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June 07, 1985 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-06-07

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2

Friday, June 7, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Redemption Of Captives And Dangers Courted By Prisoner Exchange

A sensational military act, related to
the urgency of assuring security for Is-
rael, with an emphasis on a sacred
Jewish principle of the redemption of
captives, has unleashed a serious
ideological debate both in Israel and
among world Jewry. The act: the ex-
change of 1,150 Arab prisoners, more
than half of them convicted for terrorism
and many for actual murders, for three
Israeli war prisoners.
The dispute is over the wisdom of an
act that created the renewed danger of
increased terrorism, with the released
Arabs returning to their "home bases"
for more attacks on Israel.
The perplexity of the developing
concerns as analyzed in the New York
Times by Anthony Lewis, describing the
exchange as "arising from the deepest
instincts of the state (Israel) but in its
results, menacing to the state," draws
upon conflicting views of leading Is-
raelis. He quoted Israeli Prime Minister
Shimon Peres who said that "the rede-
mption of prisoners is a cardinal princi-
ple," justifying the exchange. Lewis pro-
ceeded to indicate the other "strong emo-
tions" arising from feared new dangers
from the released criminals. Here are
the differing views additionally outlined
in the Times:
The dilemma divided even
former Israeli chiefs of military
intelligence. Shlomo Gazit told
Thomas L. Friedman of the New
York Times that he was disgusted
— "Never again will Israel be
able to condemn any other coun-
try which will be blackmailed
into freeing terrorists who have
killed Jews." But Aharon Yariv
said Israel had in fact been
negotiating with terrorists for
years despite a proclaimed policy
against doing so: "This case only
takes it an increment farther."
Yehoshafat Harkabi, a third
former intelligence chief, called
the exchange "a big mistake"
when I spoke with him. "We have
made ourselves targets for
squeezing," he said.

But Prof. Harkabi had a de-
eper political reason for concern.
It was that bitterness at the re-
lease of convicted terrorists
would feed the forces in Israel
that want to annex the occupied
territories and even expel their
Arab inhabitants ...
Right-wing figures in Israel,
in reaction to the prisoner ex-
change, demanded a pardon for
Jews convicted of anti-Arab ter-
rorism or now on trial. They are
charged with grave terrorist acts:
explosions that maimed West
Bank mayors, the indiscriminate
murder of Arab students in Heb-
ron, a plot to blow up the holiest
mosques in Jerusalem.
Prof. Harkabi's fear, in short,
is that the prisoner exchange will
help extremists on both sides.
Ahmed Jabril may be seen by
Palestinians as a man who gets
things done. And more Israelis
may be encouraged to believe
that security lies only in force,
not in political resolution of the
conflict with the Arabs.
Extremism seems to me a
suicidal policy for Israel. That
can be seen in the very action
that led to the capture of the
three soldiers: the 1982 invasion
of Lebanon. Ariel Sharon's hub-
ris, his belief that military force
could crush Palestinian
nationalism, cost Israel 650 lives
and fearful psychological
wounds.
Israel's path to long-term se-
curity can lie only in accommo-
dation with the Palestinians, who
are mostly moderate people of
bourgeois instincts. They too, in
their diaspora, want the protec-
tion of a state, however small and
tied to others. Israel's aim, dif-
ficult as it is to achieve, should
be to give Palestinians a stake in
some political order.
"I want moderation on both
sides," Prof. Harkabi said. Did he

Is Consistency Expected From USSR?

An Associated Press item, dated
May 21, introduces the puzzling ques-
tion whether consistency is to be ex-
pected from the Soviet Union. The AP
story, which quoted from the Wash-
ington Post, reveals:
"Without explanation, the Krem-
lin has denied visas to an American
linguist and a leading expert on the
Soviet criminal justice system,
prompting the United States to cancel
planned visits to Moscow by two dele-
gations involving a total of 16 schol-
ars."
"Joshua Fishman, 59, a professor
of social sciences at Yeshiva Univer-
sity in New York, received word in
London that his application for a visa
had not been granted. He was given
no reason.
"As a result, seven other scholars
who were to participate with Fishman
in a ten-day colloquium on language
in contemporary society, sponsored by
the Soviet Academy of Sciences, did
not attend even though their visas
had been approved.
"Soviet authorities also rejected a
visa application by Louise Shelley, 33,
an associate professor at The Ameri-
can University's School of Justice (in
Washington). Shelley is the author of

three books and numerous scholarly
articles analyzing crime in the Soviet
Union and other countries."
Dr.. Allan Kagedan, director of
the American Jewish Committee's In-
stitute of Human Relations who spe-
cializes in research on USSR problems
relating to Jewry, asks, "If the Soviets
are 'friends' of Yiddish, as their press
releases claim, then why do they deny
a visa to a Yiddish language scholar?"
Indeed,' consistency is hardly to
be expectedl in an area that incarcer-
ates for Hebre*, boasts about Yid-
dish, prosecutes teachers who are
Jews and whose /topics are Jewish.
Is there much hope for some sort
of rationalism from the Kremlin,
especially since so much propaganda
is spread about the Russian liber-
tarianism toward Yiddish, and the
emphasis it gives to its inflated claim
of a Yiddish language state in
Birobidjan and its touring chorus and
Yiddish musical groups?
The possibility of Russia resum-
ing diplomatic relations with Israel
was defined jocularly •by a Wall Street
Journal writer as a "pipe dream." So
is the possibility of a gesture toward
consistency. That's the policy one does
not debate with in the USSR.

despair? I asked. "It is a hard
time for moderates," he said —
"all over the world. But there are
ups and downs."
The recent tragic events in Israel
that resulted in the emergence of an-
other type of terrorism, a sort of self-
emanating fanatical extremism therefore
aggravated the serious traditional
Jewish principle of pidyon shvuyim, the
redemption of the captives, which gave
substance to the Israeli aims of freeing
the war prisoners at any and all costs.
For a full understanding of the re-
demption of the captives ideal, it is
necessary to go to the root of it. It is bril-
liantly defined in the chapter on the sub-
ject in A Book of Jewish Concepts by
Rabbi Philip Birnbaum. It is presented
here for serious study and for renewed
consideration by the many who have be-
come interested in the current Israeli
situation.
The ransoming of captives is
considered to be one of the most
sacred obligations of a Jewish
community. In Jewish law, it is
placed above the important duty
of feeding and clothing the poor.
Special collections were made for
extraordinary communal ex-
penses, such as the support of
orphan children and fitting out a
poverty-stricken girl with clo-
thing and a dowry (hakhnasath
kallah), but particularly for the
ransom of captives.
The Jewish people of ancient
and medieval times were fre-
quently subjected to capture by
enemies who extorted ransoms
from the communities. In the 17th
Century, the Jewish community
of Venice organized a society for
redeeming the captives (hevrath
pidyon shvuyim), for the liberation
of Jews incarcerated by pirates.
Many other communities, follow-
ing the example of Venice, ap-
pointed special parnasim (com-
munal wardens) to collect funds
for the purpose of ransoming the
captives. The community was ob-
liged to pay ransom for any of its
members who sold himself into
slavery or was taken captive for
debts he owed. It was not obliged

to pay all that was demanded for
the ransom of a scholar.
According to a tannaitic
statement, if a man and his father
and his teacher were incarcer-
ated, he takes precedence over
his teacher in procuring ransom,
while his teacher takes prece-
dence over his father; that is, he
must procure the ransom of his
teacher before that of his father;
but his mother takes precedence
over all of them. A scholar takes
precedence over a king, for if a
scholar dies there is none to re-
place him, while all are eligible
for kingship (Horayot 13a).
The Talmud relates that
when Rabbi Joshua ben
Hananya visited Rome, he was
told that a handsome-looking boy
with curly locks was in prison.
He stationed himself at the
doorway of the prison ... and
said: "I will not budge from here
until I ransom him, whatever
price may be demanded." He
ransomed him at a high figure,
and it did not take long before
the young man eventually be-
came a great teacher in Israel,
namely: Rabbi Ishmael ben
Elisha (Gittin 58a).
In the tannaitic period it had
been found necessary to enact a
law against paying too high a
ransom for Jewish captives, lest
kidnapping might become a luc-
rative trade. The Mishnah there-
fore states: "Captives should not
be ransomed for more than their
value, as a precaution for the
general good" (Gittin 4:6). The
price might not exceed the value
of the captive if sold as a slave.
The talmudic sages forbade the
assistance in their attempts to es-
cape, for fear that the treatment
of captives in general would be
made more cruel.
When Emperor Rudolph de-
manded a large sum from the
Jews for Rabbi Meir of Rothen-
burg, who had been seized and
committed to prison in 1281, and
the Jews were ready to pay any

Continued on Page 42

Lebanon: Blame and Realities

Lebanon's tragedies are endless.
There was hope they would end, espe-
cially when there was a "peace agree-
ment" with Israel which was broken
nearly as speedily as it was promul-
gated. They did not.
Syria plays many roles in _the con-
tinuing horrors, but this is less impor-
tant morally in its relation to Israel than
was and in some degree continues to be
the part played by the media. When a
massacre, of Moslems by Christians
shocked the world, Israel was the target
of endless criticisms. The attacks contin-
ued — and now there is realization of an
aspect that was ignored in making Israel
and Israelis the scapegoats.
A May 28 New York Times editorial
entitled "The Heartbreak Called Leba-
non" introduces a belated apology for
serious damage that had been done to Is-
rael, for unjustified attacks on the
Jewish state and her leaders. The Detroit
Free Press and other newspapers are, at
long last, recognizing the error. The
Times editorial commenced:
Lebanon is less a country
than a heartbreak. Its conflicts
seem not only beyond cure but

even beyond understanding.
When last we read of Chris-
tian militiamen slaughtering
Palestinians there in 1982, Is-
rael's occupying army was held
responsibile, even by Israelis.
Now Shiite Moslem militiamen
are butchering Palestinians in
the same camps, Sabra and
Shatila, and the world just
shrugs. The Christian-led Gov-
ernment has all but evaporated.
Lebanon's Syrian protectors ac-
cuse a former ally, Yassir Arafat,
of provoking the slaughter to get
back at rival Palestinians.
Lebanon is being cut by a
hundred knives, rent by a
thousand vendettas. Terror is
random. Last week 50 people
were killed ... No one is sure
who did it, or why. Lebanon has
ceased, by any plausible defini-
tion, to be a nation.
What else can be said about errors
which did not help the Lebanese, did not
glorify morality, only added to
scapegoatism?
Enough said!

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