Some religious perspectives on the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange

Gilad Shalit reunited with his father

Gilad Shalit reunited with his father

As I wrote in my earlier post, and in my other posts about the “Shalit deal” as the prisoner exchange has come to be known in Israel, views are split as to the wisdom and even the legality of releasing so many murderous terrorists with the blood of so many victims on their hands – in the case of at least one terrorist, literally.

Harsh words have been said, accusations thrown about, defensive and justifying words in response. And they are all right. The saying that where there are two Jews there are three opinions is understated in the case of this prisoner swap. Many people, myself included, are holding several conflicting opinions at the same time.

The families of the terror victims are furious, upset, angry and distressed at the release of their loved ones’ murderers, and their emotions are completely justified.   There were dramatic emotional scenes at the High Court yesterday when the families appealed against the Shalit deal and when the appeal was turned down.

So how do we move on from the release of the terrorists and the prisoner exchange, which is now a fait accompli, and cope with the stress and emotions generated?

Gilad Shalit back in Israel

Gilad Shalit salutes PM Netanyahu on his return to Israel

I received several emails and read some very interesting blog posts in the last few days which contain words of wisdom, and even comfort, from some of Israel’s respected Rabbis.

The first email (via my friend Elchanan), which can also be read here has the following words of wisdom. I take the liberty of quoting more or less in full:

Over 1000 of the most despicable people on the planet are about to be released from jail, for one lone Jewish soldier.
Worse than that, say many, these 1000+ can kill and injure many more Jews, both soldiers and civilians.
May we suggest a Sukkot perspective. The words below are based on ideas derived from beautiful words of Torah, heard by “co-incidence” only this week from my Rabbi.

Sukkot is the festival of faith. At the beginning of the winter rainy season we leave the comfort and security of our homes for the Sukkah, a temporary dwelling covered in Schach.
The rickety Schach represents our faith in the protection of the Almighty. We have done Teshuva over the last weeks and now we have come to realize that we cannot change what was, nor can we control the future. As human beings, we are limited to the “now”. We just have to do what is right NOW.
Moreover, the Torah commands us on Sukkot to be “be’simcha”, grateful for the NOW, for the opportunities of the NOW. We must understand that what we have at any given moment  is what we need to have. It is what is right for us, what is good for us. As with medical treatment – each person needs a different prescription; if you had someone else’s, it could kill you. 
And so to Gilad.

We cannot bring back the Victims of Terror – if only we could!! We feel the acute pain at this time of those left behind. 

Right NOW, we now have a mitzva available of Pidyon Shvuyim, of releasing a prisoner, a Mitzva of the highest level. The danger of paying the price we all know. 

Or do we? 

We know that we can get Gilad back; we don’t know whether any damage will result. That is called

ברי ושמא ברי עדיף –

where there is a certainty versus a possibility, we choose the certainty. The future – let Him take care of that.

 As for the timing….

What is Schach, the essence of Sukkot? According to our Rabbis it is “פסולת גורן ויקב”, the waste material from the silo and the winery: in modern parlance, garbage. We take the garbage and do a mitzva. And not just any Mitzva, but the Mitzva that shows our absolute faith in Him.
Moreover, for Schach to be kosher, the shadow it casts must be greater than the light it allows to enter. The inference for Gilad’s return is clear. 
This year on Sukkot, the Jewish people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform 2 mitzvot with “garbage”; we will cover our Sukkot and we will use “פסולת” as currency to buy back one Jewish soldier.
May the Almighty repay our absolute trust in Him with peace for our people. 
May He know that we genuinely believe that what we are doing is the right thing in the HERE & NOW, the only time-frame in which we can operate. 
May those whose dear ones were killed or injured by those being released take comfort in the thought that this פסולת that caused so much pain is being elevated לעילוי נשמתם to save a Jewish soul – as if they are saving a whole world.
May he take care of our future because…
“אין לנו על מי להשען ,אלא על אבינו שבשמים
We have no other one to rely on besides our Father in Heaven


The bloggers at the  Muqata also show conflicting opinions, Jameel fiercely condemning the prisoner release, yet Joe Settler bringing us words of comfort from Israel’s Chief Rabbi:


This past year Israel faced an incredibly serious threat, a number of them actually. Yet September came and went, and no disaster fell upon is despite vocal cries of the upcoming Tsunami.

So what happened?

The threats were real. September was very real. Even more real and dangerous than the general public knows.

But Hashem doesn’t turn away a prayer that comes from deep within. Because of the very real threat we faced, in our fear, we the nation increased our prayers, our depth, our concern expressed in those T’fillot, and as a result Hashem listened.

Hopefully our prayers are also helping to free Gilad Shalit soon. And that is a wonderful thing. An important thing.

But his coming home is coming with an awful, horrible price that the nation will have to face.

And we’ll need to increase our prayers in response to this, to protect us more.

And I think the Chief Rabbi summed it up succinctly. Getting Gilad Shalit back is important for Gilad and important for the nation. But it’s now up to us to pray harder to protect us from what comes next as a result of this horrible deal.


Treppenwitz too brought us words from his synagogue’s Rabbi to help us make sense of our conflicting emotions:


But it was my synagogue’s rabbi who was finally able to help me gain the proper perspective for viewing this deal.He said that he too was torn about whether this deal was an acceptable one, much less a good one. But then he realized that it was impossible to decide by looking at it from the viewpoint of either the bereaved families of terror victims or the bereaved family of a kidnap victim.

He said that we are reminded many times by our sages that all of Israel is responsible for one another. He posits that this means that we are obligated to view ourselves as one large family rather than a nation of families, and must make decisions based on that viewpoint.

He didn’t tell us whether he favored or disapproved of the deal. But he said it was made clear to him what the right course of action would be once he looked at the situation, not from one family or the other… but rather when he looked at it as if he were a parent of a single family who had had one child killed in a terror attack, and a second child kidnapped and awaiting ransom.

That, he told us, is the only way the nation of Israel can begin to contemplate such a terrible choice.

The final word, which is not in a blog at all, but right there in our very own Tenach, is written in the Haftara (reading from Neviim – prophets) that we will read this coming Shabbat. Fittingly, this Shabbat is Shabbat Bereishit, the Shabbat of Genesis, the Shabbat immediately following Simchat Torah, when we finish reading the last chapter of the Torah and roll the scrolls of the Torah back to the very beginning and start all over again. (Thanks to my nephew Chanan for pointing out these words):

The words of the Haftarah come from ישעיה מ”ב, ה (Isaiah 42:5) and the third sentence (Isaiah 42:7) is eerily prophetic:

לפקוח עיניים עיורות להוציא ממסגר אסיר מבית כלא יושב חושך

To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoner from his cell, he who dwells in darkness.

Let us pray that just as these words have been fulfilled, so may the rest of the words of the haftarah, including the following (Isaiah 43:1):

ועתה כה אמר ה’ בראך יעקב ויצרך ישראל אל תירא כי גאלתיך קראתי בשמך לי אתה. כי תעבור במים אתך אני ובנהרות לא ישטפוך כי תלך במו אש לא תכוה ולהבה לא תבער בך. כי אני ה’ אלקיך קדוש ישראל מושיעך נתתי כפרך מצרים כוש וסבא תחתיך.

But now says Hashem that created you Jacob and formed you Israel, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through waters I am with you, and through rivers they will not wash you away, when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not scorch you. For I am Hashem your G-d, the Holy One of Israel your saviour. I gave Egypt for your ransom, Kush [Ethiopia] and Sheba for you.

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13 Responses to Some religious perspectives on the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange

  1. NormanF says:

    The words are not unconditional. Every Jewish ethical principle in the book was tossed aside to obtain Shalit’s freedom.

    Freedom without justice and truth is no freedom at all.

    • anneinpt says:

      The words were not supposed to be unconditional. As for the Jewish ethics, you’ve obviously missed the point of my post, which was to show how Jewish ethics CAN justify the lopsided exchange. I wasn’t saying that the Rabbis justify it completely. The Rabbis were trying to help us come to terms with the exchange through a perspective of faith.

      But you’re entitled to your opinion.

  2. Nicole says:

    It’s actually Isaiah 42:7. 🙂

    • anneinpt says:

      Oops. You’re right. :-). I was looking at the beginning of the haftarah, but the quote is from 2 verses in. I’ll correct it.

      Welcome to my blog anyway Nicole. 😀

  3. QuietusLeo says:

    Excellent post Annie! (So now I know why I haven’t seen you on Bloggie).

    • anneinpt says:

      Hi QL, welcome to my blog! I’m so glad you’ve found me here. And thanks for the compliment :-). I hope to see you around more often.

      (And I note you’re keeping the same crazy hours as me. I’m sure you’re doing sterling work on night duty. My excuse is just that I’m nuts…)

  4. Andrea says:


    Sorry to come back on this – whilst rockets hitting again Israel is the dramatic today’s issue and Shabbat is not yet finished – but I have just read this article on Haaretz and honestly I am a bit astonished.
    Title is “Shalit deals reveals Israel’s sueriority complex”.
    Conclusion is “The Shalit deal is, in fact, a public display of Israel’s racist price index”.

    You may remember we previously talked about “superiority complex” inherited by Europe in some Israeli – having our different opinions on this topic of course but never I would have dreamed of using this expression on Shalit deals.
    Under an optimistic perspective this article is a strong evidence of freedom of opinions and speech in Israel and self-criticism but …..come on. With the exception of “The Guardian” – if I am not wrong , maybe it was “The Indipendent “- I have never read such a stupid thing on the Shilat deals – not even in my country with its 44% of people influenced by antisemitism as shamefully evidenced by survey sponsored by our parliament

    • cba says:

      Andrea, if you mean that Deborah Orr piece of… opinion… then it was in the Guardian.

      Yes, you’re totally right about that Ha’aretz article.

      By the way, I wanted to ask–I know in Italy “Andrea” is a man’s name, but in the English-speaking world it’s a woman’s name. Please excuse the question, but which are you?

      • Andrea says:

        CBA – thank you for you help, I meant that in fact, Deborah Orr and the story of chosen nation and racism and so on. A piece of…opinion I used to listen out of fascist mouths in the past but now popular among “reputable ” press on the left side . All this is disgusting.

        ohh…male or female ? do not excuse yourself this is the most frequently asked question and I think fair to say that I am a man, 90% straight.
        10% of my female side would be curious to know the same about you but……I have to be serious here 🙂

    • anneinpt says:

      Andrea, I almost never read Haaretz because of their extreme leftist agenda, but even by their standards this article has me completely gobsmacked (translation: stunned, astonished). Interestingly, the comments to this article are all against the writer and object strongly to his viewpoint. His article is like an echo of the disgusting piece written in the Guardian – as you correctly recall – which was written about and analysed on CiFwatch. Read this CifWatch piece (I don’t want to link to the Guardian article) and you will understand how wrong the Guardian writer is and how terribly wrong this Haaretz writer is.

      It is typically extreme-leftist propaganda, and in Haaretz’s case, “self-hating” propaganda. Sickening.

      • Andrea says:


        thank you for your answer. You pointed out the only good thing: all readers objected strongly.
        I sometimes fear to be a very naive guy – why a Socialist ( Gentle or Jews ) should be always against Israel at the highest price to close both eyes on religious fanaticism (Hamas), despotism based on corruption ( consistent part of Al Fatah ) or Fascism ( this is really the Baath party in Syria ) ? Maybe today’s Israel is not the country some Socialist Ziyonist would have desired many years ago but after all it was not fault of israeli people if Socialism failed everywhere in creating new men ( including new Jews ).
        I was wondering this about because of Ha’aretz opinionists and extreme-leftist propaganda but this would lead us far from the Shalit’s deal

        • anneinpt says:

          Andrea, you ask an excellent question about why socialists are always anti-Israel. I have come to the conclusion that it is nothing to do with socialism per se. Israel is in fact a lot more socialist than many other “real” socialist countries.

          When Israel was founded, socialism was the order of the day. Kibbutzim were based on pure socialism, almost communism, and the only reason they succeeded was because they were not based on totalitarianism, like the real communist countries were.

          In fiscal and social welfare policies, Israel is even today a socialist country. We have universal health care, free and very active trade unions, free schooling etc. It is also falling apart because of lack of funding – a similar problem in all western countries at the moment. Israel is suffering less than other countries only because she did not get caught up in the sub-prime mortgages disaster.

          So back to your question – why do socialists hate Israel so? Real, sane socialists and leftists do not hate Israel. The “sane left” is a very valuable and valid point of view.

          I think that socialist unions and organizations have been taken over by the hard left, i.e. the Trotskyist, Leninist, Marxist “socialists” who are not really socialists at all. They are communists of the worst totalitarian dictatorial type. And they are antisemites.

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