Gilad is Not a Number
The impending trade for Gilad Schalit is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying. I must confess that my initial euphoria was tempered when I read details of exactly who is being released. Having said that, in this post I would like to rebut two arguments against the trade that I believe to be mistaken from a Torah perspective.
One argument against the trade is that it simply does not make mathematical sense. Without downplaying the importance of saving Gilad, at the end of the day he is just one person, whereas many more are likely to lose their lives as a result of the trade. Just do the math!
This argument, however, is incorrect. Consider the halachah regarding a town of Jews that is besieged by gentiles who order that one Jew must be handed over, or everybody will be killed. Mathematically, it would make sense to hand over one person. But the halachah is that nobody is to be handed over and all are to be killed. I do not mean to draw an exact parallel between that case and this case (there is a dispute regarding the halachah in that case if an individual is actually specified by the gentiles). Rather, the point is that sometimes it's not a matter of weighing up the number of lives involved. In that case, it is better to lose the lives of everyone rather to actively judge one person's life as being worth less than the others. In our case, it can be argued that the ordeal of Gilad's imprisonment is so great for him, his family and for the Jewish People (or at least, for those who aren't only concerned with Rubashkin) that he must be released even at great cost. That may or may not be a valid argument, but it should not be rejected for simply mathematical reasons.
Others who argue against the trade point to the case of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) who was kidnapped and refused to allow the Jewish community to pay the ransom. They argue that this shows that such trades should not be done.
But in my view, one cannot draw such an inference. Rabbi Meir was making a decision about sacrificing himself. As Rabbi Dr. David Shatz has shown in his excellent Jewish Thought In Dialogue, the halachah permits a much greater degree of autonomy over one's own life than it does for others. If we consider the previous example of the Jewish town besieged by gentiles, we see this very clearly: while the halachah absolutely prohibits selecting someone to be handed over, a person is permitted (and even praised) if he volunteers himself to be sacrificed. Gilad Schalit has made no such choice, and nor should he be expected to do so - in fact, I would suggest that most of the nation would not even want him to do so. Indeed, one could argue that the situation is reversed: the majority of Israel's population, who apparently support the trade, have collectively volunteered to shoulder the security risk incurred by releasing the terrorists.
Again, all this is not to say that the trade should be done. Although my gut feeling is that it must be done, the bottom line is that I simply don't know. In my humble opinion, there is simply no clear answer as to whether it is right or wrong, and I'm glad that it's not me who has to make such a tough decision. But the decision has in any case already been made. Our task is to pray, as we did today in the misheberach for captured soldiers, that Gilad should return safely, with both a refuas haguf and a refuas hanefesh.