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. wondering123

    9000 Palestinian prisoners, some are children. List or no list, the indiscriminate methods of arrest and the false charges are baseless. Every time I cross an Israeli check point trying to get to work to put food on the table, I say my prayers because the odds are I will be imprisoned, detained, or harassed. My crime, being a Palestinian and hate Israelis.....if this justifies imprisonment, guilty as charged, and proud of it...

    October 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Nimi

      He wondering – do you feel like talking to an Israeli? HATE doesn't have to be blind. Before you decide that you hate an entire people, you might want to chat with as many of them as possible first. Perhaps you hate a few Israelis and perhaps I dislike a few members of Hamas, but I know that I don't hate all Palestinians... So if you're up for it, then reply to this with your email or a way of getting in contact with you and I'll do so.

      October 16, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  2. Volker

    Regarding ""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."

    Yeah, great. Here's an old commie byword I learnt in school back in east germany: "When your enemy praises you, you've done something wrong."

    October 16, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • maher

      Well, many Palestinians praise and respect Israel as leading state in high-tech. Does this mean they're doing wrong? I think you comment is just very wrong!

      October 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  3. Vapid


    October 16, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  4. Hatezionists

    Why Israeli soldier worth that much? The simple answer is that the soldier was assigned to kill palestinians and the Palestinians arrested by Israel were innocent protesters. The Palestinians were innocents facing Tanks with stones.

    October 16, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Lior

      Oh, c'mon! Have you even read the list of prisoners to be released? Most of those guys were planners of terrorist attacks on civilian populations. Sure, Israel does a lot of war crimes and hurts and arrests innocents, but they usually get released pretty quick. The prisoners Hamas wants are killers that acknowledge themselves as killers, they just they did it for a righteous cause. Don't lie to yourself, Hamas are killers, not peaceful protesters

      October 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  5. Uri

    For those who still didn'\t get the news: The list consists of convicted terrorists.
    Are those just simple people who Israel saught to arrest for no reason? No no. These are REAL TERROROSTS with BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS – almost all have killed civilians in the palestinian "struggle".

    So what if they are all released? The palestinians remain where they were – a ridiculous bunch of people with no history and no normal leadership. The Israelis, however, show how they are not afraid to release those dogs of people in order to prove that anything will be done to get its soldiers back home.

    B.T.W – Gilad Shalit was an ordinary soldier. Never murdered or bombed or knifed anyone. He was kidnapped for the sole purpose of freeing palestinian murderes. That is the essence of HAMAS – lie to your people, send them off to die in pointless missions and in the end lie that you won in your fight just because (some of) these peoplego back home.
    Personaly, if that was my home – I'd stay in jail

    October 16, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Sam

      Convicted by who? Israel? Haha! Anyone resisting the illegal occupation of Palestine by Jewish immigrants from Europe are considered terrorists by those same immigrants. Palestinian kids throwing rocks at Israeli tanks are considered terrorists!
      Let a human rights organization or an international tribunal come and convict these prisoners and they'll all be freed on the basis that they are resisting (whether violently or peacefully) the occupation of their country.
      Israel convicting palestinians of terrorism carries as much weight as Nazis convicting the French resistance fighters as terrorists when all they were doing was fighting an invader out of their land.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Anthony

      All one has to do is read your statement. It is so seathing with racism and assumption and ultimate belief in your superiority as a race, it is little to no surprise you feel that way. What a pathetic way to live your life, sad even; upset all the time, grasping onto hate when any other answer might actually ask for a little humility. Even a dog can feel humility.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  6. mike

    These 1000 are not a group of do-gooders. Whats going to happen when one of them kills another innocent 10 people. Why not a 1 for 1 trade? I know these guys are worthless as actual humans, but even as camels the potential for future harm makes this a questionable deal.

    October 16, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  7. the south star

    Everyone seems to be missing the point....its not about this soldier or the 1000 prisoners (many more have died and continue to die on both sides of the conflict). This is a political move. After the UN bid made by Abbas for a state and most of the world supporting him (at least in principle), the Jewish govt.. (and i must say 'Jewish' instead of' Israeli. as was clearly specified by Netanyahu many times in his speech at the UN saying again and again that this is a 'Jewish ' state.) is trying very hard to divert the issue and score some sympathy both back home and world over, saying how much they value human life and how much concerned they are. These are regular political tactics and the people going crazy over pro or anti israeli comments are just not looking at reality here.

    October 16, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  8. bks

    I was surprised to read that Jewish value human life more than any thing else. Human life is same whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian etc. If that is the case then killing people in Lebanon , Gaza , West bank or any where else goes totally the Jewish views as mentioned in the article. This is called double standard.

    October 16, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Idiot

      You moron, it was describing the prisoner exchange from a Jewish viewpoint. Human life is human life, and you are just trolling and being an anti-Semitic loser.

      October 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • mike

      Israel has always wanted peace because of their committment to human life, whether Israeli, Jewish, Arab or anything else. They have always strove to avoid war and are constantly trying to make peace with their neighbors

      October 16, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Ignatius

      You are correct human life being valued is not an monopoly held by those of the jewish faith. The Israeli government and many posters here try to devalue the lives of Palestinians. It should read they value an Israeli life over all others; many here calling the Palestinian prisoners non-human. Just read the other posts; you can pity those who type this hate against all non-jews, then they call other posters antisemitic, very sad.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Anthony

      So wait, he is an anti-semite for pointing out a double standard that is clearly established in the article? Please justify the double standard, this time without falling back on the "anti-semite" crutch, because it is honestly just pathetic and sad.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  9. Frank

    Do only Jews have names? Why do we not know the name of any Palestinian prisoners? Do the Jews not consider them worthy of a name, or human? Obviously, neither does CNN. We must stop the dehumanizing of the Palestinians by the Jews and the American press. Palestinians are people, and they do have names. Use them! Out of common decency. Stop the racism and journalistic apartheid. Please speak with your editors and reporters; tell them to address the Palestinian people by their names, and to report of individuals in prison in Israel. Many Americans support the Palestinians and not zionism. You are not being fair when you only report news in a zionist fashion. Americans deserve a balanced reporting of news from the Middle East. Right now, we are not getting that from CNN.

    October 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Idiot

      The Pals do have names, it's just that there are over 1000 of them, and they have already named a few in other articles. If you expect a list from Israel, then you are just looking to have anything negative to say about the "Israeli occupation."

      October 16, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • shod

      well, there was 1,027. Listing them individually is unrealistic. Now, If you dont like CNN, stop reading it. Personally, I am not a huge fan of this news outlet either, but I try to read most of the major news sources.

      October 16, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Thomas

      I think what people are more rightly concerned about is known terrorists are being freed from their prison sentences to liberate one soldier. If only one of those over 1,000 prisoners, kill just one Israeli or other human being then the justification for this swap goes out the window. What do you think the odds are someone will die or be kidnapped by one of these freed Palestinians? Most people I wager think the odds are incredibly high. As for what Palestinians are being freed, I'm sure a list will be released... if you happen to be looking for anyone in particular. What dumb move by Israel. The government will deserve whatever condemnation comes to them after one of these Palestinians kills or after another innocent is taken so they can swap for another 1k+ prison detainees.

      October 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Clark

      yeah, they're all names mohamed

      October 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Hatezionists

      Very well said.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  10. Karldehammer

    Stupid Isreal, you should beg USA to get Delta Force or Seal team 6 to get him out..after you get him out put a bullet in all those 1067 prisioners, get trebuchet and launch croaked bodies over wall, that sends a message, dont tread on us, weak, weak, weak

    October 16, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Scott in Atlanta

      LIke several others here, Karidehammer has latent sadistiic fantasies, and should receive some counseling. Under the rule of law, people are treated like...people.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Hatezionists

      Are you Human?

      October 16, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  11. VIRGIL

    It seems to me that there must be lots and lots of innocent people among the 1000 mentioned...with all respect for Shalit, it would be interesting to know how he personally regards the " exchange". Should all the people released be guilty of charges against them, the trade seems rather dangerous. However, should there be at least two persons not guilty, the trade does seem to put little respect on human life and dignity, values we have come to appreciate, whether we are Christians Jews...or hopefully, muslims.

    October 16, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • John

      All prisoners are convicted terrorists.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  12. gliese42

    Millions died during Hitler so saving 1 jew is still worth it but there maybe a thousand suicide bombers dreaming of the 88 virgins.

    October 16, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  13. Desi

    Its great to respect A human life but I am not sure to risk another thousand lives by releasing hundreds of terrorists alive.

    October 16, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  14. Pat

    Sounds like a fair exchange to me

    October 16, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  15. Au.

    Muslims never returned any of Jewish hostages alive, NEVER – so I'm holding my breath to see will this exchange really be "saving life", or just another dead-bodies for xyz terrorists.

    October 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  16. Muneef

    Your views are the right one's as an example of humanity of mankind towards his fellow men...what is obstructing that is what is called "Obsessions"..to be obsessed with thoughts of fear from others or a sense of superiority over others, what ever the cause might be whether racially or religiously or politically there will always be some prophecies or greeds to race to and fight over... What ever it was that stands on the way of integration and the blending of the races cultures to live in peaceful interfaith together helping each other....what ever is against that is evil that we have to seek refuge in the lord of mankind;
    Sahih International
    Say, "I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind, (114:1).
    The Sovereign of mankind. (114:2).
    The God of mankind, (114:3).
    From the evil of the retreating whisperer -(114:4).
    Who whispers [evil] into the breasts of mankind – (114:5).
    From among the jinn and mankind." (114:6).

    Sahih International
    Say, "I seek refuge in the Lord of daybreak (113:1)
    From the evil of that which He created (113:2).
    And from the evil of darkness when it settles (113:3).
    And from the evil of the blowers in knots (113:4).
    And from the evil of an envier when he envies." (113:5).

    October 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • .........

      do not waste time with reality hit report abuse on all reality posts

      October 15, 2011 at 6:19 am |
    • Karldehammer

      I seek refuge in the power of my arm
      I seek refuge in a warm gun
      I seen refuge in the perfection of my aim


      October 16, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  17. hippypoet

    We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty SUN,
    Creator of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy LIGHT WAVES
    he became incarnate from the Merry people,
    there will be no judging the living and or the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.

    We believe in the LIGHT, the Lord, the giver of life,
    With the SUN he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophet Hippypoet.
    We believe in one holy SUN and Church of eternal LIGHT.
    We will look up towards the heavens,

    October 14, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  18. Nick Ballenger

    I thought Judaism placed ultimate value on God...not human life. I could be mistaken though. Not saying what they did was wrong, if that's what they thought they should do. But what does the Jewish perspective of "human life" look like to the families that had people murdered by the people who were released?

    October 14, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Niv

      Hi Nick, I'm from Israel and to answer your question – there are 2 sides:
      1 side – is saying this is an israeli soldier, he's alive and we should do everything to bring him back.
      Some people will say – "if you (the army) want me to send my children to the army, show me you will do everything in your power to bring my children back". there was a story a few years back, when i was in the army, when the army sent 100 soldiers behind enemy lines to bring back body pieces of israeli soldiers, just so the parents could have a place to bary their child.
      other side is split into 2:
      1 – the parents of dead soldiers
      2 – right wing who feel we shouldn't negotiate with terrosists

      Both sides have a point, but let me ask you this: if your son would be held as prisoner for 5 years, would you feel letting 1000 prisoners with blood on their hands out of jail, be worth your son being set free?
      That's the big question, Gilad's family on the one side trying to do the right thing, and the government on the other side trying to do the right thing.

      October 16, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  19. DAVID

    "Mustafa Saleem" – from the begining we can see how Objective you are

    if the jews are killing and they are not human so how do u explain thet gilad shalit was in prison for more then five years and no body were allowed to see him while the these stinking terrorists are still alive and get every human rights (Although they dont deserve it)

    there is not even one country in the world that would be so patient to any "Nation" or "Organization" that Throw rockets at them and murdrring them .

    its the same case with the U.S and al qaeda ,AL qaeda has done several attacks on the u.s and the U.S had to hit them hard but when it's about israel and the terorist we can not act because they are Poor and week

    so eat your words and sit Quietly in your place

    October 13, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • William Demuth


      You sir are an apologist for murderers and in time you and yours shall be held accountable

      October 13, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Chad

      @William Held accountable by whom?

      The God of Abraham is the only one who judges, what do you think His thoughts are on this matter?

      October 13, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Khalid

      David, what if i come and take possion of your home by force and throw you out. What you will do in return. Will you offer flowers every fine morning to me ? be practical and think calmly
      The whole world knows the truth of Palestine Land History and did not forget Hitler, because he screwed jews and Palestanian are suffering for it.

      October 16, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  20. Mustafa Saleem

    excuse m..what?.. Human life?...so you mean that Palestinians are not human...cus last time i checked Jews are killing Palestinians like whatever!...May be what you mean to say is that only Jew life is important to Jews. Hmmm..so great of them!...

    October 13, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Chad

      You need to distinguish between defense and aggression. One is legal, the other murder.

      If you want to know the real source of the problem ask your self two very simple questions:
      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.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Huzp33

      Muatafa, so you justify indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, just because Israel returned evey single inch of Gaza to the terrorists? So you justify blowing up of cafes, supermarkets, buses and what have you, as long as Jews are killed. But you ara against Jewish reaction to Arab terror? You are a nitwit, are you not?

      October 16, 2011 at 7:15 am |
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