Talking About Iran

I've been overly hesitant in posting this, but have had a number of requests- so:

  • Thank you to those who requested my thoughts on the pending Iran nuclear deal;
  • I spoke on the topic last Friday night.  I won't re-print the whole drash here (sometimes, you just have to show up!), but it all boiled down to the following:

I am not going to tell people what they are to think on this issue.  It is a, or perhaps the, pressing issue in the Jewish world right now.  I think it is incumbent on Jews to care, but I do not think there is only one legitimate Jewish opinion on this.  As a result, from the bima, I can't urge a yes or no position without feeling that I'm not talking Torah, but just talking politics.  The politics are important, but there are plenty of ways to learn politics.  Politics must have clear Torah angle to make it to the bima.  

That said, how we talk about Iran does have a Torah angle.  And my message is simple: speak with respect.  Do not demonize your opponents.  Not every supporter of rejection is a war-monger, not every supporter is an anti-Zionist; there are strong Zionists urging approval and opponents of many of PM Netanyahu's other policies urging rejection.  Stick to the issues.  Those who call their opponents names, or lump them in with terrorist groups, are violating millenia-old Jewish Law on proper speech.  It is not kosher to do so.  Defend your view passionately, point out the flaws in your opponent's view.  But the moment you point out the flaws in your opponent, you have crossed a line.  Apologize, take a deep breath, and step back.

The other point I made I took (in part) from my colleague and teacher Rabbi David Wolpe.  A even more practical reason not to demonize opponents stems from the fact that we need to stick together on other issues.  Iran is a central issue, but not the only one. There will be more.  And if one desires administration support on other issues of critical interest to Israel, or to the Jewish community in America, it is best not to compare the president to Hitler, or to appeasers of Hitler.  It is very hard to ask for a favor from someone you just compared to Nazis, or Hamas, or Neville Chamberlain, for that matter.  Do not just think about today or tomorrow. Think down the line: how will the values central to our lives be furthered?  What if my side comes up short on the Iran issue: what's my plan for the next day?  What will my coalition look like then?  Keep this in mind before speaking.

I have been impressed with the tact with which many organizations and individuals have spoken on the Iran issue, and horrified by others.  The Jewish tradition mandates we use our words carefully.  Here, as much as anywhere, we ignore the advice of our sages at great risk.