A compass for every decision

It was a meeting I will never forget.

Some 20 years ago, after receiving my rabbinic ordination, I sought the advice of my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, on the role and responsibilities of rabbis today. Among his many gems of wisdom, one stood out:

“The Talmud states that ‘the seal of G-d is truth,’ ” he mentioned. “So, if G-d is to partner with you as you assume the role of a rabbi, you must ensure that His seal of truth becomes your compass in your every endeavor and in your every decision.”

I was reminded of my mentor’s advice as I read, with great pain, the letter that was signed by 340 rabbis last week, urging Congress to support the Iran deal. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I consider some of these rabbis as friends, whom I honor and respect. In spite of this, I sharply and strongly disagree with them and their co-signers.

A quest for truth

Firstly, some of their claims are simply untrue.

The letter states, “This agreement blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.” This could not be further from the truth. In fact, this deal only brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb, for it does not require the dismantlement of Iran’s many existing centrifuges and nuclear facilities, and it leaves almost all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact. At the end of this 15-year deal, Iran’s breakout capability will be just days.

Their letter also states, “Should this agreement be rejected by the U.S. Congress, the sanctions will end.” That, too, is false. If this agreement were rejected by the U.S. Congress, the United States will be able to maintain all of the congressionally enacted sanctions, putting continued pressure on Iran, and providing leverage to restart multilateral negotiations.

Peace is made with enemies?

Secondly, this letter fails to recognize “the elephant in the room”: Iran’s leadership remains as evil-minded as ever.

Just a few days after the deal was announced in Vienna, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, declared: “Whether the deal is approved or disapproved, we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. Even after this deal, our policy towards the arrogant U.S. will not change.”

So how can we negotiate with enemies that continue to seek our destruction? Can we not recognize that the hand we are shaking stems from the same being whose other hand continues to hold tight to the ruthless reins of terrorism and whose mouth relentlessly calls for our annihilation?

“Peace is made with enemies, not friends,” some may say. True. But only if these enemies first demonstrate that their evil ways have radically changed. Isn’t that the reason that perpetrators of evil, such as burglars and sex offenders, are required to enroll in a variety of rehabilitation programs before their re-integration in society?

And if these rehabilitation programs are required of individuals in order to manifest their real change of heart, shouldn’t this also be required of nations whose potential power for damage is far deeper and greater?

A naive approach

Finally, at the very heart of this letter lies an approach that is deeply naive and potentially dangerous: For too long, many have succumbed to emotion, and relied on baseless “hope” to silence our concerns and solve our problems, albeit seldom successfully.  

Alas, what some rabbis and leaders seem to misunderstand is that hope unaccompanied by realism – by facts on the ground – is doomed to fail. We cannot communicate with our enemies and reach decisions on the vague hope alone that callous regimes will automatically change their evil ways. Such an approach will only strengthen them and weaken us. Terrorist nations love to terrorize. And they thrive when their negotiating partners radiate ambiguity.

We live in tumultuous times in which the future remains unknown. But it is not too late to act and change the course of history. Each of us can buttress our collective hope by urging our senators and members of Congress to consider the many dangers that this agreement poses to the United States and its many allies, and to vote in opposition to this deal.

Together, we can make this deal a better deal. Together, we can make our world, a better world. Together, we can partner with G-d, and ensure that His seal of truth ultimately prevails.

Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah. This commentary was first published by Times of Israel and is used by the author’s permission.

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