In Jewish tradition there is a rabbinic mandate to ransom captives (pidyon shvuyim), to bring them home to their families. This mitzvah (commandment) is fleshed out in Tractate Bava Batra 8b. The debate over pidyon shvuyim is one of the most hotly debated in Israeli politics. The conversation of how many live terrorists to trade for one soldiers life or as it has happened in the past, how many live terrorists to trade for the body of an Israeli soldier so he can be finally be given a Jewish burial and mourned by his or her family.
In the Shulkhan Aruch YD 252 (Code of Jewish Law, 16th Century) says the following:
Ransoming Captives takes precedence over feeding and clothing the poor, and no mitzvah is as great as ransoming captives. Therefore, any money which is collected, even for a religious purpose, may be diverted to ransom captives even if it is raised for the purpose of building a synagogue….
While the argument for redeeming captives is clear cut, Jewish tradition is not blind to the fact that there are reasonable arguments against redeeming captives. Most notably that the ransom could cause a financial burden to the family or community of the solider or that the price paid to the terrorist will act as an incentive for them to kidnap another soldier.
In Israel, I admire the debate over ransoming captives because so many of their citizens have served in the military. The debate is, as the rabbis declare, for the sake of heaven. I believe in my heart each Israeli soldier must believe that should he ever be abducted, the government (in due time) will see to it that he comes home.
While the actions of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl should be of concern, the American government saw fit to send him into a war. The government sends young men and women all over the globe and we owe it to them and to their families to get them home at all cost. Most recently, when Gilad Shalit was let free, the Israeli government turned over 1,027 terrorists. I wonder if the terrorists that were set free ever wondered why their life was worth only 1/1027 of the life of an Israeli soldier.