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What would Rabbi Meir say?

David Wilder
October 14, 2011


The Succot holiday has arrived. As we say in Hebrew – ‘Chag Sameach’ – Happy Holiday. Succot has a uniquely special characteristic – it is a time of great joy. It is considered to be the ‘happiest’ of the Jewish holidays, coming after the intense holy days of Rosh HaShana, the New Year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the entire month preceding these, as a time of concentrated preparation.
Now, with those past, we can sing and dance, celebrating Eretz Yisrael, living in small ‘booths,’ while participating in joyous worship services.

Yet this Succot, our festivity is somewhat dulled. The announcement that Gilad Shalit will soon be released is certainly a cause for overwhelming gratitude and happiness. But the price, release of 1,000 terrorists, of whom, according to past statistics, sixty percent will return to terror activities, is not a reason to celebrate. To the contrary.

The Shalit agreement is a done deal. There isn’t too much we can do to prevent it. Past experience shows that the courts will not stop the exchange. Next week, barring unforeseen circumstances, it will happen.

That being the case, I can only but express, in my opinion, a couple of elements missing from this disgraceful surrender by Israel to terrorists. If it has to be, at least is should include at least two other factors.

The first, I’ve already seen others speaking of. According to published reports, Interior minister Eli Yishai is demanding the release of Jewish ‘terrorists,’ that is, Jews who have been convicted of perpetrating crimes against Arabs. A list of such people has been prepared by my friend and neighbor, ‘Zangi’ Medad, the head of the Honenu organization, which works to defend Jews accused of any and all crimes under the sun.

Medad and Yishai are to be commended. It goes without saying: if hundreds of Arab terrorists, convicted of murdering, maiming and wounding hundreds and thousands of Jews, with the intent to destroy the State of Israel are being released from prison, so why not release a few Jews too? 

Are they worse than the Arabs? Of course not. These people are not terrorists, nor are they ‘common criminals.’ These are people who, as a result of continued Jewish bloodshed, reacted. The manner in which they chose to react is not commonly accepted by Jews or Israelis; the fact is, the number of such ‘criminals’ is miniscule. If people really believed that this was the way to solve our dilemmas, ‘taking the law into their own hands,’ the numbers would be much much larger.

People do make mistakes. It certainly would be preferable that the Arab terrorists be left to rot in Israeli jails, or better yet, be executed for their deadly crimes. But being that Israel sees fit to release 1,000 for one, there’s no reason to leave Jewish Israelis in prison.

But this is only one side of the coin. There is another side, which I have yet to see mentioned.

What about Jonathan Pollard?  

Pollard wasn’t convicted of murder. He didn’t harm anyone. He was convicted of ‘spying’ for a friendly ally of the United States. He has expressed regret for his actions. If Israel can release so many evil individuals, with blood on their hands, creatures who have committed the worst of crimes, how can the United States continue to hold Pollard in jail?

There shouldn’t be any mistake made. I’m not, in any way, shape or form, comparing Pollard to Arab terrorists, or to Jewish convicts. He doesn’t fit into these categories . But his release is no less humanitarian than that of Shalit’s.  Were he being held by any other country in the world, the United States would be in the forefront of the attempts to have him released.

In truth, Pollard, similar to Gilad Shalit, is a Prisoner of War. Jonathan Pollard did not spy to get rich. He didn’t have any evil illusions about destroying the United States. He was a Jew, in a position to help Israel against deadly enemies, wishing to annihilate another few million Jews. His only concern was to help Israel survive. For that, he is paying an enormous price. Shalit has been in a Hamas dungeon for five years. And Pollard? In an American dungeon for almost 9,500 hundred days.

Netanyahu has spoken at length over the past few days about leadership. He, today, following agreement to free terrorist murderers, must demand of the United States, to simultaneously release Jonathan Pollard from the pit in which he is being held captive. As Shalit crosses into Israel and terrorists are freed, so too, the United States must do its part, and let Jonathan come home too, to Israel. At least that. Not 1,027 for one, rather 1,027 for two.

Last night, coming home from my daughter’s home in Eshtamoa in the southern Hebron Hills, we were discussing the deal. One of my sons, who has also served in a combat unit, was resolute, exclaiming, ‘you would never do that because of me.’ In other words, he said, should I ever become a captive of the enemy (G-d forbid), I wouldn’t want you to demand the release of hundreds and thousands of murderers and terrorists, whose freedom would cost so many more Jewish lives. 

I certainly hope and pray that I’m never put in a situation where I would have to face such a test. What I do know is that some seven hundred and twenty years ago, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of his time, died in prison after being held captive for seven years. An enormous ransom was demanded for his release and according to tradition, some 23,000 silver marks were collected for his freedom. Yet he refused to allow this money to be paid, fearing it would result in further imprisonment of others, as a way to extort huge amounts of money from Jews.  And today: what would Rabbi Meir say?

There will be many Israelis crying next week, as Shalit crosses the border. Not tears of joy, rather tears of anguish, seeing their loved-one's murderers go free. At the very least, the very very least, we should have some small sense of something positive, seeing not only Shalit, but also, Jonathan, coming home too.

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