On 3 May 2007, just short of her fourth birthday, little Madeleine McCann disappeared. Her distraught parents have never given up on finding their daughter, who would now be almost 16, but recent headlines now suggest the search for Madeleine may soon come to an end as funds dry up.
What does the Torah say in such situations? When a person is missing, but there is no evidence to suggest they are no longer alive, should the search for them continue? What advice would a rabbi give the parents in such a case?
There is a principle in halacha that we do not abandon hope, even in the most desperate situation.
For example, we do not tell a person that a situation is hopeless, even as we recite the confession on a death bed.
Hope of a recovery is always there while a person is alive, and the parents of a missing toddler have that hope right up to the point of a body being discovered.
The laws of marriage define a person as missing (for the purposes of mamzerut status) if there was no likelihood of their being found, and these are quite broadly defined not to cause hardship to women caught in such a situation.
Had little Madeleine been lost in a plane crash or similar disaster, there might have been some rationale to say we should assume the worst.
These days there is often the opportunity, through DNA tests, to discover the awful truth.
In this case however, we simply do not know and the fate of Madeleine remains a mystery.
Rabbis suggest in such situations we say psalms, the traditional balm of the heart and mind in situations of distress.
Psalms 20, 121, 130 and 142 are the most appropriate, although we believe that saying any tehillim helps, as there is always hope.
Zvi Solomons is rabbi of JCoB.org, the Living Jewish Community in Reading