Rabbi David Wolpe is a single-issue voter, and Iran’s nuclear program is his issue


Earlier this month, I argued that Rabbi David Wolpe’s benediction at the Democratic National Convention powerfully echoed the themes that Democrats are emphasizing this election cycle.

In his benediction, Wolpe noted that America is “founded on the highest principles of freedom and resourcefulness and creativity and ever-renewed strength,” but he immediately added: “And we understand that those worthy ideals stand alongside the commitment to compassion, to goodness, our sacred covenant to care for those who are bereaved and bereft.” In other words, freedom is not America’s only value; compassion and community are also integral.

Indeed, the day after the rabbi’s benediction, President Obama in his acceptance speech explored the same ideas in a remarkably similar fashion. “As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away. We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative,” he said. But the president soon added: “we also believe in something called citizenship.” And he warned “that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”

Yet for all this seeming harmony on the question of American values, Wolpe was very clear in the run-up to his benediction that his blessing was not meant as an endorsement. “I actually think that it is a mistake for a rabbi to endorse one candidate or another,” Wolpe told Tablet. “I really see my role as apolitical.” (A Wall Street Journal profile of Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who gave an invocation at the Republican National Convention, left the impression that the GOP’s podium rabbi would not have been as eager to bless the Democratic convention.)

Wolpe still isn’t saying which candidate he’s voting for — but he is revealing how he’s going to make up his mind. In a Time magazine essay, Wolpe writes that in this presidential election, he’s a single-issue voter: “My decision this year will be simple: I will vote for whichever candidate seems likelier to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

He explains:


There are two words that symbolize the terror of the twentieth century: Auschwitz and Hiroshima. An Iranian bomb threatens to combine them both. It portends the destruction of an entire nation and an entire people in a moment. However hard it may be to imagine such wholesale slaughter, if history has taught us nothing else, it has taught that today’s delusions of madmen can become tomorrow’s reality.

The problem is not one person. True, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad describes Israel as an “insult to humanity” and “a cancerous tumor,” and calls for its “disappearance.” But it is equally true that in May, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major-General Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, said: “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause [and] that is the full annihilation of Israel.” And in June, Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told a United Nations-sponsored anti-drug conference that the Jews were responsible for the spread of illegal drugs around the world, that the Zionists control the international drug trade, and that they had ordered doctors to kill black babies.

Experts from Israel’s former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and others point to a genuine concern that Iran would bomb Israel. So those like The New York Times‘ Bill Keller who declare that Iran would not use the bomb are foisting their own humanitarian criteria on people who do not share them. The reasoning seems to be: “Since for me it is unthinkable, it must be impossible.” But we have learned to our cost in the twentieth century, when it comes to atrocity, the unthinkable is indeed possible. “Containing” a nuclear Iran is the opposite of real politik; it is fantasy politik.

Wolpe concludes by challenging the candidates to prove that they can stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. "To our presidential candidates: show me you have a way to do that, and you’ve got my vote."

Recommended from JTA