October 12th, 2011
09:23 AM ET

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

By Richard Allen Greene, 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. Shaun C

    So, a single Israeli soldier is worth over a 1,000 Palestinians. I didn't realise the Palestinians held themselves so cheaply.

    October 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  2. Hummus is people!!!

    Hummus is people! It's PEOPLE!!!!

    October 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  3. hmnd

    This is really sad how religions and in the middleast and politics have been intertwined and leave little room for real negotiation to bring about peace. The Jews and the Muslims both are hanging on to their beliefs and won't budge no matter what and end up killing each other. Many innocent lives lost over religion. As a Muslim I was taught to respect other religions and beliefs. Love your neighbor and get along. But this is really sad!

    October 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  4. Avihai

    the full story only 8:20 min

    October 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • mycroft


      October 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • proud kafir

      That is an incredible video. I believe that in 1979 when the Iranians took American hostages the US should have landed troops on their shore. Then march until they free the hostages or completely descimate theur country. And then leave. Forget nation building. Let them suffer as a warning.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Traveller

      & here's the Palestinian story in quite a few videos. Enjoy.
      On youtube:
      "Brutal eviction of Palestinian family in Jaffa caught on tape"
      "OCCUPATION 101 (sub.: AR, DA, FR, EL, HR, HU, NL, PL, PT, SK, SL, SR)"
      "Gaza – PLAIN LANGUAGE"
      "Common knowledge Gaza 101 part 1" & 2
      "Rabbi: Zionists have hijacked Judaism"
      "Jewish mom realises Zionist upbringing is racism"
      "feeling the hate in New York""feeling the hate in Tel Aviv"
      "Israeli soldiers breaking bones"
      "Israel is not worth an American life or Dollar"
      "if only Americans knew what Israel is doing""Mort dans les bras"
      "the murder of Mohamed al daru video that you tube doesn't want you to see"
      "Injustice. Muslims are terrorists?"
      "from Gaza to Obama 1"through to
      "from Gaza to Obama 11"
      "Exposing Israel (must see!)"
      "Israeli soldiers beat a palestinian child"
      "A MUST SEE ACT OF BRAVERY : a brave Palestinian child chasing a coward IDF israeli soldier"
      "I wish , I 0nly wish !! by Palestinian children"
      "A MUST SEE ACT OF BRAVERY : a brave Palestinian child attacks aTerrorist Israeli Soldier"
      "Syrian Boy speaks out in pro-palestinian protest in syria"
      "IDF Terrorists"

      October 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  5. Michael

    Look at that photo. What was IDF thinking sending that dude to the battle field? He's got "Please kidnap me" written all over him.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Avihai

      said the ultimate solider

      October 12, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • mister midnight

      we have no choice Michael....while kids that looks like that in America worry about their college, or next I-pod, our kids go in harms way...no disprespect for the US, none at all, but for those who cry about US dollar backing Israel, it's Israeli blood that get shed in the fight for democracy, yes DEMOCRACY, I served in the IDF with my muslim Israeli borthers....

      October 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Tell it to Audie Murphy.

      October 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Mr. Mid: Do not mean to offend. I have unbounded admiration for the IDF. I consider Israel to be the best political and military ally of the U.S. I also consider America's ham-fisted interference in Israeli affairs to have lengthened your struggle
      and have given strength to your enemies. I may be a Christian but I pray for Israeli peace and prosperity. You guys have earned it.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  6. Haroon Sahibi

    Why is no one looking at the bigger picture!!! Three generations of Palestenians are living in refugee camps with no land to return to and no one even mentions them. And who can claim that all 1000 guys were all thugs. God knows how many of them were serving long prison sentence just because of being a Palestenians!!

    October 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Sarah

      Haroon- that is not the "bigger picture" that is a bunch of liberal BS the poor palestinians that are in jail actually committed crimes and are considered a danger to society and are therefore behind bars where they should belong. And by the way Israel is actually the most democratic country in the middle east where Arabs are free to hold office etc. Please name me one Muslim country where Christians or Jews can live without fearing for their lives...

      October 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • sam

      Nobody is in prison for being Palistinian. There are Palistinian members of Knesset and Palistinian judges serving in the judiciary. The camps you refer to have been maintained by the Arab countries to use these pour people at pawns against Isreal. It's an outrage. King Hussein of Jordan called it criminal

      October 12, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Michael

      Haroon, your point is 100% valid. Educated people in the US and around the world are aware of the obvious injustice suffered by Palestinians. But US media and the readers they 'inform' are imbued with the Zionist version the story. This bias is fortunately also now clear to the educated people around the world, so there is hope.

      October 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • GoRavens

      What about the Jews that were refugees from Iran and Yemen? Nobody cares to mention Jews being driven out of those countries.

      October 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • sami

      You're right, God knows how many are in jail because they are Palestinian. 0. Now you know too.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • jonathan stahl

      Palestinians need to be realistic. Regardless of whether they were forced out in 1948 or left to avoid Israel's war of independence in 1948, Israel is never going to allow 3 million plus Palestinians to return. If a separate Palestinian state is formed that state will never accept back all 3 million refugees either as that would be financially devastating. An alternative to their plight must be found and the most likely one is absorption into the larger Arab world.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  7. chad

    1. If all of Israel disarmed tomorrow, what would happen?
    2. if all of the Arab world disarmed tomorrow, what would happen?

    Answer: if Israel unilaterally disarmed they would be annihilated within 48 hours. If the Arab world unilaterally disarmed, nothing would happen, peace in the region.

    Israel wants peace.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • William Demuth


      You are delirious! Some Born Again automoton mouthing silliness.

      October 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • World

      @Chad- Right on!

      October 12, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  8. Bribarian

    Seems pretty clear Israel is doing a lot of kidnapping as well, they have plenty of prisoners to trade don't they?

    October 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • sam

      I guess everyone in prison was kidnapped

      October 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • sami

      Yeah, really clear. All people in jail are kidnapped. I did not know that. Wow.

      October 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  9. elle

    This is a triumph of the value of life - too many real, thinking, feeling, decent and unique human beings have been sacrified to somebody's thought process and power to inflict it on others. I see this as progress and acknowledgement of the hope that comes with empathy, the ability to see the truth behind reams of screed and sophistry.

    A human life is the measure of meaning and value. One life is as valuable as a thousand. I hope that the joy emanating form this logical, humane act will open the door to forgiveness and freedom for many more people. How many families have been destroyed over "a matter of principle" - and the human race is nothing if not a family. I hope Shalit lives a long and productive life, and that the prisoners freed find positive pupose in their lives too, each of them. Stereotyping and lumping all those of one belief system or nationality or culture into a some arbitrary category dehumanizes all of us.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  10. buddget

    the 1000 that were released will be dead or back in some prison in a year. nothing will change the 1000 year grudge has altered their DNA

    October 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Absolutionis

      Israel has only been around for less than a century. This Israeli grudge you're talking about isn't even a grudge, it's just nationalistic greed and oppression of others.

      October 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  11. Stew

    How soon before the next Israelidieri is kidnapped and ransomed for another 1,000 terrroists?

    October 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  12. John Richardson

    They've done numerically unbalanced swaps before. I have a hard time seeing any wisdom in this.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Equation

    1024 bits make a kilobyte.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Correct Equation

      They make 128 bytes actually ...which is about an eighth of a kilobyte ...but i see the humorous point ur trying to make

      October 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  14. ddee

    So, what happened to "we don't negotiate with terrorists?" Now the palestinians know, kidnap a jew and get 1,000 of your buddies released from jail. Stupid move Israel. Expect many more kidnappings.

    October 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  15. Darketernal

    I think its simply because the israeli army was embarrassed by his capture that they do everything in power to get him back. Once he's back they really are going to kill palestinians in a massive way.

    October 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      It's been five years. If they wanted to...Israel could have started sla_ughtering everyone up and down the gaza strip and west bank to get him back. But they didn't. They have been trying to negot_itate with the thugs that kidnapped him.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  16. Hans-R

    What is dangerous is if israel goes after the kidnapers after full release and try to #¤%& them. That would just lead to more problem in israel. I bet they are crazy enough to dojust that. Revenge has allways been humans worst weapon.

    October 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Ray Arica

    No One Talks about Turkish Government Broker Involvement on this Israeli Soldiers release, Thank You Turkey!

    October 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Mkat2

      Agreed! I'm not Jewish, but, I do think ONE Jewish soldier IS worth more than thousands of Hamas thungs! Peace & blessings to young Shalit & his family!

      October 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mkat2

      Typo! The word should be THUGS!

      October 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  18. Bkny360

    Why do we as Americans concern ourselves with Israel and their captured soldier? Don't we have our own issues at home to take care of? What about the thousands of our soldiers that died or were wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq? Let's focus on our citizens! Enough of playing a big brother to the rest of the world!

    October 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • John Smith

      That's because in America we care for all human beings, not just the ones in our close little nitch.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • J3sus Sandals

      BS John Smith. If that were true, the wealth in America would be distributed so that poverty was a thing of the past. America cares no more for the well being of its citizens than it does for the dissolution of Al Queda. It's a society where survival of the fittest is the highest virtue and stupidity and ignorance are not only encouraged but rewarded.

      October 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  19. asdf

    Whats messed up is even in Israel the psycho right wingers are street fighting with the more moderate jews. Demographics are also not on the jews side.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  20. Bo

    @Hippy I'm not sure which Jewish website I was on, but it was a Jewish website where I (re)learned that Herod disassembled Ezra's Temple and rebuilt the temple that the Romans destroyed in AD 70. So, like I said, it's a matter of opinion. There were 3 temples. The Jewish people concider the third temple as the second temple, I assume because Herod used the same materials. But, Ezra did the same thing, he used the same stones to rebuild the 2nd temple that was used in Solomon's. Temple. And, as I said, let the Jewish people have it their way, if they want to think of it as the 2nd temple, so be it.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Chuckles


      It isn't think and believing the fact into existance. Your paragraph should reverse it to say that if YOU want to believe there were more than 2 temples, so be it, but there were only 2. I promise you this.

      October 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i yes agree there was an addition to one temple... the second one by Herod. And if you really wanna argue the existence of a third i say you argue the fact that there is a third temple on the mount at this very moment...just not a jewish one!

      on, anyone know what happened to Uncouth Swain.... i proclaimed his/her right on the anit – semitic thing untill i got home and search thru my library. LOL then its on again!

      October 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Elsewhere Hippy stated, "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..."

      October 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
About this blog

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.