Shas spiritual leader's prisoner swap stance sparks bickering

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef waiting to receive intel update before issuing final decision.

A Shas spokesman on Tuesday rejected Rabbi David Yosef's claim that his father, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, supports releasing Palestinian security prisoners "with blood on their hands" in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The spokesman said Ovadia Yosef was waiting to receive an intelligence update from party chairman Eli Yishai before issuing a final decision. Earlier Tuesday, David Yosef reiterated that his father supported such a swap. "His position has not changed in principle since Entebbe," he said, referring to the 1976 hostage crisis in Uganda. Ovadia Yosef, then-chief sephardi rabbi, ruled that Halacha permitted swapping Palestinian terrorists, including those guilty of murder, for the kidnapped Israelis and Jews. A successful IDF commando operation freed the hostages. The Shas spokesman said Yosef would take into consideration the impact of a prisoner release on Israel's security before issuing a final ruling. Yosef also wanted more information about Schalit's health, the spokesman said. David Yosef, who heads the Yechaveh Da'at Beit Midrash in Jerusalem, is a close friend of former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and a political enemy of Yishai. He first publicized his father's opinion in January. Yosef said he did not think making his father's opinion public would weaken Israel's negotiating position. "No one doubted that the government would be willing to make a hostage swap," he said. "It is imperative to free as many terrorists as necessary to save Schalit. In life-and-death situations like this one, we must not make calculations precisely on how many terrorists should or should not be freed or whether they have blood on their hands or not." Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the chief rabbi of Safed and son of former chief sephardi rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, on Tuesday said Yosef's opinion was contrary to Halacha. "Halacha prohibits risking the lives of thousands of Jews for the release of one Jew," he said. "It also prohibits paying exorbitantly to free a prisoner because that encourages future kidnappings." Eliahu cited a famous precedent in Halacha. Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg (1215-1293), who was kidnapped in Germany, issued a ruling from prison prohibiting his followers to pay his ransom. He died in captivity. David Yosef said that precedent was immaterial because, unlike Schalit, Meir's life was never in danger. Yosef said his father also supported the May 1985 deal in which Israel released 1,150 terrorists, including Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, in exchange for three Israeli captives. Critics of the deal said it sparked the first intifada, which began two years later, and encouraged Palestinians to perpetrate additional kidnappings. "No one can prove the release of those prisoners is what caused the first intifada," David Yosef said. He said immediate danger to Schalit took precedence over the potential future danger that freed terrorists would carry out attacks, "especially since deterrence, targeted killings and other military action might prevent these future attacks."