Monday, August 25, 2008

Ransoming for more than their Value

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The Mishna (Daf Yomi: Gittin 45b) had stated: We do not redeem captives for more than their true value for “the benefit of the world.”

The Gemora inquires: Does “the benefit of the world” (with respect to redeeming the captives for more than their worth) relate to the burden which may be imposed on the community (they will all become impoverished), or to the possibility that the bandits will take more captives? [The difference would be in a case where a private individual, such as a relative, wishes to redeem him.]

Come and hear: Levi ben Darga ransomed his daughter for thirteen thousand golden dinars.

Abaye asked: But are you sure that he acted with the consent of the Sages? Perhaps he acted against their will!

Rashi explains that “more than their true value” is referring to the amount that they would fetch if they would be sold in the slave market.

The Meiri writes that their value is based upon their individual wealth and prominence.

The Radvaz rules that we may ransom any captive with the amount of money that is usual to redeem other captives during that time period.

He adds: It has become the custom to redeem captive for more than their worth in the market, for an elderly person or a minor are not worth more than ten dinars, and nevertheless, they are ransomed for more than one hundred dinars. His explanation why there is no concern that the bandits will take more captives is because the captives are not being ransomed for any more that their gentile counterparts. He concludes that nothing should be told to Klal Yisroel about this, for they are a charitable nation, and it is better for them to remain that way.

Tosfos and the Ramban disagree regarding the halachah if the captive himself is allowed to ransom himself for more money than he is actually worth.

The Gemora in Kesuvos (52b) states: If one’s wife was captured and the kidnappers sought ten times her fair value for redemption, the first time the husband must redeem her. Afterwards, if he wants he can and if he does not want he does not have to. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states that we do not redeem captives for more than they are worth for “the establishment of the world” (that captors should not thereby be encouraged to demand exorbitant prices for the ransom of their captive).

This issue had an extraordinary public application about 700 years ago. The leader of Ashkenazic Jewry at the time was Rabbi Meir ben Boruch of Rottenberg. He was imprisoned by a German ruler, Rudolph, whose voracity knew no bounds. Rabbi Meir (known as Maharam Mi’Rottenberg) was imprisoned until his death, and his body was not released. The community did not ransom him, as he himself had ruled. Seven years after his death, a private member of the community paid almost all of his own money to release the body, with the stipulation that he be buried next to him.

There is a question whether according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel a man would be permitted to ransom his wife if the ransom exceeds her worth. The Ritva holds that he may do so, and the Chelkas Mechokeik disagrees.