The redemption of captives (Pidyon Shvuyim) is one of the great mitzvot (commandments) of Judaism, but not at any price. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister and Government of Israel decided to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners-a very high price-for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had become a household name in Israel during the past 5 1/2 years, due the successful popular movement for his release, led by his wonderful parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit.
This happened just before the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. While sitting over coffee on Emek Refaim St., in the German Colony on the day before the holiday-the day before his release-I was asked by a journalist who was writing a story on this what I thought about it. “There is a strong consensus in favor of the deal in Israel,” I replied. “I think it says something about the value of human life. I even like the timing — the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, when it is a mitzvah to be happy.”
The release of this soldier was a major national event in the history of modern Israel. Even though the “price” was hotly debated in the media both before and after the event, there is no question that the majority of Jews in Israel strongly supported this exchange, despite the high price. It was a major statement about the value of human life in the Jewish Israeli mindset.
One very interesting outcome of this was the fact that Israel did a deal with Hamas, which it doesn’t recognize and with whom there are no direct negotiations but only indirect ones, through neutral third parties. Yet, some of our mainstream politicians and journalists suggested that this might be a time to enter into direct talks with the pragmatic elements of Hamas.
This would certainly represent a new beginning, which could lead at least to a “hudna”, a long-term cease-fire agreement, which would be worthwhile for all concerned.
In addition, we learned that a good compromise agreement is a “win-win” for both sides. Not only did one Jewish family-and a whole Jewish nation-rejoice in the freedom of one Israeli captive, but hundreds of Palestinian families also rejoiced at the freedom of one of their loved ones. This was clearly an agreement that was good for both sides!
Now we need more compromises and more agreements on the part of Palestinians and Israelis to bring our conflict to an end and to move forward with building the institutions for peaceful coexistence for the future.
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish