Shabbat Greetings – 7/17/2015
Rabbi Steinhardt's Shabbat Greetings

Shabbat Greetings – 7/17/2015

Dear Friends,One of the most challenging dimensions of my rabbinate has been in the “seam” where religion and politics meet. I have learned how important it is to tread with care. Part of the reason, of course, is that we, our B’nai Torah family, have people passionate in their positions, on every side. All reasonable people deserve to be comfortable here. Yet, religion – and Judaism in particular – represents values. And the values are not just to be studied and spoken about, but lived. And so, the boundary is often blurred.

This week, the world learned of the agreement between the “P5 plus one” and Iran on a nuclear deal. Before it was even considered in all of its dimensions, there were people on both sides praising the deal or claiming it as dangerous and worthless. I have been reading reflections and responses, and listening to the reports on the news for hours on end. I hear things misrepresented and misquoted. My concern, like yours, is about the verifiability of an agreement with an untrustworthy enemy. I also am deeply concerned about the “next day” with a nation that has sworn itself to the destruction of Israel and continues to support international terrorist groups and individuals. With more then a billion dollars flowing in, how can we fool ourselves into believing that it won’t be used to support the organizations of terror and destabilizing world forces. By not discussing these behaviors, are we implicitly allowing them to continue?

I ask myself, “What can I, as a rabbi, bring to this conversation?”

Let me mention a few things…..

  1. We aspire to live certain values. Amongst those values are lives lived in truth. I believe that imposes upon us the responsibility to know what all of the issues are, and to be as informed as possible about them. The 100-page signed agreement is available online. You’re not going to get that on the cable news stations. There are serious strategic thinkers, policy makers, think tanks, military strategists, generals, diplomats, agents from the Mossad, journalists etc. etc. Read them! Take time. This is the most important issue facing the Jewish people and Israel in the last decades. Critical thought demands that we go beyond partisanship and think with an understanding of history, government, diplomacy and military strategy etc.
  2. We live in a larger world. We don’t live alone. And the challenges in this agreement are not ours alone. I once quoted that we were and have been the canaries in the mine of human history. So, as people can learn from our experience and expertise, we can learn from others. This agreement was not just with America. China, Russia, Great Britain, Germany and France all have their signature on it and a stake in it.
  3. There are great consequences in its failure; whether ratified or not ratified. A nuclear Iran today threatens the existence of Israel and the region. We need to think about the consequences of a failed deal, as well as a successful one; a deal which prevents Iran from the attainment of nuclear arms for military use. What are the implications for this country, for the Jewish people in this country, and for Israel? This is not a simple question.
  4. Remember this is not just about leaders and politicians. This is about people and about children and about the future of the world. This deal is creating great challenges, not just for us, but for the Iranians. Can it lead to regime change? Will it break down the power of the mullahs and ayatollahs? Will its success strengthen them or lead to a different relationship to the west and a new leadership?
  5. The agreement was limited to the containment of Iran’s nuclear military capabilities. We know that Iran has been such a destructive participant in the world, exporting terror and violence. Iran is the only nation of the world that continually calls for the destruction of another nation state, Israel. That cannot be ignored as we move forward with the deal or without the deal!
  1. Consider the options. They are vast and also very dangerous.

There are questions…so many questions.

Let me bring you to a few texts from our tradition that can inspire or inform.

This week’s parshah, Matot, begins with the nullification of vows. A man who is responsible for the vows made by his family members (in that ancient world) can nullify the vow of his wife. The provision is that he must respond immediately. To delay in silence is acquiescence. Silence in the face of wrongdoing is considered by our tradition and born out by history as complicity. In another place, we are taught that we don’t stand idly by the pain and suffering of another; even our enemy’s animal!! When we are fully informed and understanding, we must speak our minds!

I want to close with the following, knowing that this conversation will continue.

In the immortal words that God spoke to Jacob: ”Al tirah ivdi Yaakov” – “Don’t be afraid my servant Jacob.” We must not let our actions or attitudes be driven by fear and insecurity. This is not 1938. There is a big difference because Israel is a sovereign nation that is a nuclear power. Israel is strong and resolute. We have great strength in this country. We are not a weak people. We are a wise people. There are strong alliances between nations that want peace and security. Let us move forward with a sense of confidence. Acting out of fear or weakness is never good. Acting with confidence, projecting a real strength, and responding with faith that the future can be made better than the past…that is in our grasp.

Too many use their power to create fear and fearful responses. We need not do that. We can be strong, and use our strength to live, with faith, and continue to have hope.

See you in shul.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Steinhardt


This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l