Rav Shternbuch: Prisoner Swap for Murderers Forbidden Even for the Gadol Hador


rav-moshe-shternbuchRav Moshe Shternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of the Badatz of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim, issued a clear p’sak regarding the recent prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit. Rav Shternbuch, whose ruling was related to the American Yated Ne’eman, where it was published, stated that a swap for murderers who vow to spill more Jewish blood is absolutely forbidden by the Torah.

Read his full ruling as published last week:


What is the Torah outlook on the recent prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit?


Pidyon shevuyim, redeeming Jewish captives, is one of the most important mitzvos in the entire Torah. However, in this specific case, it was forbidden to free terrorists who vowed to spill more Jewish blood after they are released. Aside from the danger they pose to killing Jews, such a trade strengthens the morale of the enemy and puts all of Klal Yisroel in danger.


Pidyon shevuyim, freeing Jewish captives, takes precedence over supporting the poor, and there is no mitzvah greater than freeing captives. Therefore, if money was collected previously for any other cause, it may be used afterwards for pidyon shevuyim. This is even the case if money was collected to build a bais haknesses.

Someone who ignores the mitzvah of freeing captives transgresses the prohibitions of “not hardening one’s heart” and “one should not close one’s hand [to help others]” and “one should not stand idle by his brother’s blood.” In addition, he transgresses the mitzvos of “You shall surely open your hand to help your brother” and “You should ensure that your brother lives with you” and “You should love your neighbour as yourself.”

There are many other transgressions and mitzvos that relate to pidyon shevuyim. Delaying pidyon shevuyim is considered to be a very serious transgression, and whoever is able to free captives and does not do so is considered to be a murderer (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:1-3). From the words of the Shulchan Aruch, we see the great significance that Chazal gave to the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim.


Despite the great importance that Chazal applied to the mitzvah of freeing Jewish captives, it is not without limits. There are certain cases in which Chazal forbid doing so. They understood that if we would go to any extent to get them out, the future ramifications could be disastrous.

The Mishnah states: “It is forbidden to free captives for more than their value, as a decree for the sake of tikkun ha’olam, maintaining law and order in the world.” There are two major negative ramifications that could result from overpaying for pidyon shevuyim. On one hand, this could cause the non-Jews to make a business out of taking Jewish captives, and furthermore, this could drain the Jewish community from funds if they constantly have to pay for the release of captives (Gittin 45a).

According to the first reason that we are worried about future captives, even if a family member wants to free the captives, he should not overpay, lest this lead to other acts of taking hostages. However, according to the second explanation, one may free his family members as long as he is using private funds, for this is not placing a strain on the rest of the community. The Shulchan Aruch rules like the first reason (Yoreh Deah 252:4).

If the captive himself is putting up the funds, Chazal did not limit the amount of money a person can spend to free himself (Tosafos and Shulchan Aruch, ibid.). Similarly, if the hostage is a talmid chochom or a future great Torah scholar, one may pay any price to get him out. However, even this case is not simple, and the Maharam M’Ruttenberg died in jail rather than let himself be redeemed at an exorbitant price.


All of the above guidelines apply when money is being asked in exchange for a Jewish prisoner. The main concern is that such an exchange could lead to future monetary problems for the Jewish people. It does not take into account other factors.

What happens if captors are asking for the release of other prisoners who are murderers? In such a case the ramifications are much more serious. Freeing them could likely lead to the death of many other Jews, for these murderers have vowed to continue their work once they leave the confines of prison.

Rav Sternbuch ruled that one may not go ahead with the exchange, because of the grave danger that such an agreement poses to Klal Yisroel in the future. In all circumstances, it is forbidden to make a deal that involves freeing murderers who have vowed to kill Jews. Whoever is involved in such an agreement is putting the lives of Jewish people in jeopardy.

Rav Sternbuch explained that this halacha would not change even if the prisoner was a great talmid chochom. Since Jewish lives are at stake, there is no room for compromise in these areas. Even if the captive was the gadol hador, such an exchange would be forbidden.

Rav Sternbuch added that even more dangerous than the danger of future killings is the psychological boost that this massive trade-off provides for the Palestinians. These people are not just terrorists. Their religion is killing Jews. Making such a deal with them encourages them to continue their activities on an even larger scale.

Furthermore, if they would know that there was a definite deterrent for their actions, like a lifetime jail sentence, they would think twice about their activities. Once the opportunity exists to commit massive terrorist attacks and be released a few years later, there is nothing stopping them from spilling Jewish blood. These terrorists have not even agreed to curb future attacks on Jews.

One might argue that there are already many terrorists who are willing to kill Jews, so how much of a difference does it make to release more of them? Rav Sternbuch said that while there are others who have threatened to kill, we do not know if they would actually go through with it. Many of the terrorists who were freed last week have killed before and have shown that they are ready to put their lives in danger to kill Jews.

In regards to such a situation, we should adopt a stance of total empathy with what the prisoner and his family are going through. At the same time, we must realize that we are bound to the will of the Torah, and in this situation, personal considerations should be put aside for the sake of the Jewish people as a whole. Gedolei Torah gave up their own lives rather than consent to agreements that would cause serious harm to the Jewish people.

A Jew must always be cognizant that the Torah expects us to abide by its will in all areas of life, no matter how difficult it may be. We are forbidden to let our emotions override the dictates of the Torah and entice us to agree to acts that are tantamount to sanctioning murder and causing great danger to Klal Yisroel. If we act according to the rules that the Torah established, we will merit seeing the final redemption quickly.

The teshuvah was transcribed by Rabbi Saniel Yaakov Travis, rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim and author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy – A Daily Tefilla Companion.”

Reprinted from Yated Ne’eman-USA.

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  1. My two cents:
    The last time I checked the Av bais din of the Eida Hachareidis is Rav Yizchok Tuvia Weiss.
    The title ???”? given to Rav Sternbuch is not an acrynim for ??? ?? ??? ??? as the article indicates, but rather the title ??? ??? ??? as is the title given to the head of Bais Din in the mishna in Rosh Hashana.
    This is also the term used by members of the Eida at to refer to Rav Srenbuch position.

  2. It should be noted that Rav Shternbuch issued this psak BEFORE THE trade was made. He made the daas Torah clear then, even before. It happens to be reprinted here now but he ISSUED THE RULING BEFORE, but the state of Israel doesnt listen to halachic rulings anyway.

  3. For weeks I was on the fence about this: One one hand, wanting Gilad to come home at all costs; and on the other hand, not wanting to aquiesque to the demands of terrorist who wanted their co-murderers released for him.

    This article clears my perspective. I love my people and would do anything to redeem them as captives, but I won’t transgress Torah Law to do it.

    Thank you Rabbi Shternbuch for helping me sharpen my perspective and stepping off the fence onto the side of Torah.

  4. #3 Instead of being negative towards the State of Israel, be aware that the PM Netanyahu spent alot of time meeting and speaking with Chacham Ovadia Yosef shli”ta (who is consulted many times regarding national issues while Rav Shterbuch is not)who agreed halachicly to the Prisoner Trade.

  5. This was the decision yrs ago by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l when Rav Hutner was a hostage in an airplane hijacking.
    No ransom, no negotiations and and no transfer of prisoners even when it is a Chashuva Rav.

  6. #7 sorry there was negotiations for his release and those others on the plane as well. this was thru religious organizations with contacts in the arab world

  7. Re: comment #11: What does sofek n’foshos l’kulah mean here. Is it a reference to Gilas Shlit or the thousands of Jews who may be murdered now?

  8. Chacham Ovadia poskined and Rav Shternbuch poskined. WE are not to favor one p’sak over the other. Elu V’Elu, Divrei Elokim Chaim!

  9. #17, Rebbe,

    We are not to disrespect one p’sak over the other, but not to favor? I’m confused. The Torah wants me to have no leanings, feelings, or intuition? I hope I’m missing something from your “p’sak.” If not, I might need to find a new Rebbe.

  10. to number 13
    Have you ever been by a gathering of the Eida?
    Well I have, and I haveheard them cleary refer to the postion as ??? ??? ???.
    The so called ???”? is an elaborate title for the position if ?? ???”? which is how Rav Weiss’s stationary refers to him, and the title he signs for himslf.
    Hence if Rav Weiss is ?? ??? ??? and Rav Sternbuch be ??? ?? ??? ??? that would make his position above that of Rav Weiss. (something everone knows not to be true)
    Most people see ???”? and assume the ? is for the word ??, but it isn’t!

  11. to number 13
    Have you ever been by a gathering of the Eida?
    Well I have, and I have heard them clearly refer to the postion as ??? ??? ???.
    The so called ???”? is an elaborate title for the position if ?? ???”? which is how Rav Weiss’s stationary refers to him, and the title he signs for himslf.
    Hence if Rav Weiss is ?? ??? ??? if Rav Sternbuch would be ??? ?? ??? ??? that would make his position above that of Rav Weiss. (something everyone knows not to be true)
    Most people see ???”? and assume the ? is for the word ??, but it isn’t!

  12. Netanyahu consulted with Da’as Torah before making his final decision. There may be others who pasken differently, but be that as it may he asked a shailah and got an answer. Pretty amazing that someone with his level of committment to yahadus asked such a shialah. He derves credit for that.
    As for the rest of you who sit in judgement, put your son in the hands of hamas and then see how quick you are to abandon him. Even when you know that it’s the halacha. How ’bout let’s tone down the judgement and monday morning quarterbacking and instead daven that Hashem should cut down our enemies.

  13. Rav Ovadia’s psak was based on the priciple of ein safek moyzti m’yidei vaday. The question is if a safek that is karov l’vaday overules a vaday, and what about 1000 karovs l’vadays?

  14. At least now, as Bnei Torah, we know what is right and what is wrong. Yasher Koach for printing this article. It would be interesting if there would be other Gedolim give their P’sak.

  15. like the brisker rav said people say the tzionim are heds of state and agav they are kineged the torah he said no they are kineged the torah and want to be oiker torah and agav they call themselvs heads of state

  16. To Ben (#16)

    I am sure you learned in Gemara Bari v’Shema, Bari Adif. We got back Gilad Shalit gezund and not so shtark. The 1,027 reshaim that went free, maybe they will be successful (May Hashem cut off their hands and feet), maybe they won’t be successful. So there is a tzad to argue that the deal was not so bad after all. But we hear Rav Moshe Shternbuch telling that the deal was bad. Very bad. He knows. We don’t. May Hashem judge us by our good intentions, as the pasuk says Shomer p’saim Hashem!
    Kol Tuv!

  17. # 15. My understanding is that R. Yaacov Kaminetsky paskened that it was okay to pay money for their release, but it was not okay to release terrorists. So it is true they were negotiating for their release, but not willing to release terrorists.