Redeeming Captives: At What Cost?

Ask the Rov: At what cost may we redeem fellow Yidden in captivity?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

Pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives, is one of the greatest mitzvos in the Torah. Doing so fulfills many positive mitzvos (since captivity can be worse than death), and ignoring a captive’s plight transgresses multiple aveiros. If needed, a sefer Torah may be sold to raise money for redeeming captives.1

Still, the Gemara teaches that we may not redeem captives for exorbitant prices — “more than their value” — for the sake of tikun ha’olam, an establishment for public good. The Gemara explains it in two ways: (1) To avoid excessive financial pressure on the community or (2) not to incentivize the captors to kidnap again for even higher ransoms.2

From the perspective of the first issue, relatives or friends of the captives would be allowed to pay the exorbitant price on their own without burdening the community. Indeed, the Bach records a practice to pay more for the captives when there are volunteer donors.3 This is especially so for an outstanding Torah scholar whose release will uplift the general spirit of the Jewish nation.4

Yet, the concern that paying an exorbitant ransom would bring further threats to the Jewish community applies no matter who pays it. For this reason, the Radvaz, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch prohibit doing so, even when the financial burden is not placed on the community.5 Still, some allow the captive to be redeemed from his own funds for “self-preservation,” and others allow (and therefore obligate) a husband to redeem his wife at all costs, since she is considered like himself.6

When the captive’s life is endangered some say this allows redeeming at any cost.7 Others counter, however, that every captive is inherently in danger, and still the Mishna prohibits paying above their value.8 A child in captivity who may be raised as a non-Jew is another possible exception.9

Despite these leniencies, the Maharam of Rotenberg famously refused to be released for an exorbitant ransom and passed away in captivity, since he feared that it would lead to other rabbonim and community leaders being targeted.

See Sources (open PDF)

From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash

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