Who decides who is safe?

0915eliezrieIt’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 Germany that paved the way for war?

President Obama says he has Israel’s best interests at heart and hopes that the agreement will nudge Iran towards being a responsible member of the international community.

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 that danger so acute, that the very existence of the country and the safety of millions are at stake? The essential question is, who makes that assessment?

According to Jewish law 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 his 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 factor; those with an intimate understanding of a country’s military capabilities and vulnerabilities. According to Jewish law it’s their evaluation 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.  Or, 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 because of 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, but rather the safety and security of eight million Israelis and hundreds of millions of others in the Middle East and beyond.  According to Jewish law, the only question is one of pikuach nefesh-saving a life. Only the military experts who are directly responsible for security need to tell us if they feel that this agreement poses a serious danger.

It’s clear that Israel’s military leadership believes this agreement is a grave threat.  (It would also be enlightening to hear the viewpoints of US military leaders, unfiltered by politicians. It’s clear that Jewish law rules that the agreement should be opposed.

Rabbi Eliezrie is president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His email is
rabbi@ocjewish.com and author of the upcoming book “The Secret of Chabad”.
His website is
www.davideliezrie.com.

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