Rabbinic Statement on Syria: Seek Peace and Pursue It

80 Rabbis & Cantors Call for Vigorous Non-Military Action

Beginning on September 8, 2013,the morning after Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat, I began working by email and telephone with other rabbis whom I invited to join in crafting a Rabbinic Statement on the US and Syria. 

The statement itself and the signers follow (80 as of noon on September 23).  After it, you will find my comments on how it was crafted and on where we are now, including the lessons we must learn about responding to peaceful overtures from the new government of Iran.


A Rabbinic Statement: “Seek peace & pursue it,” through active non-military intervention.

“What kind of person actually takes delight in life?
Turn away from evil and take good action; seek peace and pursue it
(Psalm 34)

Rabbi Hizkia taught:
Great is shalom, peace, because about all the other mitzvot (commands) in the Torah it is written, “If the opportunity to do the mitzvah comes upon you, then you must do it, and if not, you are not bound to do it. But in the case of peace, it is written, Seek peace, and pursue it—seek it in the place where you are, and pursue after it in another place. (Vayikra Rabbah 9:9)

Even if peace is running away from you, run after it.

As Rabbis, we share with many many Jews a specially deep horror at the use of chemical weapons, rooted partly in our memory of how the Nazis used chemicals to annihilate millions.

Yet we believe that a military attack on Syria is far more likely to bring on more horror and more violence, rather than less. We believe that acting for good to protect Syrians against the use of chemical weapons by any forces there—the regime or the rebels --  and to press the regime’s allies to insist—not just advise – that  it not use chemical weapons are far more likely to decrease the violence and horror.

“Turn away from evil, take good action,” as Psalm 34 teaches.

Mr. President: Turn away from plans for multiplying death in Syria;  intervene instead with vigorous acts of good, acts of peace, acts of life.
Members of Congress: Seek peace and pursue it, especially when it seems to be running away.
Our Fellow Americans: Call 202.224-3121, ask for your Senators and Congressmember, and try hard to speak with a real live staffer:  “Vote NO on military force. Undermine the Syrian military computer system without killing anyone, as the US undermined Iran’s nuclear research with the Stuxnet virus, killing no one. Make gas masks broadly available to protect the Syrian people (as they are being made available to millions of Israelis), rather than bombs to kill them.  Through radio and Internet, send instructions for how to use them. Negotiate with Iran and Russia  to use rheir clout to insist – not just advise -- that the Syrian regime not use chemical weapons. In other words -- intervene with nonlethal acts of vigorous good. Turn away from evil, actually take good action.”
A US war against Syria means more death and disaster there. And for the American people, fewer teachers, fewer rotting bridges repaired, fewer solar and wind energy transmitters built, more “justification” for even thicker walls of secrecy around government with even thinner protections for the privacy of millions of citizens. 
And despite all the promises about “no boots on the ground,” very possibly more dead bodies, more lost arms, legs, genitals; more shattered minds; more souls lost and tormented.
To all humanity:
-- May your actions to do good be recorded in the Book of Life and be sealed for receiving goodness! With blessings for a year of your own health, love, and peace; and in the world for fuller justice, greater freedom, growing peace, and a healing planet—

Signed  (as of noon, Sept 23):

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert
Rabbi  Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Rabbi Leonard Beerman
Rabbi Phyllis Berman
Rabbi Les Bronstein
Rabbi Samuel G. Broude
Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn
Rabbi Joshua Chasan
Rabbi Hillel Cohn
Rabbi Meryl Crean
Rabbi Doris Dyen
Rabbi Diane Elliot
Rabbi Ted Falcon
Rabbi Michael Feinberg
Rabbi Fern Feldman
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer
Rabbi Brian Field
Rabbi Nancy Flam
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Rabbi Everett Gendler
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi A. Bruce Goldman
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi Jarah Greenfield
Rabbi Moshe Raphael Halfon
Rabbi Edwin Harris
Rabbi Linda Holtzman
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbinic Pastor Eve Ilsen
Rabbi Shaya Isenberg
 Daria Jacobs-Velde
Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde
Rabbi Miriam Jerris
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Rabbi David L Kline
Rabbi Debra Kolodny
Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh
Rabbi Shoshana Leis
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Richard Levy
Rabbi Richard Levy
Rabbi Yael Levy
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
Hazzan Abbe Lyons
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Yitzhak Nates
Cantor Liat Pelman-Forst
Rabbi Linda Potemken
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Rabbinic Chaplain Stephanie Reith
Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg
Cantor Richard Rosenfield
Kohenet Mei Mei Miriyam Sanford
Cantor Pamela Rothmann Sawyer
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Rabbi Chaim Leib Schneider
Rabbi Randy Schoch
Rabbi Arthur Segal
Rabbi Gerald Serotta
Rabbi Drorah Setel
Rabbi David Shneyer
Cantor Robin Sparr
Rabbi Naomi Steinberg
Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill
Rabbi Susan Talve
Rabbi David Leipziger Teva
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen
Rabbi Sheila Weinberg
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Greg Wolfe
Hazzan Gregory Yaroslow
Rabbi Moshe Yehudai
Rabbi Shawn Zevit
Rabbi Michael Ziegler
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman


After a lot of Godwrestling -- honest sharing about our internal uncertainties as well as our different relationships in the world --   eleven of us agreed on a Statement.

We had made achieving at least ten – a minyan – of initiators a test of going ahead with a public statement. A minyan, I should add, that was inclusive in matters of age, gender, stream of Judaism, etc.

On Sept 10, we sent out “A Rabbinic Statement:  Seek Peace and Pursue It” to the lists of rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic pastors that each of us has. As of noon two days later, there are 53 signers. As of noon on Sept 23, in the midst of Sukkot, there are 80.

This may seem a small proportion of the whole rabbinic community. Keep in mind that almost all the “official” Jewish organizations were supporting military action against Syria, that one of them was pouring hundreds of lobbyists onto Capitol Hill.

Our rabbinic statement was creative, thinking outside the box of all the positions put forth by the White House, Congress, “official” Jewish organizations, and most of the media.

One of its proposals – that the US work with the Syrian regime’s allies (Iran and Russia) to prevent the regime from using chemical weapons seemed visionary, “unrealistic,” when we wrote it.

Now it is what Russia and the US are pursuing. Not so “unrealistic”!

I believe the enormous upsurge of antiwar insistence from the American people forced the US government to seek diplomatic rather than military solutions.  I am proud The Shalom Center’s work and this rabbinic statement were part of that upsurge. 

We need to stay alert against the pressure from Senators and Generals who are still itching for a war, for an externally imposed regime change, etc.

And from our experience about Syria we need to learn the lesson about facing those who oppose  serious negotiations with Iran. The newly elected Iranian president has taken serious "confidence-building" steps toward negotiations for a peaceful setttlement of several conflicts  --

  • Over Iran's nuclear research that may or may not have been intended to reach toward nuclear weaponry;
  • Over the draconic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West; and
  • Over a long history of attacks by the US on Iran. These include US action to overthrow the democratically elected New Dealish Iranian government in 1953; the long US support for the oppressive regime of the Shah, until and even after the Iranian people overthrew him in 1979; and US support for Saddam Hussein's aggressive war against Iran in the 1980s, including his use of chemical weapons that killed about 100,000 Iranians.

While millions of grass-roots American Jews like most other Americans opposed war against Syria,  most "official" American Jewish organizations were urging it  -- ignoring the views of the actual "Jewish community"  for whom they claimed to speak.  The Shalom Center and these 80 Rabbis were among the few American Jewish leaders who publicly opposed war. Now the Netanyahu government of Israel is trying to mobilize some American Jewish organizations to oppose negotiations with Iran. The Jewish obligation to "seek peace and pursue it" needs to be voiced again.

With blessings for a new year of shalom, salaam, solh, paz, peace --  Arthur



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