The halacha on the Iran agreement? Go ask a general

It’s the question on everyone’s mind. Will the Iran deal push Iran back from the nuclear edge and become a pathway to moderation and the global community? Or is it a dangerous agreement, a replay of Chamberlain’s tragic deal with the Germany that paved the way for war?

Some have framed the issue as one of hope and trust. The President says he has Israel’s best interests at heart. Michael Oren arguments in his new book Ally raise serious questions on this issue.

The issue of trust is irrelevant, as is President Obama’s belief that he is doing the right thing. And the hopes that the agreement will nudge Iran towards being a responsible member of the International community. So too is the question of Iran’s recognition of Israel and its policies of supporting terror. Change in those areas would be great steps forward, but debating them sidesteps the core concern.

According to Jewish law there is just one vital question, Pikuach Nefesh — the preservation of life. Will this agreement put Israel and other countries in greater danger or not?  Is danger so acute that the very existence of the country and the safety of millions at stake?  The essential question is, who makes that assessment?

According to Jewish Law — Halacha — it’s analogous to questions of health. When faced with a major dilemma, whose advice should you follow? Thousands of years of Jewish legal precedent teach that expert medical opinion must be the deciding factor. The doctor, not the rabbi, determines if a patient should eat on Yom Kippur to preserve life. It’s the doctor’s advice we must follow.

So too in issues of security. The views of actual military officers tasked with the difficult challenge of threat assessment and security are the determining factors. Those with an intimate understanding of a country’s military capabilities and vulnerabilities. According to Jewish law, it’s the evaluation of the military experts that is critical; we are taught to follow their opinions in issues of life and death.

Who is not qualified to make this evaluation? Politicians who may be motivated by a host of factors, some noble, others not. Retired Generals or intelligence officials who may not have the up to date military knowledge, and today may be politicians or beholden to other interests. Definitely not members of think tanks or media pundits, who may have a multiplicity of agendas.

When it comes to Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life, Jewish law takes the conservative approach. We do not put ourselves at risk for speculation that maybe one day there will be a political transformation that could be game changing. It’s purely a security question: will this agreement put Israel, and for that matter the United States at greater risk? Is that risk so severe that military experts feel it cannot be mitigated.

There are a wide variety of viewpoints in the Jewish community. Some say we should support the President, others the opposite. It’s time to change the conversation. It’s not about politics, rather the safety and security of eight million Israelis and hundreds of millions of others in the Middle East and beyond. According to Halacha, the only question is one of Pikuach Nefesh — saving a life. It’s not up to rabbis, politicians or pundits to ascertain the level of risk. The military experts who are directly responsible for security need to tell us if they feel that this agreement poses a serious danger.

We need to know the viewpoint of Israel’s military leadership, not the defense minister, who is a political appointee, or Prime Minister, rather the generals whose expertise is threat assessment. It would be also be enlightening to hear the viewpoints of US military leaders, unfiltered by politicians. If the consensus of the military leadership views this agreement as posing a grave risk to security, then it’s clear that Jewish Law would rule that the agreement should be opposed; if they think it does not, then the agreement should be supported.

About the Author
Rabbi David Eliezrie is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County California
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