Gilad Shalit, four years on

July 6, 2010

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More than 120,000 people have marched so far, and many thousands more are expected to join the efforts to free Gilad Shalit in the coming days. They represent a tradition going back as far as Maimonides , that “there is no greater mitzvah than paying the ransom to free captives.”

The Jewish People has a long and honorable history of following Maimonides’ injunction. The Shulhan Aruch even judges that ransoming captives is more important than feeding or clothing the poor.

Yet the latest announcement from Prime Minister Netanyahu could be seen to follow a different Talmudic tradition that adds two provisos: if the ransom could impoverish the paying community, or if the ransom could encourage more kidnappings, then captives should not be ‘ransomed above their actual worth” (BT Gittin 45a).

Four years on, and Gilad Shalit is still trapped in this moral and mortal dilemma. Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, argues that we must change the parameters of the debate. We should not ask how many or which prisoners to free in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s freedom, but ask the starker question: Will we let Gilad Shalit die?

Are there other perspectives or suggestions from Jewish tradition or the Jewish world that might help bring Gilad Shalit home after over four years of solitary confinement?

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