Torah, World Politics and Iran

5438[1]How does our Jewish community make a decision on the crucial issue of making sure that Iran is not able to produce nuclear weapons?

One classically Jewish approach: We could draw on the deep, ancient, and evolving wisdom of Torah, reading it anew in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

The passage of Torah that leaps out as most relevant is Deuteronomy 20:10-11. It teaches that if we besiege a city (which is what the sanctions against Iran have been), we must proclaim Shalom to it. If it then agrees to decent terms that meet our conditions and fulfill our crucial needs, we must make sure it adheres to them and we must end the siege.

That is what the proposed agreement with Iran does. It does this by requiring Iran to abandon all the physical objects and scientific processes that could lead to nuclear weapons, and to subject itself to unprecedented intrusive inspections to make sure it is adhering to that regimen. It makes sure that if Iran’s government were to change its mind, decide to go nuclear, and expel inspectors, the world would have at least a year to take action before Iran could make even one nuclear weapon.

Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

The same Torah passage that counsels proclaiming Shalom to a besieged city and bending it to our own will sees that the alternative to agreement would be an utterly destructive war.

And in our present situation, that expectation seems correct. If the Congress were to torpedo this agreement, the world-wide regimen of sanctions against Iran would almost certainly unravel and we would be left with no agreement, no inspections, no restrictions, and no sanctions. At that point, there would be intense pressures for war, on the grounds that there would then be no other way to ensure that Iran could not change its mind and proceed to acquire nuclear weapons.

War would begin with what its proponents would advertise as a one-shot military attack on Iran.Such an attack might well win a momentary victory, though Iran could respond in low-level ways that would have huge effects – like disrupting oil traffic in the Straits of Hormuz. But even an immediate military victory would not end there, any more than did the initial victorious invasion of Iraq.

Far likelier that any surviving Iranian government would then with absolute determination seek nuclear weaponry, in order to deter future attacks. To prevent that effort from succeeding, the attacking government would find itself hooked into a continuing, probably permanent, occupation. Its forces would be constantly harassed by guerrilla warfare from a furious and united Iranian people.

Such a war would be far worse for the US, Israel, and the whole Middle East than the Iraq War was. Worse in dead bodies, failure to meet urgent civilian needs, collapse of US influence abroad.

But what about the hostility that the Prime Minister of Israel has vehemently expressed to the proposed nuclear-control agreement?

Two factors are at work: Much of the Israeli Jewish community and predominant Israeli Jewish culture, feel the Holocaust as a constant nightmare in the constant present, stoking fear that any agreement with a hostile power will endanger the Jewish people — which their fear still defines as a powerless victim.

Yet the military/ security leadership in Israel has over and over spoken out in opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s go-for-broke insistence on continuing the siege of Iran — refusing any agreement.

Why is the Prime Minister rejecting the advice of the security leadership? It is all too possible that an increasingly right-wing government is appealing to this ever-present subterranean fear in order to increase its own power — just as Prime Minister Netanyahu did just before the election.

It is the task of the American Jewish community to make up our own minds about this decision, drawing on our own Jewish values and our understanding of the broader consequences of the two choices, both in America and in the Middle East.

Here too we must take seriously the Torah’s teachings. The Torah counsels respect but not automatic obeisance to rulers. Instead it places strong limits on the power of kings – including the kings of ancient Israel. The passage (Deuteronomy 17:16) especially warns against the frequent inclination of many kings to pursue military power, as in “multiplying horses” for a horse-chariot army when cavalry was the aggressive weaponry of an imperious pharaoh.

That injunction applies to any secret nuclear-weaponry ambitions of Iran; to unwarranted militarism of any Israeli government; and to those in the US who thirst for military adventures now as they did twelve years ago when they targeted Iraq.

It will do Israel no good to curdle our love for it into idolatry toward some of its leaders. It will do America great harm for us to pursue war with Iran instead of a vigorously safeguarded shalom. For as our scriptures also teach (Psalms 115 and 135), those who erect dead objects and deadly ideas into their gods will become like their idols — dead. It is celebration of the ever-changing, ever-growing Breath of Life that gives life to ourselves and all our neighbors.

The Psalms Project: New Musical Videos for Original Poetry

G-dcast‘s “Psalms Project” of short videos is part of the website’s efforts to transform how Jewish and broader communities engage with and interpret Psalms. This four-part series of shorts matches original poetry, music created by young Jewish artists, and compelling visuals. Sarah Lefton, G-dcast’s executive director, said:

It can be challenging for young people to connect spiritually with any religious tradition — the Psalms Project is a new kind of entry point that’s centered on the arts. It’s a way into the richness of Jewish tradition for people who are visually and musically inclined.

More after the jump.
The Project’s first two-minute video features a song written and performed by New York-based Elijah Aaron, 26. Psalm 1 opens with the verse:

Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.

Aaron chose this text as the starting point for his entry.

He is a Berklee College of Music graduate who grew up in a Conservative Jewish household. As he grew older, Aaron saw his Jewish learning opportunities as lacking in substance. He said that music allowed him to reconnect with the sacred text:

This project was the first time I really felt spiritual while composing. I had read many Psalms for inspiration, and the very first line of the very first Psalm really hit me. There is something very powerful about the deepest roots of Judaism.

The Project started last January with a live web seminar about the history, context and interpretation of the book of Psalms. G-dcast then opened a web-based competition, in which artists could submit their own interpretation of the Psalm of their choice. By the time the contest closed in March, G-dcast had received entries from professional musicians, rabbis, amateur songwriters, and seasoned slam poetry circuit competitors.

The Psalms Project was made possible with financial support from The Koret Foundation. G-dcast awarded cash prizes to four artists, and brought their interpretations into expression with four different visual animators. The first-prize winning entry, a poem that parallels the structure and themes of Psalm 90, was penned by San Francisco poet Rachel Lopez Rosenberg, 27, and brings the text to life through an emotional description of wrestling with cancer treatment. “We were impressed not only by the number of entries, but also by the quality of the submissions,” Lefton said. “Making the final selections was very hard for our judges.”

The Project’s three other films will be released during the next two months. G-dcast is now building a database to make all of the Project’s submissions searchable, and to allow for ongoing additions to the Project, with a goal of providing a well pool creative resources for teachers and students of verse everywhere.

“All of our work — from apps to films to teaching guides — focuses on making Jewish literacy accessible,” concluded Lefton. “The Psalms Project showed us that people can engage creatively with Jewish text in contemporary ways, and that we can facilitate that using new media.”