Monday, November 7, 2011

Prisoner's Pidyon Price Prohibitive (Gilad Shalit)

Several weeks ago, Samuel Freedman offered up this essay in the NYT.

The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.

Interestingly, he makes note of the juxtaposition between the deal to free Gilad Shalit and Avrohom Avinu's pursuit to secure Lot's release during the War of the 4 vs.5 Kings.

Yet I heard in the name of Rabbi JD Bleich that surprisingly enough, the fact that AA engaged in this act of "Pidyon Shevuyim" still is not sourced anywhere as this being the Makor for the Mitzvah of PS, and is in fact incorrect. The source for PS is the Talmud BB 8a/b, codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Siman 252 of Yoreh Deah that deals with Tzedakah. It seems that the entire Mitzvah is predicated on the idea of altruism.

רבה רמא צדקה איתמי דבי בר מריון א"ל אביי והתני רב שמואל בר יהודה אין פוסקין צדקה על היתומים אפילו לפדיון שבוים א"ל אנא לאחשובינהו קא עבידנא איפרא הורמיז אימיה דשבור מלכא שדרה ארנקא דדינרי לקמיה דרב יוסף אמרה ליהוי למצוה רבה יתיב רב יוסף וקא מעיין בה מאי מצוה רבה א"ל אביי מדתני רב שמואל בר יהודה אין פוסקין צדקה על היתומים אפילו לפדיון שבוים שמע מינה פדיון
פדיון שבוים מצוה רבה היא אמר ליה רבא לרבה בר מרי מנא הא מילתא דאמור רבנן דפדיון שבוים מצוה רבה היא א"ל דכתיב והיה כי יאמרו אליך אנה נצא ואמרת אליהם כה אמר ה' אשר למות למות ואשר לחרב לחרב ואשר לרעב לרעב ואשר לשבי לשבי

So the question is: Why is the rescue of Lot not listed as the source, being that the Talmud endeavors to bring a source and only does so somewhat from the Navi Yermiyahu?

Answered RJDB, with a Medrash. The Medrash says that the "318" people that AA took with him, was really only his trusted servant Eliezer (which adds up to the Gematria of 318). What happened to all of AA's entourage? It seems that when they realized the danger of rescue, they slipped away one by one until only Eliezer remained. They reasoned correctly, that they were not obligated to rescue Lot by putting their own lives in danger.

Which could be why AA/Lot is not the source for PS. PS is perhaps using one's assets to secure release of another, but one needn't endanger his/her own well-being!

{Having an extra 1,000 terrorists on the streets is definitely, based on statistics, dangerous to one's population. Hence freeing GS is not necessarily PS, and is probably prohibited. I imagine that AA was able to rely on his Zechusim, but I don't think that Netanyahu is on the same Madrega.}

Disclaimer: This is only 2nd hand, so it is quite possible that the person who shared this thought with me heard/understood incorrectly.


  1. This is quite some Chidush. I would have thought that the Lot rescue would be the Makor, but the good Rabbi appears to be correct. I appreciate the sharing of these thoughts. Continued Hatzlacha in providing Torah thoughts in an un-Lashon Hara environment.

  2. can't understand why you have to get so fine and lomdish.

    What AA did was an act of war. He took up arms in order to free a POW.

    Pidyon Shvuyim is not when one army tries to free its soldiers captured by another army. It is when we try to liberate innocent non-combatants by non military means.

    I never liked the word "kidnapping" attached to Gilad Shalit nor am I convinced that it was even an act of terrorism on the part of the Palestinians. To me once you target men in uniform, members of the enemies army or their allies that's not terrorism but legitimate warfare. Calling Shalit a kidnapping victim elicits images of pushing over the nanny and swiping the six year old. It debases the whole image of an IDF soldier.

  3. Well, actually it was the kings who precipitated the act of war. AA was only responding to their initiation.

    But the point is that the NYT commentator is incorrect as you agree...the case of Gilad Shalit is not one of PS but rather one perhaps of Lo Saamod al Dam Reicha.

    As for the etymology of kidnapping, I agree with you that it applies mostly to children, but even 70 year old rich oil tycoons are referred to as being "kid"napped.

    Welcome back.


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