In the clash over the Iran nuclear agreement, rabbis in the Washington area seem to fall into one of two camps: “We need to know more” and “From what we know, I’m against it.”
Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia belongs to the first group.
“There’s a lot to learn about. It’s important not to rush to assumptions,” she said.
Grossman took part in Vice President Joseph Biden’s July 20 briefing for Jewish leaders on the agreement. “I was impressed by the details,” she said. “There is more there than is in the headlines. I’m convinced it was a more reasonable plan of action than the alternative — no plan.”
She said, of all choices, “we’re safer with the plan and Israel is safer with it.”
Rabbi Benjamin Shull is in the other camp, although that’s not what he chose to stress during a recent sermon about the agreement at Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville.
“I said we should not sit on the sidelines,” he said. “This is in Congress’ hands so we need to convey our opinions to our representatives. Iran with a nuclear weapon is an existential threat. Iran without a nuclear weapon is a grave threat.”
Next month, the synagogue will offer a series of informational sessions on the Iran agreement, including differing points of view.
Shull’s position is a strong one.
“I am against the deal,” he said. “I’m troubled by the argument made by the administration” in favor of the deal. “We’re giving international legitimacy for Iran to have a nuclear program in 10 to 15 years.”
He added, “This is not about trusting Iran. The issue is do we trust the president and [Secretary of State] John Kerry to act in the interests of the United States and Israel.”
American Jews are leaning slightly to yes. A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and released July 23 found that when asked, “Do you support or oppose the Iran deal,” 49 percent answered “support” and 31 percent said “oppose.”
Rabbi Jack Luxemburg of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville believes that early reactions to the agreement — some press releases were issued even before the deal was announced — were based on emotion.
I’m trying to distinguish between the feelings — which are important — and an intelligent evaluation,” he said. “This issue is so critical that it can’t be a knee-jerk reaction.”
Luxemburg is on vacation, so he hasn’t spoken from the pulpit on the issue. “If I did, I would be reflecting on how to create an appropriate lens to view this development.”
Such a lens would help congregants see the agreement clearly through “our profound concern for the state of Israel” as well as the “safety of America, democracy, Western civilization and our allies and all peoples of the Middle East,” he said.
His ticked off a list of other questions and concluded, “I don’t have answers. But we have to figure out a way to evaluate it.”
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac has asked many of the same questions and has come to a conclusion.
“I will be joining those who are expressing concerns and opposition to the agreement and I will be conveying that to the congregation,” he said.
“The $150 billion the Iranians will have access to [when economic sanctions are lifted] are not going to be invested in roads and schools and infrastructure. They’ll be continuing to invest in their terror network,” Weinblatt said.
“In terms of what I’ve read — for and against — the concerns that have been raised about the terms of the agreement causes us to be alarmed and justifies opposing it,” he said.
Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg has read the analyses and commentaries, but doesn’t hear alarm bells.
“Most of the smartest commentary from folks like Jeffrey Goldberg, Aaron David Miller and Robert Satloff has been ambivalent,” Arian wrote in his blog. “Is the deal a disaster? No. Is it perfect? No. Will failure to ratify it lead inevitably to war? No. Is it better than no deal at all? Maybe.”
He cautioned his congregation not to duplicate the mobilization for and against the agreement going on inside the Beltway.
“No one on either side of the debate wants to see Iran get a nuclear weapon. Those with whom you disagree want the same thing as you, they just differ with you on the best way to achieve it. Let’s keep the discussion civil in the days and weeks ahead,” he wrote.
At Chabad Lubavitch of Upper Montgomery County in Gaithersburg, Rabbi Sholom Raichik has not shared his views of the agreement publicly, but he has heard congregants express concern about it. “What I say to the congregation is: ‘Make your voices heard.’”
If congregants ask, Raichik will give his opinion, but it’s only that.
“I don’t view myself as an expert on these types of issues,” he said. “If you want to know if something is kosher or not, I can tell you that. But our concern here is for the people of Israel.”
Federation ‘looking carefully’ at Iran deal
Jewish federations around the country are responding to this month’s Iran nuclear deal with words like “worried,” “mistrustful,” “fearful” and “grave concerns.”
Most are counseling their communities to use the 60-day congressional review period to learn about agreement and share their opinions with elected officials.
“We continue to look with great concern,” said Steven Rakitt, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “We urge every member of the community to look carefully and every member of Congress to look carefully at the deal.”
Some federations have come to the opposite conclusion: Seven federations — including Boston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, South Palm Beach, Miami, Houston, Detroit and Dallas — have come out in opposition to the Iran deal.
“We cannot be silent in our opposition to an agreement that takes far too many risks with one of the world’s most dangerous regimes,” the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County said in a statement.
“Each community is different and each federation is different,” Rakitt said. “We’re looking carefully at this and we’ll come to our own conclusions.”
The Greater Washington Federation’s public position is that it is “concerned, but hopeful.” Through the website of its Jewish Community Relations Council, it is disseminating a range of articles on the agreement, ranging from Washington Post commentator Charles Krauthammer’s flat-out-no ─ “The worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history” ─ to The Washington Institute’s David Makovsky’s grin-and–bear-it position, “Keeping Iran’s Feet to the Fire.”
“We want to be a resource to our community to better understand the deal,” Rakitt said.