Prisoners Weigh Making Jewish Identity Public

Captives Ponder Whether It Will Help or Hurt Freedom Plea

Poignant Plea: After a year in Al Qaeda captivity, aid worker Warren Weinstein appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help win his freedom. He also asked his wife to enlist the support of Jewish organizations.
youtube
Poignant Plea: After a year in Al Qaeda captivity, aid worker Warren Weinstein appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help win his freedom. He also asked his wife to enlist the support of Jewish organizations.

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 24, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

An American Jew’s desperate plea to Israel and the American Jewish community for help has highlighted his plight as a captive of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, which has held him for more than a year.

In two videotaped messages released by the terror group in September, Warren Weinstein, a foreign aid contract worker from Maryland, spoke of his Jewish faith for the first time and asked the community to intervene on his behalf. “Please, also, I beg you,” Weinstein asked his wife in one of the messages, “work with the American Jewish communities in order to work with the Israeli government.”

Robert Levinson
courtesy of helpbobLevinson
Robert Levinson

The request caught the organized Jewish community off-guard. Activists have refrained up until now from making Weinstein’s captivity into a Jewish cause, for fear that it would only complicate his situation.

“It’s a new element in the story,” said Michael Salberg, director of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League. “It changes things, because now he is calling in a public way on the Jewish community to address his case.”

In fact, Weinstein’s plight is one of four involving imprisoned or kidnapped Jews overseas with which the organized community is wrestling as the new Jewish year begins. Each is being held under different circumstances, but all share the dilemma of whether to highlight their Jewish identity or hide it. For its part, the Jewish community must weigh each case according to its individual circumstances, including the role the individual’s Jewishness plays in his captivity.

Beyond these particulars, there is also the Jewish religious and cultural imperative to redeem captives held by non-Jews. Known in Hebrew as pidyon shvuyim, such redemption is a supreme commandment, or mitzvah, that, according to the historic 13th-century Talmud scholar Maimonides, “takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them — there is no greater mitzvah.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.