Tu Bishvat, a Super Bowl Ad and Israel’s Soda Water Company

This Shabbat is one of the four Jewish New Years set forth in the Mishna. Tu Bishvat, or Jewish Arbor Day, occurs on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat. In addition to being a birthday for trees, the holiday is deeply connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel and in modern days has become a day for celebrating the environment and reminding us of our responsibility as good stewards of the land.

At the core of this ethic for environmental stewardship is the concept of bal tashchit – the ban on wonton destruction of the earth’s resources. This environmental principle, which includes waste reduction, should be a focus on the holiday of Tu Bishvat.

Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream with Conservative Rabbis in Israel (Masorti Mission 2012)
Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream speaking to Conservative rabbis in Israel

This value was articulated in a presentation I heard last month while I was visiting Israel. Together with a dozen of my rabbinic colleagues, we toured the headquarters of SodaStream, the makers of consumer home carbonated water products. Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of publicly traded SodaStream, explained to our group the positive environmental impact of his products. “This is the new way to do soda. We’re revolutionizing it with a smarter way to enjoy soft drinks.”

In his presentation to our group, Birnbaum showed how SodaStream reduces the amount of packaging waste from cans and bottles. The company, he explained, also eliminates much of the pollution caused by the transport of bottled beverages. SodaStream has sponsored initiatives promoting waste reduction and improved quality of tap water. In his PowerPoint presentation, Birnbaum explained the alarming statistic that “460 billion bottles and cans manufactured every year, of which the vast majority are dumped as waste across parks, oceans and landfills.”

SodaStream's Daniel Birnbaum with Rabbi Jason Miller
With SodaStream’s Daniel Birnbaum at the Mishor Adumim production facility

In its most aggressive marketing campaign alerting the international community to the negative effects of plastic bottle waste, SodaStream displayed a 318-square foot cage in several countries. The cage contained 10,657 empty bottles and cans showing that the waste produced by one family over the course of five years from beverage containers can be replaced by a single SodaStream bottle. The “Cage Campaign” has now been on display in over 30 countries.

This aggressive marketing campaign erupted into controversy when one of SodaStream’s cages was erected in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012. Coca-Cola demanded that SodaStream remove all of the empty products from the cages bearing Coca-Cola’s trademark logos and threatened to sue SodaStream if they didn’t comply. Birnbaum not only rebuffed Coca-Cola’s demands, but he went on the offensive by ordering the display of one of those cages right outside Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

Controversy is obviously something Birnbaum isn’t afraid of. Over the years he has taken a lot of heat for the location of SodaStream’s world headquarters in the territories outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim. The European Union’s highest court ruled in 2010 that SodaStream was not entitled to claim a “Made in Israel” exemption from EU customs payments because of the company’s primary manufacturing plant is technically located outside of Israel. Human right’s groups like Peace Now have long objected to SodaStream’s operations in the territories and publicly disparage SodaStream on the web.

Pro-Palestinian activists who advocate consumer boycotts of goods produced outside of Israel’s green line have protested SodaStream around the globe, saying the company has profited from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They say Palestinian workers suffer from low wages and poor working conditions at SodaStream, but Birnbaum argues that none of that is true. For his part, Birnbaum claims he is a strong proponent of human rights, and that thanks to SodaStream thousands of local Palestinians in Mishor Adumim have good paying jobs. Those workers, he explains, would not be able to support their families without their jobs in SodaStream’s manufacturing plant.

In an effort to capitalize on SodaStream’s success, Birnbaum will be spending approximately $3.8 million on a 30-second spot during next month’s Super Bowl. Its recent “Setting the Bubbles Free” commercial, showing hundreds of soft drink bottles exploding when a person uses a SodaStream machine, was banned in the UK when television advertising monitoring agency Clearcast argued that it denigrates the bottled drink industry. Birnbaum is considering legal action in the UK and has countered publicly by asking, “Are we really being censored for helping to save the environment? This might be the first time in the world when an environmental approach has been shut down by the media to protect a traditional industry.” It will be interesting to see what Birnbaum and SodaStream have in store for the over 111 million Super Bowl viewers around the world.

I was quite impressed listening to Birnbaum speak passionately about SodaStream’s products and its environmental concern for the global good. The former CEO of Nike Israel (he also gained experience at Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble), was raised in a home in which strong Jewish values were preached. Birnbaum’s father was a Conservative rabbi who emphasized the importance of the State of Israel and philanthropic giving (Birnbaum is a major donor to the Masorti Judaism, the Conservative Movement’s Israeli affiliate). While Birnbaum, a Harvard MBA, is committed to his life as an executive businessman, he also gets a chance to participate as a leader in a synagogue for a few days each year. He travels to Cincinnati to serve as the High Holiday cantor of Adath Israel Congregation each Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur along with his wife Bat Ella, an accomplished Israeli musician.

Daniel Birnbaum, High Holiday Cantor at Adath Israel Congregation Cincinnati
Daniel Birnbaum with the High Holiday choir at Adath Israel Congregation

As Tu Bishvat approaches, I would encourage people to learn more about SodaStream and its positive impact on the environment. Yes, it is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ with major investors and a goal of becoming a billion dollar company, but it also has a vision based on the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam — improving our earth. SodaStream will never be loved by the BDS (boycot-divest-sanction) movement, pro-Palestinian groups, or the big soda corporations like Coke and Pepsi. However, it is making a great product, putting thousands of at-risk Palestinians into the work force, and trying to make an impact in reducing the world’s waste from bottles and cans.

I guarantee that after SodaStream’s Super Bowl commercial airs, Daniel Birnbaum will be the topic of conversation around the world. He’s a guy who should be admired, not denigrated. So on this Tu Bishvat I hope people drink a soda water L’chayim to Daniel Birnbaum, set the bubbles free, and pledge to help eliminate waste caused by all those unnecessary plastic bottles that are ruining our environment. Happy Tu Bishvat!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media Sites Get Political About Israel

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

Spending a week in Israel earlier this month I kept my eyes open to the way Israelis use technology. Even on my first time in Israel over 18 years ago I noticed that Israelis thirsted for the latest tech gadgets. Being a country that struggled with telecommunications early on in its existence primed Israel for a telecom revolution. In the first decades of statehood, stories persisted about families who waited years just to get a telephone in their own home. So when mobile communications took off in the middle of the 1990s, Israelis were eager to adopt the new technology.

One thing I noticed during my recent visit was that the Apple iPhone is much less common in Israel than it is in North America. I also got the sense that Israelis prefer the GPS app Waze over other GPS services. That could be in part due to Apple’s decision not to link Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in its Maps application or World Clock on its new operating system. Back in September when Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted that Apple’s mobile Maps application was inaccurate and had many flaws (including the Jerusalem situation), he advised users of OS5 to download alternative navigation apps including Waze which was designed by Waze Ltd., an Israeli company.

Other questionable situations in social media have led many to question whether these are really honest mistakes or politically motivated actions. A recent Huffington Post article titled Did Flickr Delete Israel From Its Map? raises questions about the maps plugin of the photo social networking site Flickr. When the user zoomed in on Jerusalem there were no streets or landmarks as there would be for every other city in the world. The article triggered two responses from Yahoo which now owns Flickr. The first email from a company representative stated that Yahoo was aware of the issue and was working to quickly improve what is a third party map provider problem. There was no mention of why Israel was the only city in the world affected. The full email message from Yahoo read:

The geographical data that appears on Flickr and Yahoo! Maps comes from a third party map provider and we are working with them to understand and improve the gap in geographic coverage that has been reported. Yahoo! always wants to ensure the best possible product experience for our users, and this falls short of those expectations. We are continually working to source and roll out coverage where there is room to provide greater mapping details. In particular, we hope and expect that you will see improved maps coverage of Israel shortly.

The next day Flickr debuted a map that rendered Jerusalem as a normal city with its streets and landmarks returned to the way it was. There was no explanation for the error.

Of all the social networking sites, Facebook seemed to be the least problematic with Israel labeling. It is a very popular site in Israel. However, one Facebook user found that according to the site she no longer lived in Israel proper. Laura Ben-David, writing in the Times of Israel, explains how she suddenly was listed as living in Palestine rather than in Israel on her Facebook status updates:

Sorry, I didn’t share the news that I recently moved. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone. It was so sudden and so fast. We’re not just talking about moving from one street to another, or to a different neighborhood. Not even to another city or region. We’re talking about moving out of the country; out of Israel. Yes, I know it’s a shock to you. It was a shock to me as well. In fact, I found out about the move the same way most people find out things these days: on Facebook. I found out when friends saw a photo I’d taken from home and posted on Facebook, and they told me it was tagged with this new, previously unheard of location, ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’

Apparently Facebook no longer lists my town of ‘Neve Daniel’ as ‘Israel’, but rather as a city in ‘Palestine.’ Truthfully, this type of geographical blundering isn’t a particularly new development. In fact, I remember a time when I could ‘choose’ to tag my location either ‘Neve Daniel, Israel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ Since 2010, Bing Maps have powered Facebook’s Places and locations. Frankly I don’t hold much stock in Bing Maps. A simple search in Bing could not even find Neve Daniel at all, in any country. I don’t know the back end of these programs, or how they work or fail to work. I can say that I successfully tagged the location on a photo, as I’ve done many times, as ‘Neve Daniel, Israel.’ Though what I saw, depending on where I was viewing it, was either only ‘Neve Daniel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ What other people saw, and what they rushed to tell me and send me screen shots of, was ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’

While the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis is indeed a complicated one, full of nuance, I think most would agree that these social networking sites are not the proper forums to play out the political situation. As far back as March 2008 Israeli settlers were fighting with Facebook to list their home city as part of Israel rather than Palestine. Ultimately, users in such settlements as Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel were able to switch their hometowns back to Israel. However it seems like Facebook is once again taking it upon itself to determine which country users live in. Facebook groups have popped up urging Facebook to remain neutral in this political matter and not unilaterally list Israelis as living in Palestine.

As Ben-David explained, “We are living in a new reality where our sense of history is being molded – crafted, even – through social media. News outlets are barely fast enough to keep up with the speed by which social media spreads information. Hence it is social media that people today turn to for their news. And their facts. Today’s information from social media will be tomorrow’s history. In other words, if Facebook says it’s Palestine, it must be true. Even though it isn’t.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel’s Gaza Situation Becomes Cyber War

Social media changes the zeitgeist in ways we couldn’t have imagined. As we saw with the recent presidential election, opinions and attacks now travel at the speed of light. And so it should be no surprise that the ongoing Middle East conflict in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis has escalated into a Cyber war.

While the conflict may seem like history repeating itself, social media is actually changing the way the public sees the violence. As several news agencies have reported,Israel is now using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to its advantage in its war with Hamas in Gaza. In the past Israel has had to rely upon mainstream news agencies to report on the back-and-forth actions in Gaza, but now the Israeli military and government can take its message straight to the people using its social networks.

As the LA Times reported today:

While Israel launched its surprise attack Wednesday on Gaza, it declared it to the world on Twitter, arguing its case for the new campaign against Hamas in less than 140 characters.

Minute by minute, the Israel Defense Forces fed followers information and arguments on the strike. At their computers, Internet users could click through aerial photos, check updates on the offensive and watch a YouTube video of the strike killing the Hamas military chief.

At one point, the Israeli military traded Twitter barbs with Hamas. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the @IDFSpokesperson account tweeted Wednesday.

The Hamas military wing tweeted back, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

Israel Defense Forces Twitter Account

Social media isn’t new to the IDF, but the way it’s now using such sites as Twitter is new and will likely become the way nation-states will operate in military conflicts. It is clear that the chief spokesman of the IDF, Yoav Mordechai, believes that tweeting the operation in Gaza is a good weapon in its hasbara (public relations) struggle. Israel has always been challenged by negative PR in the mainstream media. Mordechai’s office even used Twitter to send a warning to its Hamas enemies, tweeting, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” The IDF’s Twitter feed has been continually updated with news, pictures and videos from the front lines using the Twitter “hashtag” #PillarOfDefense. Perhaps the Cyber war really became a reality when Hamas’ military wing responded with return fire on Twitter, tweeting back, “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.”

In addition to the IDF’s new found use of Twitter, sites like YouTube (operated by Google) have had to navigate their way through the new murky waters of whether the postings by the IDF of their military operations are deemed “kosher” according to its own terms of service agreement. Originally Google yanked a video posted by the Israeli military Wednesday, which showed the “pinpoint strike” that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in his car. YouTube originally had a message on the removed video stating, “This clip has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. Sorry about that.”

However, YouTube apparently changed its corporate mind and allowed the video to be shown. A company spokesperson explained, “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” Most likely enough anti-Israel YouTube users had flagged the video triggering a review process until someone at YouTube could view the video in question and make the decision. By reinstating the video, YouTube opened up a whole new front in this war.

Israel Defense Forces Facebook Page

In taking the Middle East conflict to the Web, the opportunity for hacking has also been escalated. So it was no surprise early yesterday morning when a hacker group called “Anonymous” announced a mission to crash and deface websites belonging to the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli websites belonging to security and financial corporations. Using Twitter, the hacking group urged its followers to bring down more than 40 websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a statement, the hackers stated, “We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you. We will use all our resources to make certain you stay connected to the Internet and remain able to transmit your experiences to the world.” Already the hacker group has claimed to have taken down Israeli’s “top security and surveillance website.” They also released a “care package” with tools for staying online if the Israeli government cuts off Internet access in Gaza. Another hacker group called Telecomix posted a message online with instructions on how to use dial-up Internet to stay connect if the Web is shut down. According to Forbes.com, most of the Anonymous’ target websites were still online.

Another new front of the Middle East war in Gaza has been the public discourse on social networking sites. As soon as the conflict escalated advocates on both sides of the conflict began using Facebook to show their support. Pro-Israel supporters began simply updating their Facebook status with the Hebrew words עם ישראל חי (Am Yisra’el Chai) meaning “The nation of Israel lives.” Other Facebook and Twitter users reposted news reports of the direct hit on the Gaza leader and reminded their followers that the news coverage of the conflict has not accurate covered the escalation as thousands of missiles had already been fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, in a show of support many users on Facebook began posting photos of IDF soldiers from visits to the Jewish homeland.

On Twitter, #Gaza and #Jerusalem have been trending off and on over the past few days and many heated back-and-forth conversations have taken place on the site. The IDF’s Flickr site has also seen a huge uptick in traffic with many users reposting photos from that stream to their own Pinterest boards. Additionally, the IDF’s Facebook page has noticed a sharp increase in fans approaching a quarter million. The IDF page’s recent status was “Shabbat Shalom from the IDF. We won’t be able to rest until we bring quiet to Israel.”

The long-simmering conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be the first test of the social media zeitgeist. Newspapers and television news outlets are still relevant, but this will go down as the first war that was also played out in real time on the Web. In the social media era, anyone and everyone can become a reporter. And the millions of vehement opinions will likely only raise the heat of this escalating conflict.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at the Jewish Week

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel Scraps "Don’t Marry an American" Ad Campaign

Just as I was about to sit down and blog about Israel’s recent controversial ad campaign that (not-so-subtly) cautions Israelis living in the U.S. to not marry Americans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to scrap the campaign.

News of the ad campaign was first broken by the Jewish Channel but it went viral after Jeffrey Goldberg blogged about it on the Atlantic’s website. In addition to billboards in five major U.S. cities, the campaign by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption also featured short videos that warn Israelis that raising their children in America will lead to a loss of Israeli identity. In one video an American man cannot understand why his Israeli girlfriend is sad and lighting a candle in their apartment (he doesn’t “get” that it’s Yom Hazikaron — Israel’s memorial day). In another video a pair of Israeli grandparents sit in front of a menorah and video chat with their granddaughter in America. When they ask the granddaughter to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.”

This Florida billboard is part of Israel’s recent ad campaign that the Prime Minister scrapped today.
Translation: Before “Abba” changes to “Daddy”… the time has come to return to Israel.

Many American Jews were offended at the ad campaign and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) formally protested it with their colleagues in Israel. In a memo re-posted on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog, JFNA officials wrote:

This is to follow up on an earlier note from the JFNA Israel office concerning a new Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption ad campaign attempting to lure ex-Israeli citizens home.

While we recognize the motivations behind the ad campaign, we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel. We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.

For that reason, we have made our concerns known to Israeli officials in the United States, and are delivering a strong letter to the Prime Minister’s office asking the government to stop this initiative and to reconsider the strategy behind it. We have also offered to help play a role in rethinking this effort.

Not everyone had a problem with the ad campaign. Laura Ben-David, an American Jew living in Israel, thought the ad campaign was right on target. She blogged about it saying:

Goldberg indignantly claims one who says ‘a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel,’ is ‘archaic, and also chutzpadik.’ Archaic? Chutzpadik? I’m sorry, Mr. Goldberg, for being an archaic, chutzpadik Jew. Personally, I believe our chutzpah has served us well over the years. But really, do I have to explain that one? Jewish future in a Jewish homeland vs. Jewish future in a vastly overwhelmingly non-Jewish country… Tough one. 

This is contempt for America? No, it is reality. We love America. Yes, I left, but I love and appreciate everything America stands for and what it has given to several generations of my family. It was my home. But it is not our Home. There is no place in the world that can replace Israel in the heart of the Jewish nation. But if one stays long enough it can replace Israel in one’s soul. Isn’t that worth placing a few ads and commercials?

In the end it turns out that Prime Minister Netanyahu decided this PR campaign was, well, bad PR for Israel so he had the Ministry of Immigration Absorption scrap it. Here is the statement coming out of Israel:

“The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused. The campaign, which aimed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return home, was a laudable one, and it was not meant to cause insult. The campaign was conducted without the knowledge or approval of the prime minister’s office or of the Israeli embassy in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu, once made aware of the campaign, ordered the videos immediately removed from YouTube, and he ordered that the billboards be removed as well. The prime minister deeply values the American Jewish community and is committed to deepening ties between it and the State of Israel.”

Unfortunately there is another story coming out of Israel that’s going to make for negative PR. Writing on the Daily Rabbi blog, Rabbi Reuven Hammer of Jerusalem explains that “Two different groups have recently begun to gather lists of stores and employers in Jerusalem who declare that they do not and will not hire Arabs. Their plan is to post and distribute these lists so that people will know which stores to patronize and which to avoid.”

This is clearly a form of racism and it cannot and should not be tolerated in Israel (or anywhere). I hope that Jewish groups like the JFNA work just as hard (or harder) to ensure that these groups cease and desist with their plan. Rabbi Hammer correctly points to a text from the Torah in Exodus that states, “message of the Torah is that “You shall not wrong a stranger [ger] or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Israel gets attacked in the media enough without having to cause her own PR nightmares. Let’s hope that this ill conceived plan ends immediately since it is in direct contradiction with Israel’s democratic ideals as well as the values of Judaism.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Iran Hiker Josh Fattal vs. Gilad Shalit

At the end of September following the release of the American hikers who were being held by Iran, reports came out that one of the hikers was Jewish. While the whole world knew that Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were taken prisoner in Iran and accused of espionage, what most people didn’t know was that Josh Fattal’s father is Jewish and that he identifies as a Jew.

Fattal’s father, Jacob, emigrated from Iraq to Israel in 1951, and after serving in the Israeli army moved to the United States. Jacob Fattal’s siblings still live in Israel. The media did a great job of keeping Fattal’s Jewish connection a secret during the two years of his imprisonment in Iran. Only after his release from prison and return to American soil has Fattal’s Jewish story been told. The Jewish Exponent revealed that Josh Fattal became a Bar Mitzvah at Philadelphia’s Rodeph Shalom’s suburban campus and that he has traveled to Israel several times where he still has relatives.

I was thinking about the reaction to Josh Fattal’s release from prison and safe return home to the U.S. as I read a report this morning about an Israeli Knesset member’s outrage that Gilad Shalit traveled to a beach on his first Shabbat of freedom rather than to synagogue.

Photo Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

ynetNews.com reports that “Shas Minister Meshulam Nahari slammed the formerly captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit for going to the beach with his father on the first Shabbat after his return instead of going to the synagogue for prayer. Nahari claimed that Shalit and his father should have utilized the first Saturday after he was freed from Hamas captivity to say the [Gomel] benediction of deliverance – a Jewish prayer of thanks traditionally said by those who survived an adversity or were released from prison.”

Apparently this ultra-religious member of Israeli Parliament is taking his orders from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party who has charged him with the task of bringing Shalit closer to Judaism. While it would have been great had Josh Fattal gone to a synagogue on the first Shabbat following his release from Iranian captivity, it was his prerogative not to. And so too with Gilad Shalit.

This is the problem with Israel’s political system. Nahari is a member of the Israeli government and is speaking out against a citizen’s decision to go to the beach with his father rather than to synagogue. Yes, I think it would have been great had Gilad given thanks to God with the traditional Gomel blessing in a synagogue close to his home in Mitzpe Hila, but he is a free man in a democratic nation and can be thankful anyway he chooses. No rabbi and certainly no politician here in America slammed Josh Fattal for not going to a synagogue or temple to praise God for his freedom on the first Shabbat after arriving home.

Perhaps the most important message of both Josh Fattal’s freedom from Iran and Gilad Shalit’s freedom from Hamas is that they returned to their respective free and democratic home countries where they each had the freedom of choice to decide how they would spend their first Saturday of freedom. Synagogue or not, they were grateful to be home.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Gilad Shalit Home

Aside from writing about the impact the announcement of the Gilad Shalit-Palestinian prisoners exchange deal had on Twitter last week for the Jewish Techs blog, I haven’t written much about this developing story. There are two reasons for this. First, I feel as though it’s all been said. Second, it’s a very complex moral dilemma.

I posted a simple status update on Facebook this morning, stating “Extremely happy that Gilad Shalit is home in Israel. A captive has been redeemed.” One comment to my post summed up the moral dilemma in a concise way: “It is wonderful that Gilad has been released…but at what cost? Do you think that the 400 murderers/terrorists that have been released will lead honest productive lives? And the 600 more to come in 2 months?”

The deal is obviously lopsided because it is 1,027 Palestinian prisoners (many of whom are terrorists and convicted murderers) in exchange for one Israeli soldier who has been held captive for over five years without even access to the Red Cross. Having these prisoners freed and back on the streets should be of great concern to Israel’s security. It also sends the message to Hamas and other terrorist groups that Israel will free prisoners in exchange for captives.

However, it also sends a strong message to Israelis that the Israeli government will do whatever it takes to bring its captive soldiers home. If Gilad Shalit were my son, it wouldn’t matter how many hundreds of prisoners it took to bring him back into my arms. And that’s really why this moral dilemma isn’t a dilemma after all. We just have to put our own children in Gilad Shalit’s shoes and then ask the question.

I remember my high school years in United Synagogue Youth (USY) petitioning the U.S. government to assist in the redeeming of the captive soldiers Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman. And in more recent years we prayed for the release of other captives as well. So, the video footage of Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel today is cause for celebration. It is a beautiful reunion and one that Gilad’s parents truly deserve after their tireless efforts of the past five plus years.

As we celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit and the fulfillment of the commandment of pidyon sh’vuyim (the redemption of captives) in the middle of the Sukkot festival, we must also pray that Israel is able to protect itself from any terrorism caused by the prisoners it has agreed to release in this deal. At this time of great joy, we must also remember Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker, the two young men who were killed in the same cross-border raid from Gaza into Israel that resulted in the taking of Gilad Shalit. May their memories be for blessings.

For more on the question of the price at which Israel should redeem its captives, see my colleague Rabbi Barry Leff’s blog post.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller