by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in the Isreal National News
No one should find fault with the activism of the hostage families. It is a classic application of “al tadin et chavercha ad she’tagi’a limkomo,” do not judge your friend until you stand in his place (Avot 2:4). The initial horror of the brutal, inhuman Hamas invasion, compounded by the ongoing horror of the captivity itself, the uncertainty, the fear, and the ill-treatment, break our hearts and strengthens our will to crush this vile enemy.
Certainly, not all hostage families have reacted the same way, and the response, as should be expected, is not uniform. Those who have prioritized the national interest over their personal pain also have our respect and admiration. But we cannot judge any of them, pray that we should never find ourselves in that situation, and empathize with their need to protest, demonstrate, and keep the fate of their loved ones and our citizens in the public eye. They should feel they are doing everything within their power to do.
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Their trauma is our trauma, and it is right and proper that visitors to Israel are greeted in the airport with pictures of the hostages, as are pedestrians who walk our streets.
The question then is not one of right or propriety – but of effectiveness. Do the campaigns or disruptions help or hurt? Hasten the release of the hostages or delay it? Do they have any influence on their captors at all? Clearly, our evil enemy Hamas – and all those who seek our destruction – utilizes kidnapping and other ruthless tactics as psychological torture, knowing how we value life and want nothing more than to be able to live meaningful, purposeful, and happy lives.
Do we unwittingly embolden Hamas in their sadistic cruelty when we exhibit the desperation implicit in the calls for a hostage release “at any price”?
Do the rallies and demands make their release less likely, more costly, and future hostage-taking more likely?
If a tactic works, it is bound to be repeated until it ceases to work. Employing methods that are counterproductive hurts the cause and endangers our future, especially in this part of the world where the western norms of civilization are perceived by our enemies as weakness.
Hamas knows how to weaponize against us our decency and love of life. It is misguided to think that somehow and for some reason our government is unconcerned with the fate of the hostages and not doing all it can to secure their freedom. In that regard, there is nothing more unhelpful than strident calls for their release “NOW” or “at any price.” That is a cost we will all bear.
The plea “bring them home NOW” has the faint echo of similar appeals in the recent past for some admirable goal that proponents would like to achieve, NOW. “Peace Now” stands out as a particularly egregious example of throwing caution to the wind and imperiling our homeland and security because of a lack of prudence or patience.
One can attribute to “Peace Now,” among other execrable results, the fact that Israel has no sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula, which ultimately allowed that territory to become the conduit for the smuggling of heavy weapons into Gaza overland and through tunnels. Its ideological successors compelled Israel’s hasty withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, from which we are now, again, suffering from the predations of Hezbollah. Even the foolhardy and self-destructive surrender of Gush Katif resulted from the misplaced desire for results, even peace, now.
We should always be wary of demands for something drastic that advocates want now without considering the long-term consequences of the price paid. (Indeed, Peace Now still persists in pursuing the two-state illusion.)
The heart forces us to stand with our aggrieved families. The head tells us that the address for their valid complaints is not so much our government but Hamas, the international community, and all those who are more concerned about the fate of Gazan civilians than the fate of our hostages. Certainly, we should reject calls to provide humanitarian aid to the enemy civilians as long as our civilians are illegally incarcerated under dreadful conditions or as long as rockets keep being fired at our people.
We should not normalize the seizure of hostages as part of war even if this ploy has been used repeatedly in Arab wars across the region. The truth is that our hostages are more innocent than Gazan civilians and it is high time we broadcast that truth unflinchingly.
Even worse than the NOW ultimatum is the demand for their release “at any price,” recently bellowed by a former Speaker of the Knesset. This is rank populism of the worst kind, and inherently unserious. Any price? Would he be willing to trade himself for the hostages? That’s a price. Would he acquiesce to transferring the Kotel to Hamas, to permanently flying the Hamas flag over the Knesset, to the disestablishment of the State of Israel, in exchange for freedom for the hostages? Those are also prices.
It is not only insincere; it is also profoundly foolish. A negotiator that offers to pay “any price” for his cherished objective only drives up that price, more and more and more, until the negotiator realizes the inanity of the offer or pays a self-destructive price.
And no price has been proven more destructive to Jewish life in the land of Israel than the exchange of murderous terrorists for innocent Jews. That too is a price we are paying today, heavily and bitterly, for the folly of the past. The release of the accursed Sinwar, among more than a thousand other terrorists, in the Shalit deal should cause any sane nation to re-think that approach to hostage negotiations. These deals literally prompt more hostage-taking and the loss of more Jewish life. Defeating Hamas is incompatible with releasing Hamas terrorists back into society. It only strengthens Hamas, reinforces that crimes against Jews pay, and encourages the next round.
As we have seen, there is no simple and convenient way to defeat Hamas and simultaneously liberate the hostages. Our government can be criticized for many things, but I do not believe that we can fault its current efforts to secure the release of the hostages. We are dealing with a diabolical enemy. What we should do, at least, is make the lives of Gazans as miserable as are the lives of our hostages. It is not enough that they – finally – protest against Hamas, and it is doubtful if those protests are even sincere and not orchestrated by Hamas. I will be more convinced of their sincerity when they run en masse into the tunnels and bring out our hostages with them. Many of them surely know where Hamas is holding the hostages.
The provision of aid to Gaza might be the biggest mistake since the war started; it should stop, now, and afflicted Gazans should storm Hamas strongholds and free the hostages.
If there is a price that we can and should pay in these perilous times, it is this. It is a more pleasant and enriching one: call it the nuclear spiritual option. The Talmud (Shabbat 118b) states that Rabbi Yocḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: “If only the Jewish people would keep two Shabbatot in accordance with their halakhot, they would be immediately redeemed.”
What a beautiful and ennobling price! Two Shabbatot, because while one is a special experience, two is a commitment. Imagine if every Jew in Israel committed to observing two Shabbot according to halakha. Yes, it would be revolutionary – no television or radio, no theaters and no beaches, no pubs or nightclubs, no telephones, no texting, no shopping, no cars, and no buses. Rather, two Shabbatot that begin with candle lighting at home, and include public prayer and Torah study, kiddush, meals with our families and friends, our children and grandchildren, discussing life, and values, and meaning, and G-d, and redemption, and holiness, and the uniqueness of the Jewish people.
We could reflect on our history, on the gifts that G-d bestowed upon us, and the challenges that we have in every generation. We could understand our place in history, why our enemies persist in their hatred, and how we can overcome them as we always have. We can discuss what G-d wants from us, having restored us to His land after a long exile, as He promised.
If we can do it – and we can, and we should – than we are taught that we would “immediately be redeemed,” with everything that entails for our current predicament.” If only we put that declaration, which has tantalized Jews for almost two millennia, to the test! Two Shabbatot, fully observed by every Jew in Israel, the only exceptions being the security apparatus and other essential services (like medical) who also observe Shabbat but in a different way. What a unifying and uplifting experience that would be – and it requires the participation of every Jew.
Does “any price” include something that might actually work and that will transform our society for the better? Or does it only involve concessions that make us less safe? Or are we content to only engage in empty gestures?
The times are serious. Let the organizers get to work. We should try it – and I dare say, we should try it NOW.
Originally published in the Isreal National News