HomeMarch 2012The Real Decider

The Real Decider

Should Israel Attack Iran? The question is being debated the world over.  Some say it’s the only way to prevent Iran, whose stated goal is Israel’s destruction, from obtaining nuclear weapons.  Others argue that the risk is too large; an Israeli attack could erupt into a regional conflict engulfing the United States and other countries.

As Jews we have to ask the question in a different light.  How do the Torah, Jewish law and tradition view this crucial question?  What should be the deciding factor?

The legal principle is embedded in the Jewish legal tradition on the issues of life and death.  Who decides if a sick patient should fast on Yom Kippur?  Is it the rabbi, the patient himself or a doctor?  Jewish law is clear: it’s up to the medical professional who is intimately involved with the patient.  If his professional medical judgment is that by fasting the person’s life would be at risk, then we are forbidden to fast.

The same principle applies to Israeli security.  Does Jewish law permit Israel to give up land in the quest for peace?  If the military experts, currently involved with the security of the state are of the opinion that by relinquishing the territory there is no real danger to country, then it can be permitted.  If not, we are forbidden to put lives at risk.

During the disengagement from Gaza, a senior military officer commander of Gaza privately beseeched a friend of mine with political connections in Israel, “Please do something.  Withdrawing from Gaza will endanger Israel.”  Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the decision.  He was an experienced general.  Why shouldn’t he decide ?  Jewish law is clear: you have been a great  general, but today you are a politician.  In that role you may driven by different considerations, political pressures from abroad,  your chance of reelection or your place in history.  One of Sharon’s top aides confided to me, “He thought he would always be around to take care of Israel.”  Sharon fired his top military staff who opposed his move.  The withdrawal from Gaza caused a serious erosion of Israel’s security and political position.  Hamas, an Iranian proxy state dedicated to Israel’s destruction, seized  control of Gaza.  Southern Israeli towns are under bombardment; that was only somewhat curtailed after another costly war.  Internationally, support for Israel has dropped significantly.

Halacha, Jewish Law, mandates the crucial factor is the expert opinion of the current military experts.  They are driven not by political considerations, rather one factor: if we give up this ground,  will the security of the country be put at risk?

The same principle applies to Iran.  If the military experts now in command  perceive  that there is a real threat to Israel that can be mitigated by an attack with a  good chance of success  then according to Jewish law, it would permissible  to attack.  A strong argument could be made that an attack would be required if the military experts assess an imminent threat to Israel.

The actual decider in a democracy must be the political leadership of the country.  Driving the decisionmaking process should be the question of the security and welfare of the Jewish people.  Binyamin Netanyahu was a commando in the Israeli Army (his unit commander, Ehud Barak).  Today he is a politician.  He has a fateful decision to make in the upcoming months.  Hopefully he will follow the guidelines of Jewish tradition and listen to the advice of his military experts in this crucial issue.

As for my view, I defer to the military experts.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is rabbi@ocjewish.com

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