Separating halacha from national policy

Separating halacha from national policy

Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Conservative

Rabbi David Ellenson’s thoughtful op-ed (issue of Oct. 24) contains a serious mistake that must be corrected.

Rabbi Ellenson compares the prisoner exchange that led to the release of Gilad Shalit with a similarly lopsided exchange in 1985. Rabbi Ellenson states that this exchange never took place. In fact, the exchange, which was as wrenching and difficult as this current one, actually did take place. Known as the Jibril Agreement, it led to the release of Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, and Hezi Shai, captured during the first Lebanon War in exchange for 1,150 terrorists, among them Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas.

There can be no doubt that the release of these terrorists led to many deaths. Yet there can also be no doubt that just as with the current exchange, both the Israeli government and the Israeli people overwhelmingly supported this deal.

Israel is not a theocracy. Although halacha (Jewish law) and its proper application is the only concern when making religious decisions, its application is limited when it comes to national policy. Rabbi Ellenson surely knows this. He may indeed conclude that Rabbi HaLevi’s ruling favoring the 1985 prisoner release was more halachically compelling or accurate than the one advocated by Rabbi Goren, which ruled against it. But Rabbi HaLevi’s ruling will not adequately explain the decision to free Gilad Shalit. The answer to that question will have to be found elsewhere.