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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Goldwasser and Regev: Alive or dead?

It appears that a framework of a deal has been reached to exchange four captured Hezbullah terrorists from the Second Lebanon War, some terrorists' bodies and Lebanese murderer Samir al-Kuntar for kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, body parts of Israeli soldiers, and information regarding IDF navigator Ron Arad whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and who has not been heard from since 1987. While this is not a great deal, it's almost reasonable with one proviso that the government has not been mentioning: It's reasonable if Goldwasser and Regev are alive.

But I have long believed - and the IDF does as well - that Goldwasser and Regev are dead. If Goldwasser and Regev are dead, does it make sense to pay essentially the same price that Israel was willing to pay on the assumption that they are alive? What message would that send to Gilad Shalit's captors or to the captors of future soldiers and civilians who might fall into terrorists' hands? Consider the following:
Jews, unfortunately, are no strangers to the issue of redeeming captives, as we have been forced to ransom our loved ones time and again in history. Indeed, volumes of Jewish law are devoted to the parameters of pidyon sh'vuyim.

However the concept that there is a limit to what we will pay is best illustrated in the story of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, better known as Maharam of Rothenburg, the head of German Jewry in the last half of the 13th century. As conditions worsened for the Jews in Germany, many sought to escape the brutal pogroms and draconian taxation by fleeing to Eretz Yisrael. Emperor Rudolf I, fearing the loss of Jewish gold, declared the Jews his personal property and, in 1286, forbade them to leave Germany.

Maharam vigorously opposed the emperor and attempted to escape the country with his family. But a Jewish apostate informed upon him and he was imprisoned by Rudolf in the castle of Ensisheim. The emperor demanded an exorbitant ransom before he would free Maharam.

German Jewry was prepared to pay the enormous sum of 23,000 talents of silver for his release. But Maharam himself forbade the exchange, arguing that it would only serve to encourage more kidnappings and extortion within vulnerable Jewish communities. Maharam languished in prison for seven years until he died in 1293; his body was not released for burial until 14 years later, when it was redeemed by a wealthy Jew.

His heroic act of self-sacrifice sent the message that there are times when the price of freedom can be too high. By refusing to pay the blackmail that was demanded of his people, Maharam assured that never again would rabbinic leaders be taken hostage.
What would the Maharam say to the current proposed 'prisoner exchanges?'


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