This past Wednesday, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. His decision was not a surprise given his rhetoric during the campaign. He has argued that this is the worst deal ever. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who agrees with President Trump has suggested that this entire deal was built upon a series of lies from the Iranians and that ultimately, it paves the way for Iran to build a nuclear bomb.
The Jewish community is split on this deal with AIPAC and other more conservative organizations railing against it while progressive organizations have, for the most part, embraced it as a step in the right direction.
But where does Judaism and our sacred texts, stand on this vital negotiation.
Jewish tradition teaches us in Deuteronomy 20:10:
כִּֽי־תִקְרַ֣ב אֶל־עִ֔יר לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם עָלֶ֑יהָ וְקָרָ֥אתָ אֵלֶ֖יהָ לְשָׁלֽוֹם׃
When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace.
We must always begin with diplomacy, negotiations and offers of peace. This teaching is so important that our sages taught us in a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy: "God told Moses to make war on Sihon (Deut. 2:24). But Israel did not make war; they sent messengers of peace. God said, 'I ordered you to make war, but you made overtures for peace.' How great, then, must be words of peace, if Israel disobeyed God for peace’s sake, and yet God was not angry with them." (Tanchuma B. Devarim, 36)
But our tradition is not naive. Two verses after we are taught to offer terms of peace we learn in Deuteronomy 20:12:
וְאִם־לֹ֤א תַשְׁלִים֙ עִמָּ֔ךְ וְעָשְׂתָ֥ה עִמְּךָ֖ מִלְחָמָ֑ה וְצַרְתָּ֖ עָלֶֽיהָּ׃
If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, you shall lay siege to it;
Should our offers of peace be rebuffed we must, not only protect ourselves, but also, perhaps preemptively attack. In the words of Rabbi Maurice Lamm: "It must be affirmed that Judaism rejected total pacifism, but that it believed strongly in pragmatic pacifism as a higher morally more noteworthy religious position." (After the War -- Another look at Pacifism and Selective Conscientious Objection, in Contemporary Jewish Ethics, pg. 221-238; M. Kellner, ed. (NY 1978)
What comes next in our negotiations with Iran and those who co-signed this nuclear deal is, of course, vital to how we move forward. If it is true that the deal struck in 2015 was a terrible deal built on lies then our prayer should be that we begin to negotiate again for peace and stability, building a stronger deal that allows the people of Iran to live and flourish and the people of the world to live without fear of aggression from the Iranian regime.
If the deal was indeed a step in the right direction and we have, in removing ourselves from this path, threatened more chaos in an already chaotic part of the world - then perhaps we must call upon our leaders to reflect on their choices and be reminded of our sacred teachings that call upon us to pursue peace and justice through peaceful and just means.
Ultimately, the test of our courage and strength will not come through threats of violence but through actively pursuing peace as Avot d’Rabbi Natan teaches us, "Who is truly courageous? He who can make an enemy into a friend."