Questions and Reform Jewish Answers (New York, 1992), #237
QUESTION: A man in my family has been taken as a hostage by bandits in South America. How far may the family and the community go in order to obtain his release? ( Daniel Stern, New York, New York)
ANSWER: The discussion of hostages and their ransom is ancient; captivity as a hostage was considered a terrible fate. The talmudic discussion of a verse in Jeremiah came to this conclusion as captivity was the last of a list of horrors (Jer 15.2; B B 8a). The later tradition elaborated further, and Mainonides warned that numerous commandments were violated by anyone who ignored the plight of hostages or even slightly delayed their redemption ( Had Hil. Matnot Aniyim8.10; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah352). Among charitable obligations, the redemption of hostages was primary; it took precedence over feeding the poor or building a synagogue, and funds to be expended for this purpose could be moved from any other obligation (B B 8b). Even the sale of a Torah was permitted for the redemption of captives ( Seder Hahinukh #613).
The primary obligation rested on the immediate family, yet the obligation was also communal. However, matters were slightly different if the redemption posed a danger to the community. So, for example, Meir of Rothenburg refused to allow himself to be redeemed as that would have impoverished the community and set a precedent for taking communal leaders hostage. He, therefore, died in captivity ( H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, Vol. 7 pp. 203 ff. 476 ff.).
The redemption of a hostage is a major mitzvah; all the members of the family and their friends should participate in it. In this instance, the community may also be appropriately involved. Your description indicates that the man was taken hostage by bandits; this act does not have broader political implications as, for example, the taking of hostages by the Palestinian Liberation Front. Such efforts at blackmail of Western govern
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Publication information: Book title: Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law:Essays and Responsa. Contributors: Walter Jacob - Editor, Moshe Zemer - Editor. Publisher: Berghahn Books. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 113.
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