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RESCUING HOSTAGES

Rabbi David Samson7 Kislev 5763
812
Question
It seems totally unacceptable that the Russian army used a deadly gas to rescue the hostages being held by Chechnik Moslems in the concert hall in Moscow, where they ended up killing over a hundred innocent people. According to Torah law, could the Israeli Army use the same tactics in Israel, knowing in advance that they would be killing Jewish hostages in the process?
Answer
Firstly, a distinction must be made between rescuing hostages and rescuing people who, for instance, are trapped under rubble in a building which has collapsed. During the War in Lebanon, a building collapsed in Sidon, trapping dozens of Israeli soldiers under layers of concrete. The question arose: could the rescue effort be directed toward the many victims trapped on the bottom of the rubble, at the expense of the relatively few soldiers who were trapped on the upper level, knowing that the moving of concrete slabs would cause their death? Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli answered that if someone would take a bulldozer and rush through the upper level to save the many victims at the bottom, killing the soldiers on top, this is considered murder. (1) The principle is that you are not allowed to kill one person to save another. (2) One might think that this reasoning applies to a hostage situation also. Can a rescue action be taken to save the majority of hostages, knowing that a minority of the hostages will be killed in the process? However, when we are talking about a hostage kidnapping where the enemy is at war with the Jewish People, the situation takes on a different light. When King Saul was on the verge of being captured in battle by the Philistines, he chose to fall on his sword and kill himself. (3) He was afraid that if he were taken prisoner, thousands of Jews could die trying to rescue him. (4) In this sense, he saw himself as a “rodef” threatening the lives of other Jews. Under the law, a rodef is allowed to be killed. (5) In a situation, for instance, where terrorists take Jews hostage, demanding that Israel free captured Hamas murderers, tragically the Jewish hostages themselves become a threat to the Jewish People, since freed murderers could kill more Jews. Against his will, the hostage becomes a rodef. (6) This is similar to a situation where a terrorist sniper is hiding in a building filled with innocent people. To get to the terrorist, we understand that the hostages could get killed. Of course, every effort must be exerted not to hurt innocents. Even in the case of a rodef who is murderously chasing after a Jew, it is preferable to maim him, rather than to take his life. (7) Certainly, if the concert hall situation were to take place in Israel, it is preferable to use sleeping gas to neutralize terrorists and the hostages who are with them, and not to use lethal gas. However, if the only way to take out the terrorists if by using overwhelming force, then in the course of the action, the killing of their hostages is not murder, but rather the unfortunate horror of war. Their real murderers are the terrorists themselves. (5) 1. Tachumin, Vol.4 Pg. 136 2. Mishna, Ohalot, last Mishna in Chapter 7. Rambam, Laws of Murder, 1:9. 3. Samuel 1, 31:4. 4. Yam Shel Shlomo, Ch. 8, section 59. 5. Rambam, Laws of Murder, 1:9. 6. HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, Amud HaYimoni, 16:5. 16:32. 7. Rambam, Laws of Murder, 1:13.
Rabbi David Samson is one of the leading English-speaking Torah scholars in the Religious-Zionist movement in Israel. He has co-authored four books on the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Rabbi Samson learned for twelve years under the tutelage of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He served as Rabbi of the Kehillat Dati Leumi Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, and teaches Jewish Studies at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva Institutions.
Tzvi Fishman was a successful Hollywood screenwriter before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984. He has co-authored several Torah works with Rabbi David Samson and written several books on Jewish/Israel topics.
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