For example, what does Halacha say about the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange?

"Save" means "free from captivity," although in many cases it's the same thing as saving his\her life (e.g. if we didn't save him\her, (s)he'd die because of the bad prison conditions.)

"Endanger" means "theoretically kill and injure other Jews at some point in the future."

List of sources with quick summaries of the opinions, or links to articles containing such, would be most appreciated.

  • 1
    Note that your title is significantly more general than your "other words." Evaluating the case at hand needs to take into account the probability and type of danger involved to the many. Also, although it might add up to the same thing, you might want to replace "save" with "free ... from captivity." I don't know if Halacha treats the two equivalently.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 18:45
  • 3
    R' Slifkin brings up a couple of Halachic precedents but steers far clear of coming to a Halachic conclusion. I like this perspective, though it's intuitive-moral rather than Halachic. Here's some interesting non-Halachic economic analysis.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 18:52
  • @IsaacMoses - I've edited the question for clarity.
    – Shmuel
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 19:21
  • 1
    It seems to me that the body of the question is still really intended to apply specifically to the Shalit case. There's nothing wrong with that, but I suggest that the title ought to reflect the same specificity.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 21:03
  • Here is an article that is against the trade, and brings 9 reasons why the writer feels it is a bad idea. a-farbrengen.blogspot.com/2011/10/…
    – Menachem
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


There are many different views on this topic, Gil Student cites some of them here. Below is my personal opinion on this weighty topic.

I think such an exchange is forbidden. While the mitzvah to redeem captives is extremely important, the Mishnah says they cannot be redeemed for more than their value. The gemara gives 2 explanations for this - either because its too much of a burden on the tzibbur, or it will encourage future kidnappings of Jews. If they see that Jews pay extra to free their captives, they will try to capture more Jews. Chazal recognized this issue and decreed one should "foresees the consequences" and leave one Jew in captivity so as not to cause more Jews to suffer in the future.

In that case, the captors are not looking to kill Jews, they just want to make money. Yet the halacha says one cannot pay them extra money so as not to encourage them in the future. Surely if the captors are sworn enemies of the Jews who want to kill them and destroy their country, we cannot ransom a captive more than his cost! How can we give aid to them when it will just be used in their war against the Jews? To release multiple terrorists for one captive is not a "fair trade" and is more than the cost. And this is much worse than giving the captors money, since the very terrorists released often go back to committing terrorism themselves against the Jews. In addition, uneven trades strengthens the hand of the enemy by handing them a "victory" that they can use to gain more power.

Since Israel started doing these trades it has caused nothing but harm. The encouragement given to the terrorists helped cause both Lebanon wars and provided the terrorists with much manpower. Hundreds of Israelis have been killed by terrorists released in these trades.

These swaps also harm morale since soldiers risk their lives to capture these terrorists and then see a thousand released for one person. A soldier who goes to war knows he's risking his life for his country and may be killed in battle. The fact that he is captured does not mean that hundreds of future lives must be risked to save him. Instead, the enemy should be hit back with force, so they know kidnappings will not help them.

  • 1
    There are a lot of assumptions in your answer that you should think about. 1. Does being in prison actually stop them from planning terrorist attacks? (The Shin Bet says no) 2. Is it true that 1,000 Hamas members is worth more than 1 Israeli soldier? Perhaps the line from Isiah tells us the worth, and 1 Israeli is worth 1,000 enemies. Perhaps it is 10,000. How do we judge? The Mishna talks about gold, not people.
    – avi
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:39
  • 1. when they are in prison they cannot commit terrorism or fight the IDF. 2. the terrorists are worth nothing, that comparison makes no sense. what has worth is the hundreds of lives that are endangered when they are released. 3. the mishnah is discussing a captive who may or may not be in danger, but says paying to much gold is too much of a burden or will cause future kidnappings. kv'ch to this case.
    – Ariel K
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 22:17
  • a person does not need to endanger his life to save someone else, and should not put himself at greater risk to do so. the community may have to weigh more factors, but I don't see why they should endanger hundreds of lives to save one.
    – Ariel K
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 22:19
  • "1. when they are in prison they cannot commit terrorism or fight the IDF." That isn't as true as you would like it to be. 2. You have no idea if anyone's lives will actually be endangered or not. It is a guess on your part. Terrorist attacks happened while those people were in prison. 3. It is not a burden, it actually saves us tax money to be used on other things and we don't know if there will be future kidnappings.
    – avi
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 11:08

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