Friday January 12, 2024  – ב׳ שְׁבָט תשפ”ד

This Sunday will mark the 100th day of this war of hostages being held in captivity. Freed Hostages are giving horrific, and pain-felt testimony now. (here and here) The longer the current 136 hostages (the estimated number) are still held, we know that the ability to bring them back alive decreases daily. There is little to no knowledge regarding where they are or how they are. The Red Cross has not been successful in gaining access to them, and unlike previous hostage situations, there have been almost no pictures or videos issued showing the hostages.

The Concept of a Price Tag

What price should Israel pay to release the hostages? During the first round of hostage release in November, Israel released 3 Palestinian prisoners for every Hamas-held hostage.

The Mishna in the tractate of Gittin mandates:

“אֵין פּוֹדִין אֶת הַשְּׁבוּיִים יוֹתֵר עַל כְּדֵי דְמֵיהֶן, מִפְּנֵי תִקּוּן הָעוֹלָם” (גיטין ד:ו)

The captives are not redeemed for more than their [monetary] value.” (Gittin 4:6)

Quantifying a monetary value for a human life is unthinkable. However, the question of how high the price to be extracted from Israel should be an important discussion. In the case of Gilad Shalit who was held in captivity in Gaza (2006-2011), we know that early on in his captivity there was an offer to exchange 100 prisoners for his release, which was rejected by the Prime Minister only to delay a deal and, figuratively speaking, raising the “price” exponentially.

We need to consider, in a grave and unusual situation like this, how many prisoners are going to be released in exchange, and who they are. During the November deals, no Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands were returned,” whereas as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange hundreds of known murderers were released (including Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar who is the senior leader behind the October 7 massacre).

The second aspect is determining the costs for both Israeli and Palestinian society. Every morning at 6 am Israel time, the army releases the names of the soldiers killed in battle. The whole country goes to sleep (if they go to sleep) collectively holding their breath. With each soldier’s death, the price is rising.

In addition, the price on Palestinian society of this war is extremely high. With 80% of Gazans displaced from their homes and over 22,000 killed (reported by the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry – it is estimated that about 8000 are Hamas fighters leaving, perhaps, 14,000 civilians dead), the loss of human life and injury, and the spread of disease, hunger, and lack of medical supplies should give Israel pause. How many lives lost are too high a price for Israel to continue its operation?

International support for Israel has waned significantly over the past three months. Israel’s military end-game is unclear, and many Israeli experts question the achievability of Israel’s objective to eradicate Hamas.

On Wednesday, ahead of facing accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, PM Netanyahu stated that Israel “has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.” This comment was made to rebuff his hard-right coalition members who have called to reinstate Israeli settlements in Gaza and encourage Palestinian emigration and resettlement elsewhere. “Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages. Once this is achieved, Gaza can be demilitarized and deradicalized,

Israel has no choice except to do everything possible to gain the release of the hostages immediately and to incapacitate Hamas.

Meanwhile, here is how we can help. And our help is needed and requested.

The hostages’ families need us, now more than ever, to help raise global awareness and mobilize advocacy efforts to bring them home! 

The hostages range in age, religion, and nationality (including 8 American citizens).

Here is what you can do:

  1. Tape it. Post it. Tag it. Every morning Rachel Goldberg-Polin, the mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin who was taken into captivity by Hamas from the Nova music festival, takes a piece of masking tape, writes the number of days that have passed since her son was taken hostage, and places it on her shirt. This ever-changing number is a reminder that with each passing day, the hostages’ lives are at ever-greater risk.
  2. Do this to show that you care: All you need is masking tape and a black marker. Write the number 100 and place it on your shirt over your heart. Please take a picture, post it, and tag: #BringThemHomeNow
    Ask your entire congregation, community, and network of friends, colleagues, and groups to join you. The more people who do it, the more awareness this will raise.
  1. Join us on Sunday, January 14 / 3 Shvat 11:00am ET for a Teach-In on what our Jewish sources say about Redeeming the Captives with Rabbi Prof. Dalia Marx of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.
  2. Join an in-person gathering. Check out Run4TheirLives for opportunities around the globe to gather, walk, or run for the immediate release of the hostages.
  1. Host a Vigil. Read the names of the hostages, recite One Tiny Seed (Rachel’s poem), and this prayer for peace. Share profiles of hostages who remain in captivity, and call your elected officials to remind them that these hostages have been in captivity for 100 days.

Your voice is critical. Thank you for raising it publicly.

Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov!