Friday, January 25, 2008

Redeeming the Imprisoned

A commandment that receives one of the highest priorities is that of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives. It is considered a great mitzvah to redeem a Jew who is imprisoned. In traditional literature this mitzvah was primarily framed in the talmudic era of Roman and Persian rule, and later in medieval Europe, where legal systems were often discriminatory, prisons life-threatening, and torture prevalent. Does this mitzvah apply to someone jailed in US prisons based on a generally fair judicial process?

Click here to read moreR. Michael J. Broyde, The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law, pp. 83-84 n. 15:

The question that is worthy of pondering is the relationship between the obligation to redeem captives (found in Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 253) and the prohibition to inform. In cases where there is no prohibition to inform (as informing is permitted, see Darkei Teshuvah 157:53) a logical case can be made that there is no mitzvah to redeem captives (as they are in prison properly) when there is nothing wrong with informing. This exact observation is made in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Ve’aleihu lo Yibol, volume 2:113–114, which recounts in the name of Rabbi Yehuda Goldreicht:
I asked Rabbi Auerbach about a particular Jew who stole a large sum of money and he was caught by the police in America. He was sentenced to a number of years in prison in America. Was it proper to assist in the collection of money for him [we were speaking about a large sum of $200,000] in order to fulfill the mitzvah of redeeming captives to have him released from prison?

When Rabbi Auerbach heard this he stated “Redeeming captives?! What is the mitzvah of redeeming captives here? The mitzvah of redeeming captives is only when the gentiles are grabbing Jews, irrationally, for no proper reason, and placing them in prison. According to what I [Rabbi Auerbach] know, in America they do not irrationally grab Jews in order to squeeze money from them. The Torah says ‘do not steal’ and he stole money — on the contrary, it is good that he serve a prison sentence, so that he learns not to steal!”
For extensive treatment of the topic of informing and when it applies, see the entire Chapter Eight of The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law.

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