About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Shailos Uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yerushalayim

Bloody Hands

Question: What is the Torah outlook on the recent prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit?

Answer: Pidyon shevuyim, redeeming Jewish captives, is one of the most important mitzvos in the entire Torah. However in this specific case it is forbidden to free terrorists who vow to spill more Jewish blood after they are released. Aside from the danger they pose to killing Jews, such a trade strengthens the moral of the enemy and puts all of Klal Yisrael in danger.

Freeing Captives

Pidyon shevuim, freeing Jewish captives takes precedence over supporting the poor, and there is no mitzvah greater than freeing captives. Therefore if money was collected previously for any other cause it may be used afterwards for pidyon shevuyim. This is even the case if money was collected to build a Beis Hakeneses…

…Someone who ignores the mitzvah of freeing captives transgresses the prohibitions of “not hardening one’s heart” and “one should not close one’s hand [to help others]” and “one should not stand idle by his brother’s blood”…In addition he transgresses the mitzvos of “You shall surely open your hand to help your brother” and the mitzvah of “You should insure that your brother lives with you” and “You should love your neighbour as yourself”…

…There are many other transgressions and mitzvos that relate to pidyon shevuyim. Delaying pidyon shevuyim is considered to be a very serious transgression, and whoever is able to free captives and does not do so is considered to be a murderer (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 252, 1- 3). From the words of the Shulchan Aruch we see the great significance that Chazal gave to the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming Jewish prisoners.

Future Ramifications

Albeit the great importance that Chazal viewed the mitzvah of freeing Jewish captives, it was not without limits. There are certain cases where our Sages forbid doing so. They understood if we would go to any extent to get them out the future ramifications could be disastrous.

The Mishna writes “It is forbidden to free captives for more than their value, as a decree for the sake of tikun haolam, maintaining law and order in the world”. There are two major negative ramifications that could come from overpaying for pidyon shevuyim. On one hand this could cause the non-Jews to make a business out of taking Jewish captives, and furthermore this could drain the Jewish community from funds if the constantly have to pay for the release of captives (Gittin 45\a).

According to the first reason that we are worried about future captives, even if a family member wants to free the captives he should not overpay lest this lead to other acts of taking hostages. However according to the second explanation one may free his family members as long as he is using private funds, for this is not placing a strain on the rest of the community. The Shulchan Aruch rules like the first reason(Yoreh Deah 252, 4).

If the captive himself is putting up the funds, Chazal did not limit the amount of money a person can spend to free himself (Tosfos and Shulchan Aruch ibid.). So too, if the hostage is a talmid chacham or a future great Torah scholar, one may pay any price to get him out. However even this case is not simple, and the Mahram Rotenberg died in jail rather than letting himself be redeemed at an exorbitant price.

The Assessment of a Gadol

All of the above guidelines apply when money is being asked in exchange for a Jewish prisoner. The main concern is that such an exchange could lead to future monetary problems for the Jewish people. It does not take into account other factors.

What happens if captors are asking for the release of other prisoners who are murderers? In such a case the ramifications are much more serious. Freeing them could likely lead to the death of many other Jews, for these murderers have vowed to continue their work when they leave the confines of prison.

Rav Sternbuch ruled that one may not go ahead with the exchange, because of the grave danger that such an agreement poses to Klal Yisrael in the future. In all circumstances it is forbidden to make a deal which involves freeing murderers who have vowed to kill Jews. Whoever is involved with such an agreement is putting the lives of Jewish people in jeopardy.

The rav explained that this halacha would not change even if the prisoner was a great talmid chacham. Since Jewish lives are at stake there is no room for compromise in these areas. Even if the captive was the Gadol Hador, such an exchange would be forbidden.

Rav Sternbuch added that even more dangerous than the danger of future killings is the psychological boost that this massive trade-off provides for the Palestinians. These people are not just terrorists; their religion is killing Jews. Making such a deal with them encourages them to continue their activities on an even larger scale.

Furthermore, if they would know that there was a definite deterrent for their actions, like a lifetime jail sentence, they would think twice about their activities. Once the opportunity exists to commit massive terrorist attacks, and be released a few years later, there is nothing stopping them from spilling Jewish blood. These terrorists have not even agreed to curb future attacks on Jews.

One might argue that there are already many terrorists who are willing to kill Jews; how much of a difference does it make to release more? Rav Sternbuch said that while there are others who have threatened to kill, we do not know if they would actually go through with it. Many of the terrorists who are being freed have killed before, and have shown that they are ready to put there life in danger to kill Jews.

In regards to such a situation we should adopt a stance of total empathy with what the prisoner and his family are going through. Yet at the same time we must realize that we are bound to the will of the Torah, and in this situation personal considerations should be put aside for the sake of the Jewish people as a whole. Gedolei Torah gave up their own lives rather consenting to agreements which would cause serious harm to the Jewish people.

A Jew must always be cognizant that the Torah expects us to abide by its will in all areas of life, no matter how difficult it may be. We are forbidden to let our emotions override the dictates of the Torah, and entice us to agree to acts which are tantamount to sanctioning murder and causing great danger to Klal Yisrael. If we instead, act according to the rules that the Torah lays down, we will merit seeing the final redemption quickly.


Acheinu said...

Aren't there many other considerations that need to be considered? For example, the boost in confidence of the Jewish soldiers that they know they will never be left alone if captured? Without this, a lot of the Israeli army soliders may lose morale? And what about the fact that the jails in israel where these murderers were staying are not a deterrent at all. The conditions are better than they have in their own homes. so the fact that a jail sentence may deter others is not really realistic. Furthermore, what about the huge expense of supporting these terrorists in jail. That money could be used on the families of victims or in purcahsing new weapons etc. I think there are a lot more issues involved in this matter than have beem mentioned

Rabbi Chaim Coffman said...

The government did the swap for precisely that reason: if a soldier is going to be in the army and the army abandons them if they are caught by the enemy, then this would make some sense.

2nd, the morale in the army is already low to begin with for a lot of reasons regardless of whether the government will rescue them if they are captured.

3rd, where should the Israeli's send them if they are captured? Jail is the only place to send them. Not saying that it will be a deterent once they are freed. Any better solutions?

4th, which you don't seem to address, is the Gemara in Gittin that discusses this and poskins this way. Regardless of how you slice it, what they did was against halacha, bottom line and that is the main thing, period.