The Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim
January 1994/Tevet 5754
Americans are well aware of the problem of soldiers Missing in Action. During and after the Vietnam war, Jews and non-Jews alike have felt pain and sorrow for the POW's/MIA's and their families. Unfortunately, this issue emerging once again, but the soldiers this time are Israel's sons: Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman.
These four young men were captured in Lebanon - Arad in 1986, the others in 1982. Today, their whereabouts are unknown. Their government, friends and families have not been permitted to contact them in any way.
According to the Hague Regulations (1907), the Third Geneva Convention (1949), and other instruments of international law, soldiers taken as "prisoners of war" must be accorded basic human rights. (Many wrongly refer to the mandates of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to argue for the release of these soldiers; the latter, however, refers the rights of civilians, not soldiers, taken captive during times of war and aggression.)
Such rights include:
- not being confined "exept as an indispensable measure of safety and only while the circumstances which necessitate the measure continue to exist." (Hague, Article 5)
- sending and receiving mail.
- receiving aid from international relief societies, such as the International Red Cross.
- the establishment of an "inquiry office", instituted by the party holding the prisoner, to provide information to the prisoner's government.
- receiving proper medical care.
- receiving proper food, clothing, and healthcare.
Furthermore, the Third Geneva Convention strictly prohibits acts of inflicting violence, taking hostages, humiliating or degrading treatment, and the passing of sentences without a proper trial. (Article 3)
Baumel, Katz, and Feldman have not been allowed to send or receive any communications to or from Israel's government, any mail from their families, or visits by the International Red Cross. Arad was permitted to communicate to his family shortly after his capture, but there has been no word on his safety since. Clearly, their captors have not adhered to the international standards set forth by the United Nations.
It is a tragedy that any soldier serving his/her country should be treated as a hostage, being "sold" from one terrorist group to another as Ron Arad reportedly has been. Indeed, the plight of these Israeli servicemen is a humanitarian concern which transcends political boundaries.
The Zionist community in the United States, led by the American Zionist Movement, has invested its time and resources to bring this humanitarian issue to the attention of the American public. Some have already joined in this campaign. High school and college students are now mobilizing, such as the Young Judaea youth movement, which has collected over 8,000 signatures petitioning President Clinton to redouble his efforts to secure the release of the MIA's; and the University Students Department of American Zionist Youth Foundation, which is promoting awareness and activism on college campuses.
The next step in the campaign for the release of the MIA's is to appeal to Jewish educators and to our youth. This unit has been prepared for educators working with students in afternoon religious schools, and youth groups. Our goal is to impart a sense of responsibility to our students within the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish communities. It is also suitable for other formal and informal educational settings, such as Jewish community centers and other youth movements.
PIDYON SHEVUYIM - the MITZVAH of redeeming captives - is an important lesson for us all. Our rabbis have argued that this mitzvah (a religious obligation - not just "a good deed") is of "great importance", since a hostage's affliction includes numerous misfortunes, such as hunger, poverty, and abuse.
Young people have always been among the activists on American Jewish community issues. Their enthusiasm for social justice issues is contagious; we need their voices and energy again!
Your school can play a vital role in the effort to return the Israeli MIA's to their families. Concurrently, you can foster your students' relationship to Zionism and to the Jewish People.
At this time, the American Zionist movement would like to extend its great thanks to those who have contributed to this project and to this campaign:
David Kasakove, R.J.E., Associate Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) Commissioon on Jewish Education; Rabbi Shelly Melzer, Assistant Director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's Department of Education; Betty Ehrenberg, Executive Director for the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Dr. Moshe Sokolow, Director of Educational Services for the Torah Education Department and Dr. Rafi Sheniak, Director of the Department of Jewish Education and Culture of the Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education; and Udi Prawer, Educational Shaliach for the American Zionist Youth Foundation.
I would also like to thank the American Zionist Movement's leadership for their guidance and suppport:
Seymour D. Reich, President; Karen Rubinstein, Executive Director; Rabbi Daniel Syme, Chairman of the Adult Zionist Education Committee and Senior Vice President of the UAHC; Moshe Dworkin, Chairman of the Publications Coommittee; and Gary Wolf, Director of Government, Internatinal, and Israel affairs.
We hope that this material will prove to be helpful to you, and inspiring to your students.
Tuesday, December 19, 2000 16:22:45
American Zionist Movement