What the Torah says about: Kidnapping

By Rabbi Ariel Abel

Two kidnappings have captured our attention in recent weeks. The first was the abduction of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls. Recently, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in Israel and have not been heard of since – we pray for all their safe returns home. What does the Torah say about these kidnappings?

According to Rabbinic tradition, the Torah regards kidnapping as a capital offence. Taking captives is only permitted in a situation of war. Slavery, while not banned by the Torah, requires a respectful relationship, which in effect restates the master-slave relationship as that of an employer-employee relationship.

Torah For TodayA slave may be bought at a market, but the rabbis regarded it praiseworthy to manufacture a worthy excuse to give a slave his freedom. All slaves had religious statuses which included them in the Jewish nation. As a former slave nation, the Torah does not countenance the control over someone else’s life or destiny as acceptable.

Contrary to popular thought, Jewish marriage does not have the effect of purchasing a woman. Instead, the formal proposal from a woman to a man has the effect of consideration offered in return for the right of a man to ask his wife to help him with expenses in their future life together. The possession of any person is unconscionable.

As a result of the twenty-four gifts granted to the sons of Aaron following the debacle with Korach, a priest has a call on the services of firstborn sons, yet the Torah insists that this right, although a genuine right in line with the practices of society in ancient Israel, should be compensated rather than exercised.

This may be part of the reason why we redeem the first born son.

The removal of all liens over personal liberty is praiseworthy because as a people we are the eternal protest against the loss of personal liberty.

The obligation to redeem the captive kidnapped is so important that a community is obligated to sell even a Torah scroll to raise the money for this purpose. To this day, the Spanish & Portuguese Congregations in London elect a layperson to the post of Redeemer of Captives.

Although piracy was largely unknown last century, this communal function has sadly returned. Once more, innocent citizens need to be saved from the greedy clutches of politically and economically motivated criminals. May God return them all home safely very soon!

Rabbi Ariel Abel will lead Is Interfaith a Jewish Priority? at Walford Road Synagogue, Stoke Newington on Sunday, 20 July at 6.30pm.