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Right, Left and Center Condemn the Iran Deal

With more and more voices from the right, left and center decrying the deal with Iran, it is not surprising that a majority of American’s in recent CNN poll are against the deal. The more you read the agreement, and study the issues, the more you cannot help but realize that this deal promises to make the world less. Which is exactly the opposite of what the deal should do – make the world a safer place now and for our children.

Who are some of the brilliant voices against the deal? Let’s start with LEON WIESELTIER in the ATLANTIC skewers the Iran Deal:

If I could believe that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action marked the end of Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon—that it is, in the president’s unambiguous declaration, “the most definitive path by which Iran will not get a nuclear weapon” because “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off”—I would support it. I do not support it because it is none of those things. It is only a deferral and a delay….This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons … then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo … For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it.

You must read the whole article to appreciate everything that he says, and just how eloquently he says it.

There is the former Soviet political prisoner, NATAN SHARANSKY in the WASHINGTON POST:

Today, an American president has once again sought to achieve stability by removing sanctions against a brutal dictatorship without demanding that the latter change its behavior. And once again, a group of outspoken Jews — no longer a small group of dissidents in Moscow but leaders of the state of Israel, from the governing coalition and the opposition alike — are sounding an alarm. Of course, we are reluctant to criticize our ally and to so vigorously oppose an agreement that purports to promote peace. But we know that we are again at a historic crossroads, and that the United States

can either appease a criminal regime — one that supports global terror, relentlessly threatens to eliminate Israel and executes more political prisoners than any other per capita — or stand firm in demanding change in its behavior.

And how about the left wing ARI SHAVIT who wrote against the deal HAARETZ:

After many hours of reading I had to stop. The thriller had become a horror story. Not only was the content inconceivable, the tone was, too. The fact is that in each chapter Iran’s dignity is preserved, but the U.S. and Europe’s isn’t. The fact is that the Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majlis, has a much higher status in the agreement than the American Congress. The fact is that Iran is unrepentant, does not promise a change of course and takes an almost supercilious attitude toward the other parties. As though it had been a campaign between Iran and the West, and Iran won and is now dictating the surrender terms to the West.

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Making a Kosher Deal With Iran

As the June 30th agreement deadline approaches, it has me wondering how the P5+1 will guarantee Iran doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons. While my work as a rabbi doesn’t include agreements and safeguards on nuclear nonproliferation — though I did study that in university back in the day — one of my areas of expertise as a rabbi is certifying the production of kosher food.

Having practical and theoretical experience in negotiating and monitoring production agreements, I know how challenging oversight can be. In the case of assuring the production of kosher food we have excellent guidelines established by the Talmud. These guidelines include the essential elements of any deal to produce kosher food, the means of inspection and how to manage problems as they arise.

Which got me thinking.

If we were to apply the stringencies of Kosher certification to an upcoming nuclear deal with Iran, what would that include? In other words, if Iran were seeking kosher certification that it wasn’t building nuclear weapons, what would that deal look like?

According to Jewish law, factories or establishments that want certification of providing kosher food must agree to two major areas of verification. The first is on-site inspections of facilities by representatives of the agency, which includes unhindered and unannounced visits. Additionally, some facilities or establishments, owing to the nature of what they produce, require full-time kosher supervision and the use of kosher seals. The second is the kosher certification contract. This contract is based on the legal concept that a professional does not compromise their professionalism because they have an interest in maintaining their reputation and credibility. In this way factories and restaurants are able to enter into agreements with kosher certification organizations to provide kosher food.

Accordingly, a kosher deal with Iran meant to ensure that it doesn’t produce nuclear weapons would have to include unhindered and unannounced on-site inspections. Since nuclear weapons verification is a serious and complicated matter, a kosher supervision agency would likely require full-time supervision. Therefore, the use of seals, remotely operated cameras and detection equipment, would be needed at every possible site. The Vienna based IAEA, responsible for monitoring and inspecting nuclear sites worldwide, must have the ability to not only inspect in person whenever they want, but install technology to allow constant verification.

While this might seem overly intrusive, if we are to apply the needs of kosher food verification to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we need to use the strongest means of verification and inspection possible. Getting inspectors to a site without alerting the Iranians would be hard. So the IAEA need to be there all the time, just like a kosher supervisor needs to be on-hand at places that handle the most complicated kosher products.

The second part is the written contract, a detailed agreement between the parties. At minimum a kosher certification contract includes all the agreed upon ingredients, manufacturing procedures, and significant monetary penalties to the company should any of the terms of the agreement be broken.

Let us put to the side for the moment that fact that Iran has shown an ongoing unwillingness to act professionally to preserve their reputation and lack credibility because of nondisclosure of nuclear sites and other broken agreements.

What would a contract with Iran need to include? It’s likely more complicated than a kosher recipe for bread.

According to experts in non-proliferation, a deal would need to include:

1. Dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, including enrichment or reprocessing capacities.
2. Material Accountability. This includes tracking and testing all inward and outward transfers and the flow of materials in any approved nuclear facility.
3. Lengthy and phased relief from sanctions applied by the international community.

4. Tough, “snap-back” sanctions should the agreement be violated.

5. A long deal. This deal has to do with the safety of the world, and it must include safeguards in terms of decades, not years.

Thankfully congress now has the power to review any final agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran and they need to ensure any deal with Iran uses even more rigorous standards than we need for kosher bread or a restaurant. If a company messes up with the bread recipe, they can always recall the products from the markets. If an unscrupulous restaurant owner sneaks in non-kosher meat, the kosher certification can be immediately revoked and the public warned.

However, If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, there is no recall of the product. The most volatile region of the world will be caught-up in a nuclear arms race. The safety and security of Israel and the world will be in jeopardy.

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Bar Mitzvah in Baku

I recently traveled to Azerbaijan to speak at the 6th International Conference on Multiculturalism at Baku Slavic University. Azerbaijan is a developing country in the Caucuses on the Caspian Sea, rich in oil and agricultural resources, and committed to building a secular Muslim society tolerant of minorities. They enjoy good diplomatic and trade relations with Israel and America. Yes, Israel and America.

While admittedly I was nervous about what I would find once I reached Baku, my experience working with the Azerbaijan Consulate in Los Angeles had been so pleasant that I could not imagine anything other than a warm welcome. In fact, I spent the next three days as a reluctant VIP, in a whirlwind of activity, with touring, interviews, meetings, celebrations, teaching, and a boat ride on the Caspian Sea. This is part one of a series on my visit to Azerbaijan.


David looks as nervous as any other 13 year old boy wrapped in a tallit and tefillin, standing on the bima in front of the torah on a Thursday morning. The rabbi coaxes him, and he recites the blessing before, and then the blessing after the torah reading. The candies rain down from the women’s gallery above as we break out in singing “siman tov, u mazal tov”. David is smiling, his father is beaming, and the joy in the synagogue is tremendous.

However, David is not in my synagogue in Los Angeles, but in the Mountain Jews Synagogue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a Muslim country in the Caucasus.

It was my second morning joining the Mountain Jews for services. And like at other synagogues on a Thursday morning, identifying those those who were there for the Bar Mitzvah was easy: they came bearing gifts and food, and had yarmulkas perched awkwardly on their heads. Everyone was dressed-up for for the occasion. Unlike the previous day, the women’s gallery above was now full with women of all ages, their heads wrapped with colorful scarves. During David’s aliyah, when he was called up to bless the Torah, the women held lit candles.

This synagogue was built by the government in 2011 to replace their aging old synagogue, through the goodwill of the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. The floors are covered in colorful rugs, and there are even small rugs on many of the seats. (I would be given a gift of some of these small rugs to take home later by the head of the community.) I was honored by the rabbi to stand with him on the tall bima in middle of the room during the Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

The Jewish community of Azerbaijan lived in relative peace for centuries — some say thousands of years — before the Soviet Union began to destroy synagogues and repress Jewish life. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that Jewish life in Azerbaijan had a chance to breath again. Many Jews left for Israel, Moscow or America. But thousands stayed and are building Jewish life in Azerbaijan.

Like the rest of the country emerging from the shadow of the Soviet Union, Jewish life in Baku is also in development. There are hundreds of children attending two Jewish day schools in Baku. The largest is Or Avner which is operated by the local Chabad emissary Rabbi Shneor Segal, who is nearing completion on a new kindergarten building on the campus of Or Avner (also donated by the government). There are Jewish clubs and other organizations. In addition to the Mountain Jews synagogue there is an Ashkenazi and a Georgian Synagogue in Baku.

After the Bar Mitzvah and morning services, I joined the community and guests in the synagogue basement for a celebratory meal including vodka, tea and pomegranate juice to accompany the breads, salads, olives, omelettes and pastries. I sat with synagogue’s head rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov, who I had previously met when he visit LA with a delegation of Azerbaijani Jews. We conversed in Hebrew about the weekly Shabbat meals that he supervises which the synagogue serves, and other community and charity work that he is doing. Then Milikh Yevdayev, the leader of the Mountain Jews community in Azerbaijan, offered blessings and toasts in Azeri and Juhuri, the local Jewish language.

I made a few l’chaims, ate some pastries, and then had to run — a car was waiting to take me Kultura Plus, a Azerbaijan TV station, for an interview. However, you cannot just run out empty handed in Baku, that’s not the way it works. Two men quickly assembled a plate full of local sweets and a gift bag for me to take, and I wished everyone Mazal Tov!

Photos to accompany by article about David's Bar Mitzvah in Baku.

Posted by Rabbi Yonah on Thursday, May 21, 2015

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Don’t Just Stand There – do Something Holy

“You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow’s blood. I am Hashem.” Lev. 19:16

I was driving on cold morning down the highway in New Jersey and a car ahead of me suddenly veered left, went off the road, and then careened back across the highway. The car crossed some grass and slammed into brush on the side of the highway. Instinctively, I pulled off the highway, crossed the shoulder, and parked on the grass. I ran towards the car and started to help the young driver from the wreck.

Within a minute, an entire commuter bus of orthodox Jews stopped, and out ran a man with with a large medic bag, followed by others. He was a trained paramedic from Hatzolah, and began administering first aid while I was on the phone with the Highway Patrol. The medic said the woman was not badly injured, but that we needed to stay with her until the ambulance arrived. A woman in a shaitel got off the bus and came over, putting her coat around the young woman from the accident.

The driver, a bus full of commuters, the paramedic and I waited until she was being attended to an ambulance crew.

In this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim which instructs us to live holy lives, we learn that we cannot be bystanders when someone’s life is in danger. “Don’t stand by the shedding of your fellow’s blood,” say the sages, “means do not stand by watching your fellows death when you are able to save him. For example, if he is drowning in the river or a if a wild beast or robbers come upon him.” (Rashi, Torat Kohanim 19:41, Talmud Sanhedrin 73a)

Just as the Torah instructs us in other areas of life about the Sabbath, Passover and the Ten Commandments, the Torah teaches that we have a sacred obligation and responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of others.

One of most powerful aspects of life today in this age of interconnectivity is that “others” really means everyone in the world. While our first obligation are those immediately around us, our responsibility is truly worldly.

When the tragic earthquake struck Nepal last Shabbat, it immediately provided an opportunity for the entire world to fulfill the mitzvah of “not standing by.”

International charities, like Mercy Corps, that do important work in Nepal to help alleviate poverty, suddenly became front-line responders and rescuers.

Chabad Nepal’s Rabbi Chezky and Chani Lifshitz converted their center into an emergency shelter, first aid clinic, missing persons agency, and food distribution hub.

Israel immediately activated 260 doctors and rescuers to fly to nepal and set up a field hospital and do search and rescue operations. Other countries also sent aid and rescuers. The US sent over sixty emergency workers and millions of dollars in aid.

While we cannot all physically go and rescue people around the planet, with a few clicks we are all able to provide immediate funds to help those in need.

You have heard this many times before – but its still true – one who saves one life is as if they saved an entire world. Your tzedakah can help sustain people in dire need  – from Nepal to Los Angeles.

A true legacy is not the wealth that we leave when we die, but the mitzvot that we did while we were living.

Shabbat Shalom

Chabad Nepal

Mercy Corps

American Jewish World Service