“As rabbis in the Colorado Jewish Community…” begins an anti-deal letter to a local Jewish paper. It’s signed by rabbis that I respect and admire – two of which have served (or do serve) as my own.
I don’t mind if rabbis have opinions on matters of foreign policy. I don’t mind if they band together and write letters. But I want them to come from citizens of the community who happen to be rabbis, rather than rabbis who happen to be citizens. That includes rabbis who agree with me.
It’s a tall order, I know. And it ain’t gonna happen.
I am no more qualified to be a rabbi than a rabbi is to be a nuclear scientist (okay, well, maybe a little more qualified), but here’s my #armchairrabbi post for this weeks parsha, Shoftim.
It’s from here that we read the famous line, ‘Tzedek, tzedek, you shall pursue’. Tzedek, most often misinterpreted as “charity”, means “righteousness” or “justice”.
Before the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land, some rules were in order. Moses spends some time laying them out (including when genocide is permissible, but that’s another post).
After you wade through the part about waging battles and sacking cities (or as my kid puts it, “Hey, remember when Jews were like ISIS?”), Deut. 20:10 says, “When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall propose peace to it.”
Peace? With people we’re about to annihilate?
Rambam explains this is necessary – indeed, a matter of law – before you make war, regardless if this war was compulsory or a matter of choice. There’s argument over whether this is a commandment to make peace in and of itself (“for peace’s sake”) or just a commandment to make the objectives of war easier to attain (“getting what you want without war”).
Today, we call that diplomacy.
The Administration’s diplomatic efforts – and Iran’s concessions – are seen by most Jewish Americans (as well as nuclear scientists, security experts, and, well, most of the world) as as meeting this perquisite. In exchange for sanctions relief – sanctions that, I’ll add, have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Persians for want of airplane parts, medicine, and basic infrastructure – Iran will destroy 98% of its enriched uranium and two-thirds of its installed centrifuges.
The Torah also says to “seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). Is the Obama Administration seekers of peace (non-interventionists or idealists), or do they simply practice pragmatic foreign policy? I’m going to vote the latter, and it’s because I think that Barack Obama consults the State Department before the Torah.
We thrive “in the land the Lord has given us” (in Biblical times, the land we won in war) when we pursue justice. Justice begins, the Torah commands, before the first sword is even drawn. After all, as the sages write, you must also inquire about the well-being of your enemy before you make war upon him, because peace and war must exist within the confines of justice and righteousness.
But the Judges (read: rabbis and armchair rabbis) are not the Kings (read: leaders of the free world). The Kings will make war. The Judges’ only talking points come from Torah. Everything else is just citizen commentary.
Is it such a stretch to think that HaShem is telling us that to “seek peace” is also to “pursue justice”, and that these two are synonymous? If this is not the case, then why would Rambam spend so much time writing about the laws of diplomacy and the laws of war?
This deal with Iran is not a white flag. It is not an act of surrender, or weakness. It is an act of diplomacy. Perhaps even an act of justice.
I don’t know. I’m not a rabbi. But my rabbis aren’t arms control experts, either.