Virtual Talmud

We should never have gone into Iraq unprepared and under false pretenses. If we had waited for the inspectors to do their thing, if we had waited for the support staff to be in place to bring back electricity and water right away and to actually secure the country, the resistance would never have found fertile soil in which to grow.

The Talmud teaches, if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world. Flip this lesson over and we learn that if you are responsible for the deaths of others, it is as if you have destroyed many whole worlds. According to Jewish law, there are times to take another’s life, but only in the defense of oneself or others.

From my point of view, President Bush is guilty of a great sin for which he will some day be called to account: the sin of hubris that has resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians. I would add to hubris, incompetence, for I wonder how many of our soldiers–the sons and daughters, spouses, and parents of the now-bereft–would still be alive if they had just been given adequate armament and adequate planning.

That said, I also have to admit that I do not believe we can merely pull out of Iraq. This is more than an issue of “you break it you fix it.” As a result of the Bush administration’s failures, Iraq has actually become what Bush initially misled us about: it has become the newest battleground in the war on terror.

Israel has been fighting that war for a long time, not necessarily successfully if we measure success by the elimination of terror. (Though the security barrier, for all its faults, has significantly reduced terror in Israel and saved lives as a result.) But I would argue that Israel’s failure to win the war on terrorism is largely due to the continued failure of will of the world community, which continues to provide both passive and active support for terrorist networks and their public faces.

What we learn from Jewish history is that evil, if unchecked, will continue to spread until it reaches a critical mass that envelops the known world. The Talmud discusses a town that is threatened with destruction unless a certain person is handed over. The rabbis rule that the town is to stand fast rather than give in to such threats, even if it means the destruction of the town, so that tyranny (we can substitute here terrorism) would not spread through the world. At this point, pulling out of Iraq would just allow the cancer of terrorism to spread.

Among our most repeated prayers in Jewish liturgy are prayers for peace. Yet, the Book of Eccelesiates writes: “There is a …time for war and a time for peace.”

Sometimes war is a necessary prelude to peace. If we back away now, in the face of the terrorism in Iraq, we will merely be opening the gate for terrorism to continue to spread in ways we may not even be able to imagine. But we need to fight this war in wiser ways than this administration has shown itself capable of.

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