Beliefs Institutions

340 rabbis urge Congress to approve Iran nuclear deal

Rabbi Rachel Mikva of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rachel Mikva

(RNS) Rebuffing a campaign among Jewish organizations to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, 340 rabbis sent a letter to Congress Monday (Aug. 17) supporting the agreement and rejecting the notion that most American Jews oppose it.

“Most especially, we are deeply concerned with the impression that the leadership of the American Jewish community is united in opposition to the agreement,” the letter states. “We, along with many other Jewish leaders, fully support this historic nuclear accord.”

The Jewish community around the world, concentrated in the U.S. and Israel, has paid close attention to the nuclear deal, which was negotiated by the U.S., Iran, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia China and the European Union. It aims to hamper Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon and would lift sanctions on the theocratic regime.

READ:  Iran deal debate devolves into clash over Jewish stereotypes and survival

Many American Jews, citing Iran’s leaders’ repeated denunciations of the U.S. and threats to destroy Israel, have concluded that no deal with Iran is a good deal. Several national Jewish organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — as well as many evangelical Christians — are lobbying Congress to vote it down.

The rabbis who sent the letter Monday argue that, while they have reason to distrust Iran’s leaders, the deal is the best available strategy to confront the specter of a nuclear Iran. And they want to challenge assumptions that Jews who oppose the deal represent American Jews as a whole.

Rabbi Rachel Mikva of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rachel Mikva

Rabbi Rachel Mikva of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rachel Mikva

“A wide array of views about the nuclear deal exist among American Jews,” said Rabbi Rachel Mikva of Chicago, who signed the letter.

She and others point to a recent poll from the L.A. Jewish Journal, which showed that Jewish Americans support the Iran deal by a larger margin than Americans in general, with 49 percent of American Jews approving of it, and 31 percent disapproving. The poll, of 501 American Jews, had a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Read: Critics outraged by British theater’s cancellation of play about Muslim radicalization

The signatories to the letter include many rabbis in the more liberal Reform movement — the largest stream of Judaism — but also at least 50 rabbis from the more traditional Conservative movement, and at least one Orthodox rabbi, according to organizers of the effort.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union.

“There is no denying that there are differences of opinion within the mainstream Jewish community,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, which represents most of the 10 percent of American Jews who call themselves Orthodox.

While the Orthodox Union does not claim to speak for all of American Jews, and while the deal should not be judged on a poll, there is no question that the Orthodox are overwhelmingly opposed to the agreement, he said. “We are planning to bring hundreds of rabbis to Washington in early September to lobby Congress and make this point.”

The Reform Jewish movement plans to release a statement on the deal this week.

Congress is expected to vote on the deal in mid-September.


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


Click here to post a comment

  • Unbelievable that these Rabbi’s would sign this letter. They admit Iran is not trustworthy. These political leaders are inserting themselves in a political issue which is of grave concern to Jewish people worldwide, particularly in Israel. They are throwing Israeli Jews under the bus because of their support for Obama and because of their hatred of Netanyahu. So they support this deal because “they want to challenge assumptions that Jews who oppose this horrible agreement represent Jews as a whole” That is not a reason to support this agreement. These Rabbis are insane and quite honestly I am horrified at what they have done. This letter makes it seem as if they support the agreement because it is a good deal but they are mainly doing to “challenge assumptions” God help us. They really should stick to trying to stem the flow of Reform Jews. I am a liberal Jew and grew up Reform, having been bar mitzvah’d in a Reform temple. I will never set foot inside a Reform Temple again…

  • I keep hearing that argument being made by supporters Let’s just say this deal is not a good deal. It’s not what is the “better deal” You don’t support a deal because you don’t know what the “better deal” is Garson. That is a logical fallacy.

  • It’s not a logical fallacy if you want to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. What is your solution to that problem?

  • Precisely what do opponents of the deal have in mind? Every time one asks what “better deal” there is to be had the answer is silence; because there is no better deal. And the sole alternative is an eventual war. But why should that bother AIPAC or Netanyahu who is looking for a fight to begin with?

  • Eric Smith, why in the world would Netanyahu be “looking for a fight” when the “fight” would necessarily involve Israel’s normally most vital ally, the United States government?

    Given this context, your assertion is preposterous.

  • Well, to be fair, Bill, I noticed that some of the signatories were from the Conservative movement, too. However, they seemed to come from its left-leaning wing, and thus are ideologically similar to Reform.

    When mainstream American Jewish organizations — ADL, AJC, and AIPAC — — and the most influential Jewish member of Congress, Senator Schumer, oppose the treaty, that really should speak volumes.


  • Jack- you, me, the 340 rabbis, all the other rabbis opposed to the deal, AIPAC, AJC, ADL and Sen. Schumer all are in agreement that Iran should be prohibited from getting a nuclear weapon. My question is what should be done instead of this deal to reach that goal?

  • Well Iran was never that close to a nuclear weapon. Certainly not to the extent what American and Israeli pundits had claimed.

    The uranium buyback and dismantling of the centrifuges in the deal are about as good as we are going to get with a negotiated resolution here.

    Here is how the deal works to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons:

    The deal cripples future ability to create the most expensive and time consuming part of nuclear weapons development, uranium enrichment/plutonium creation.

    A military option was ruled out last year when Israel’s threats were called out as a bluff. The US has neither the will nor ability to make a military action anything but a fiasco. A military solution would only help the eroding Iranian regime by giving them an outside enemy to rally around.

    Iran was bluffing in order to create an international incident. We called them on it.

  • “Eric Smith, why in the world would Netanyahu be “looking for a fight” when the “fight” would necessarily involve Israel’s normally most vital ally, the United States government?”

    Because it was never going to be a real fight. It was a bluff from the outset. Israel Iran was trying to play the nuclear blackmail game that North Korea has turned into a fine art form. Israel was using the situation the same way Iran was. To create a climate of fear which supported sabre rattling leadership.

  • It’s not “AWSM” to fake another commenter to like your own comment. Use something other than “idk” where it says “website” next time.
    It’s also not “AWSM” to make defamatory comments about the Judaism of rabbis you disagree with. I disagree on many topics with many of the rabbis listed but that doesn’t make them non-Jewish.
    I also assure you that the pulpit rabbis from Los Angeles and Great Neck who signed this letter have many Sefardim in their congregations — many of whom are Persian.

  • Listen or read Senator Bob Menendez’ position and the position of Chuck Schumer.
    It is not an all or nothing deal. There are ways to make it much more ironclad. As far as 340 Rabbi’s urging Congress to pass the deal, I say they need to look out for Israel and the US. Iran is chanting “Death to America.” Do you really think we can trust them???

  • Garson, I’ve never favored highest-level negotiations given the regime’s nature and aims. What do we say to a regime that denies the Holocaust, brutalizes its most forward-looking citizens, kills Christians, Baha’is and other religious minorities as well as gays, is the leading terror sponsor, wants to wipe Israel off the map, and embraces a chillingly consistent ideology that favors igniting a coming cataclysm that will usher in the 12th Imam?

    But given that we’ve chosen what was once unthinkable — to negotiate with them — we must realize that the key to success is to make clear that we’re not desperate for a deal, that we’ll walk out absent meaningful concessions.

    But we have to mean it. We must know ahead of time that if the only way to stop Iran’s going nuclear is war, so be it.

    It’s under that context that real concessions become possible. But the current deal is the sad story of our making concession after concession, not the other way around.

  • Too clever by half, Larry…and too risky. The resultant tension between the US and Israeli governments has risen to alarming levels.

    Sometimes things are not what they seem — but sometimes they are indeed.

  • I hate to break the news to you but you have also described one of the US’s biggest allies in the Arab World as well, Saudi Arabia. They too are as loathsome a regime and equally supportive of international terror as Iran. In fact for the last 30 years Iran and Saudi Arabia have been in a Cold War with each other. Jockeying for control through proxies.

    The Iranian regime is not driven by a single individual, but a committee. Less fascist, more soviet in nature. Iran’s military hasn’t extended beyond their own borders in decades. Ironically Iran’s last major military venture was to combat ISIS in Southern Iraq recently. Something the US won’t even do right now.

    This whole situation was an exercise in brinksmanship for all involved. Iran got to sell off inferior uranium for inflated prices and sell back barely functional centrifuges but missed out on making pretexts for stepping up internal controls.

  • Israel already had their bluff called last year when they were threatening bombing strikes and blinked.

    The US was being alarmist because it is politically expedient to do so. Obama has an incoherent foreign policy and this gave his opponents something to attack him on. Conservatives have been overplaying the situation for a while. Much of their rhetoric being divorced from the actual facts on the ground.

    A military option was never in the cards for the US either. In fact it would have been the worst thing to do since it would give Iran’s regime new energy and support.

    Iran has a very big demographic problem. The majority of its population was born after the Islamic Revolution. Islamicism is the idea of the old guard. Not the phony form of youthful dissent it is in the rest of the Middle East. Their youth are largely well educated, but also mostly unemployed. Dissent is simmering. Its just a matter of time.

  • I know all about Saudi Arabia, Larry, more than I care to know, as well as a host of other horrible human rights abusers around the world. I’m aware, as are most people, of the 9/11 connections (to at least 1/3 of the royal family, at least). I’m obviously aware of all the Saudi money that’s gone to radical Islamist groups.

    But just as our being on the same side of the Soviets during WW II against the Nazis hardly meant we were friends with them, ditto for the Saudis. At present, it’s in our national interest, as well as that of our friends like Israel, to side with the Saudis over Iran, just as it was in our interests to side with Stalin against Nazi Germany. While the analogy is far from perfect, it’s good enough to make the obvious point.

  • I couldn’t agree more that Iran has a restive population of increasingly educated young people who want progress and freedom, but if you think their triumph is inevitable, you are naïve on the extreme. Obama had an opportunity to vocalize support for them in the late summer of 2009, but unfortunately he refrained. He was too fixated on wanting an ultimate “deal” with them. He had said so as early as the presidential debates with McCain in the fall of 2008.

    A deal with Iran, especially this one, at best will do nothing to advance the cause of freedom in Iran. At worst, it will be catastrophic for that goal.

  • Who is being naive now? I can think of at least one compelling reason for Obama to refrain from such action. American support would have been toxic and counterproductive. It would attack the legitimacy of the movement.

    The critics could simply use such statements from the US as “proof” that it is foreign agitation, not a homegrown movement.

    Much of the criticism of the deal comes from people who didn’t even bother to learn the details of it. Its mostly hysterical doom-saying. I don’t know what alternatives the critics were hoping for. But there didn’t seem much rational construction arguments being put forward by them.

    “A deal with Iran, especially this one, at best will do nothing to advance the cause of freedom in Iran. At worst, it will be catastrophic for that goal.”

    Guess what? There is almost nothing the US can do for that cause. In fact our involvement would actually strengthen the regime’s reputation to the nation’s youth.

  • You are dodging my point here. How come Iran is considered off limits for negotiations but Saudi Arabia isn’t? You can’t point to differences in government policies, attitudes towards Israel or their human rights records. Both thumb their noses at the US. Iran is just a little more upfront about it.

    Iran was nowhere close to a nuke as what was proclaimed here. Countries which develop nukes generally can do it in secret without world scrutiny. The idea one can prevent a nation from creating them (if they are determined for such a course of action) is laughable. It has never happened.

    Countries who bluff about nuclear blackmail love to announce “leak” information to prompt an international response. We’ve seen this several times already. Both Iraq and North Korea pulled this nonsense. Iraq got invaded, the Norks got paid off.

    Israel is fully capable of wiping out any nation in the region which poses an existential threat to them. With or without our help.

  • Larry, it’s the whole package and also who poses the greater threat at the moment. America is clearly better off supporting Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt against Iran and Syria and Hezbollah. Just ask Israel, our most reliable ally in the region.

  • You have got to be kidding me, Larry.

    If I had a dollar for every time the 2009 demonstrators cried out, texted, emailed, or tweeted, “Obama, where are you?” or “US please help us,” I would have a very nice extra chunk of change.

    I have friends who received those messages. I know Iranian Americans who received them. They were flat-out heartbreaking.