Divine Authority or Nuclear Weapons

The Orthodox religious authorities in Israel have little to say about matters related to war and peace. For the most part, their role in Israel’s security has been consigned to prayer. On the other hand, religious Zionists believe that the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty is a sign of messianic hope and Divine intervention. Most religious Zionists take an active part in the defense of their country. But when it comes to the efficacy of nuclear weapons for defense, the religious community in Israel has remained strangely silent.

What is the rabbinical position on these weapons of mass destruction? In any modern analysis of Jewish theology the fate of the State of Israel now plays a paramount position. Does the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East add to or subtract from Israel’s safety? Because in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the future of the Jewish people on the land promised to Abraham’s progeny has become central to the vital understanding of a Jew’s relationship to G-d. In the whole history of our people, the few years of the Second World War and its near immediate aftermath brought us both our greatest tragedy and our most supreme triumph.

Are these two fundamental happenings in Jewish history mere coincidence? Non-religious Jews would have you believe so. To secular Zionists, a Divine intervention within history is anathema to their scientific enlightenment view of modern times. But we are now living in the age of much scientific confusion — i.e. the age of sub-atomic physics, the elasticity of time and the confusion over the correct place of human activity within nature. As Albert Einstein once queried — “G-d does not play dice with the universe”. Or does She-He? Modern physics now encompasses logic (Newton) and illogic (Bohr and Heisenberg) at the same time. As Jews, the question of free will and Divine supervision has always pointed to an incomprehensible paradox.

In terms of geopolitics, the possibility of a third world war has recently been posed by many writers. As events across Syria and the Middle East spiral out of control, the odds of dramatic superpower and regional miscalculation leading to escalation have become dangerously enhanced. Within this context, nuclear weapons can mean either deterrence or total folly. Once again the efficacy of nuclear weapons has been called into question. But why do states believe they need these weapons of total destruction?

Nuclear weapons only have utility in situations of monopoly or as threats against potential conventional annihilation. Within the Middle East, Israel has always faced the potential of conventional annihilation, and it has always held a monopoly on regional nuclear weapons. But times are changing. And if Donald Trump has his way, they could be changing fast. On May 12th, the American president will decide whether or not to maintain the JCPOA. This Iran nuclear deal is flawed in many ways, though it does buy the world some time to conceive of a more promising alternative. But time will become very short if and when the US pulls out of the JCPOA and Iran (as it has promised) returns to its pre-2015 nuclear enrichment program. Other than a vast regional war to prevent such enrichment (leading to G-d knows what kind of global confrontation) the world does demand an inspiring alternative to the JCPOA.

This is the way I see the options: The Middle East will either trigger a global war, become a region of extremely dangerous nuclear proliferation, or become the world’s first nuclear-free zone. And since Israel currently holds the regional monopoly on such weapons; in the final analysis, Israel must decide what it wants to do with its nuclear arsenal. But a nuclear-free zone alone is not a viable option for the Jewish State. It is definitely not enough. For Israel to agree to such an alternative, the Middle East must become a region in permanent conventional balance. This balance must be agreed to by all the nation states of the Middle East and rigorously adhered to by all the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In fact, such a permanent balance (I call it a Zone of Peace) must become part and parcel of a new structure of cooperative international relations that seeks out such Zones of Peace throughout the planet, including Europe (as a replacement for NATO) and also South and East Asia.

As a believer in a universal, moral and historically active Divine Authority, it is my understanding that G-d is in charge of all events on earth. But at the same time I also believe in human free will. This is a paradox beyond human understanding. But it is real, and our choice really does matter. The ball is in Israel’s court. Does the modern State of Israel believe in a G-d of Peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons throughout the region (and eventually the world) or does it believe in mere coincidence and blind happenstance? Perhaps G-d does play dice with the universe. Or, in a paradox beyond our understanding, He-She alone knows the answer that we as Jews will choose.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).