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      Jewish Persecution Complex is alive and well (we're all anti-semites)

      October 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • simon

      Hundreds of the Palestinian prisoners were in prison for murder, including planning suicide bombings and other
      deadly terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians on buses, in cafes, at restaurants. One of the women being released, Amina Mona, lured a lovestruck Israeli teenager via the internet to a location where waiting terrorists butchered him. Can you imagine the outcry here in the U.S. for someone like that being released? Or allowing the release of people who planned suicide bombings or airplane shoe bombings?

      October 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  20. EG

    I don't want to see any more complaining on here about Israel not wanting to negotiate. This is a HUGE step. It's up to Abbas to come back to the table now.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.