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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. asdf

    >Judaism places ultimate value on human life.
    But only if you are a jew otherwise you are worth as much as a goat.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  2. GoRavens

    The land has been for debate for so long, both nationalities have made claims to it over the course of hundreds and thousands of years. How can someone say Israel is stealing the Arabs land? How is it Arabs land? Arabs are just upset that Israel beats them badly in every war so they blame Israel for everything.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  3. rrock

    Arabs deserve a large part of the blame for their plight. However, Israel has little motivation for peace because they carry a bigger stick and they can continue to steal Arab land while blaming the Arabs for the lack of a peace settlement.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Aric

      It is Arab land as much as the United States is American Indian land.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I agree up to a point.

      The israeli's are not hurting nearly as much as the Palestinians in this conflict and can protect themselves and continue hostilities longer, however they still do want peace, they just refuse to negotiate with a group that was formed expressly for nothing less than israeli destruction. I think the Israeli's would like peace very badly (who doesn't) but there's no one to negotiate with.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Aric- actually..it was the British's land. They gave it to make Israel.
      Before that it belonged to the Turks. Really....the "Palestinians" never really had any hold over the land as a nation. Others did and still do.
      I never heard any complaints when Egypt controlled the Gaza or Jordan the West Bank. Did the Palestinians march in the streets then?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Uncouth

      That's a good question, maybe we should ask the refugees that were generously taken in by the egyptians, jordanians, syrians, lebanese, etc....

      Wait......

      October 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • rrock

      Actually I think it is a little more complicated. I think the Palestinians would like their land back that was outside Israel's original borders. They would also like to stop Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. I don't think either is likely to happen.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "maybe we should ask the refugees that were generously taken in by the egyptians, jordanians, syrians, lebanese, etc...."

      The same ppl that won't give any of the refugees citizen status in their nations?

      October 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Uncouth

      Sorry, my fault, apparently sartalics (the sarcastic font) doesn't translate to these message boards.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Heck..I thought you was being sarcastic in another way. Darn comment boards.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  4. Reuven Schlenker

    to the failed Hebrew posing under the name "the jew." Obviously you didn't grow up with us in Europe or ever lived in Israel. We know your type; the mother-my -dog- middle- American Arthur Waskow sheeny. We hate you too ...always sucking up to the goyim.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  5. Meki60

    But that is the conversion ratio, it takes 1027 Pals to equal the worth of 1 Jew, QED.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  6. wr

    The amount of anti-semitism and misinformation on this page is shocking.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  7. Richard F. Kessler

    1,000 Arabs for one Jew. Sounds right; sounds righteous. It sounds like part of Israel's nuclear policy. For every Jew allowed to live in Israel, Israel will emancipate 1,000. Arabs. For every Jew killed by Arabs in Israel, let the price be 1,000 dead Arabs. This is the historic lingua franca of Middle East diplomacy. When each side is ready to make a deal and negotiate, each side can and will. There is nothing U.S. foreign policy can or will do to change this.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  8. TXJack

    If in fact "Judaism places ultimate value on human life." then way are always trying to kill their neighbors and taking their land.
    I'm not pro Palestin or pro Israel. It just sounds like hypocratic to me..

    October 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Notagain

      Were those damn Jordanians crossing the border again?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • sam

      Israel was granted a parcel of land by the UN. Since then they were attacked several times by Arab forces. Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel and they gave them back all the land they had taken through threir own blood. If Israel was after land, why would they give it back. Israel defends itself from terror. Sometimes civilians also are harmed. Hamas hides their terrorists and weapons in hospitals and schools.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • RA

      The answer for that is that you simply don't know the facts, and I really don't blame you for that, as a lot of what is said about Israel in the world is simply not true. Israel is doing its best to avoid taking life on humans. Most of the people that have been killed on the non-Israeli side is a result of protective action. If only Israel didn't care about people life at the non-Israeli side, Israel would be a much safer place. Read this article written by a muslim reporter: http://www.instmed.org/imed/2011/08/turkish-journalist-why-golda-meir-was-right.html.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Diana150

      Sorry, "hypocratic"? Are you talking about medicine and some oath? What does it have to do with this piece???

      October 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  9. krok

    Isreal knows it can just go out an kill another 1.027 Palestinians, so no big deal.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • sam

      Syria has killed approximately 3000 Syrians in a few months. Israel over many years has unfortunately been placed in the position of defending itself and has killed some civilians, not 3000 though.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • soraya

      You are right...They may release them and then the next day kill hundreds of Palestinians...And How many palestinians left in Israeli jails???? Hundreds and hundreds including women and kids under 18....Unfortunately

      October 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • soraya

      You are right...They may release them and then the next day kill hundreds of Palestinians...And How many palestinians left in Israeli jails???? Hundreds and hundreds including women and kids under 18....Unfortunately.I hope there would be no censorship

      October 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Aric

      You contradict yourself- Israel kept 1,027 Palestinian prisoners precisely because Israel does not kill people when given a choice. According to your view, and others on this site, Israel would never take prisoners.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • The Dude

      I think Israel would eliminate every Palestinian in existence if it knew it could get away with it. Unfortunately for Israel the US isn’t the absolute superpower it once was.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  10. anshul

    now Palestine knows well what to do next.
    Some times i think so many other people died in WW2 not only the Jews.Why they are not remembered for their brave efforts why we not talk about solders who lost their life for their country not for the Jews,

    October 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Notagain

      1. If you are going to post in English first learn some English. 2. Have you been living in a bottle? Haven't you ever heard of "The World at War"?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • GoRavens

      I hope you are a young child who has not mastered the English language yet. Regardless of your inability to write, are you blaming WWII on the Jews?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  11. Greg Coleson

    Certainly, that is the truth. They value human life by not strapping bombs to their loved ones to have them disintegrate. How sad. How gross. How loveless and uncaring! 😦

    October 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • mark levy

      yes Greg, and they prefer to bomb the palestinian civilians with our help and our F16 planes, and steal their land inch by inch....!how sad

      October 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  12. DNA

    Terrorists negotiating with terrorists.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Ummm..yeah. Pity your statement is pretty much wrong.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • mark levy

      yes i agree: a terrorist Israeli government negotiating with people who took a soldier and exchange him with teenage prisoners, women and and men in jails . some Palestinians are in jail only for resisting the army who helps the settlers steal their land inch by inch...

      October 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  13. Let's Make a Deal

    1027 rock-throwing peasants for 1 Israeli soldier? Sounds about right...

    October 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • David

      lol!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Syndi Zilcha

      Those "rock throwing peasants" have blown up hotels, restaurants, buses, themselves. They have masterminded some of the worst terrorist attacks in the world.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Savetheworld

    Judaism places ultimate value on human life??? For jews what about the Palestinians? Value, saving it or taking it????

    October 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • sam

      If Israel wanted to take Palistinian life, they could be doing thousands a day. Israel responds to terror and tries to perserve Palistinian life as well. Palistinians hide their terrorists in hospitals and children's schools.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Notagain

      Not that I cannot resist this setup – but it really is about HUMAN life...

      Just could not resist.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Diana150

      The Arab population in Israel, West Bank and Gaza has only grown. In Gaza it has in fact grown threefold. Isn't this odd, if Israelis are "killing all Palestinians"? How to explain such a demographic phenomenon? A miracle?

      October 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  15. Darlene Buckingham

    I agree with Harri and his statement says it all – Why don't they value non-Jewish lives as much? PEace.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • David

      Is it because others are not Gods chosen ones? I kind of think it would be the same in other religions.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      What is wrong with you ppl. Obviously the Hamas led goons are that upset over this. They must have agreed that 1,000 of their ppl was a good trade for one Israeli soldier.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • chuye

      why dont the palestinian terror organizations value the palestinian civilians life and shooting at israel while hiding amid civilians including women and children?

      October 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • sam

      Israel and Jews do value the lives of people who aren't Jewish as well. The idea of being chosen is chosen to serve God by bringing the Torah to the world. It doesn't mean that Jews have the right to abuse anyone. Israel is in a struggle to defend itself. Other countries also unfortunately kill civilians in an attempt to protect themselves.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • mark levy

      to David: who are "god's chosen ones"??the people in israel who still Palestinian land inch by inch?? the settlers who attack palestinian farmers and damage christian+muslim cemeteries in Jaffa?? are these the chosen ones?? you may be one of these "chosen ones" judging your racist comments! who said there were "chosen people"?? the bible? yes. and who wrote the bible?men and women yes. and what if these men and women who wrote the bible had smoked marijuana or were drunk when they wrote it??!!did you ever think about that Mr. David the racist zionist??

      October 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Syndi Zilcha

      Israeli soldiers put themselves in danger every day trying to protect and preserve innocent Palestinian lives as well. They take precautions that no army in the world has ever taken.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  16. David

    Aside from Gilad Shalit, are there other prisoners of war? If so, why was just this one chosen?

    October 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Notagain

      Hamas would find it a dauntingly difficult task to look after more than one. Remember – this is Hamas we are talking about...

      October 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  17. Chuk

    "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,"

    Yeah, any doubt who pulls the strings in America?

    However, it's good to have the young kid home. I have to assume his family misses him as much as the families of all those Palestinians who are to be released miss their loved ones.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • mark levy

      yes i am glad that this young soldier s back home to his family, and alive.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  18. komododr

    Hahahaha – Israel is smart. It cost a lot of money to house and feed 1k peopele. By releasing them they now have a chance to kill them.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Dr. J. Catskill

      Well-said!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Syndi Zilcha

      Educate, allow visitors, allow Red Cross visits. Everything Gilad Shalit never had while in captivity.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  19. Harri

    Wish they placed value on non jewish lives

    October 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  20. Bo

    @ Chuckels&Hippy, (I forgot, we can't use certain words, so my posts were cencored) If you are still around. I guess it is a matter opinon, and I suppose I have to let the Jewish people have their way. Solomon's Temple was destroyed by Babylions, after 70 years the Jewish people re-built that temple. Some people say Ezra's Temple. This temple, Ezra's, was disassembled, stone by stone and rebuilt by King Herod on a much larger and glorious scale with even a new foundation, it was refered to as the second temple, it is assumed, because some Jewish people didn't want to attatch Herod's name to it. So, to me, there were three temples, it depends on how you want to precieve Herod's Temple. If compared to Ezra's Temple, Ezera's temple was insignificant. If you had a 1 bedroom house and you tore it down, then, using some of the material in the 1st house,built a 4 bedroom house is it the same house?

    October 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • hippypoet

      no no no.... Herod added to the existing temple which was the second temple... did you check out that site i tossed you?
      http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/index.html great site for info on history of Israel and the Jewish people.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Ok, now it's starting to become clearer.

      Technically if it's dissasembled and then rebuilt on a larger scale, that's not really counted as "destruction", the same way the first and teh second tabernackle (heck either of them I guess) were disassembled and reassembled somewhere else isn't destroying them.

      There have only ever been two temples that are recognized by the jewish people.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • hippypoet

      in truth Herod would have never dismantled the temple. that would have caused a riot and he would have been killed. Now what he did do was to take down a tower which was built to view the city, he then used the stone and more from elsewhere to construct an addition to the temple – so he never really touched the temple for use in his add on, he took from an add on- well destroyed the tower, and it wasn't even really a tower, more like high viewing platform. You can see it in paintings of Herods temple, he used the idea and shape of the tower to build his temple and palace!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • mark levy

      everybody has his/her own version of history! we were not there and only books can tell us. but various books tell contradicted versions of history!! the racist zionist keep saying that God gave them the land...!!did god say that? no! did a human write that?yes! maybe that human was high or drunk when he wrote that book!! oh by the way, God just told me yesterday that the West Bank+Gaza+east Jerusalem belong to a Palestine state, like the WHOLE world (except the USA+zionists) says!

      October 12, 2011 at 2:51 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.