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Orthodox Rabbi Says He Will Appoint Commission to Explore Halachic Implications of the Development O

January 21, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said he would appoint a new commission to explore the halachic implications of the nuclear age, including the development of nuclear arms and nuclear war.

Addressing more than 200 rabbis at the closing session of the Council’s two-day meeting here at the Homowack Lodge, Klaperman said he decided to appoint the commission because “We have to extrapolate new applications from halacha within a totally new framework, to deal with the morality of nuclear weapons escalation.”

The Orthodox rabbi noted that he “could not see how the normally applicable categories of Jewish law (halacha) such as self-defense, endangerment, over-reaction to attack, and legal restraints, could possibly be directed to the contemporary nuclear age in which the two super-powers are already facing each other with taut trigger fingers on cocked nuclear weapons.”


Stressing that “if ever there was a time for collective world sanity, it is now,” Klaperman called for a nuclear freeze by the super-powers provided that any agreement arrived at would be subject to adequate inspection and control and that the United States would not be potentially at risk as a result of the agreement.

“There are enough nuclear weapons already in existence in the arsenals of world powers to destroy the world a number of times over,” Klaperman said, “Each great power has enough destructive potential might now to maintain an effective mutual deterrent against a first strike without the need to build more nuclear weapons.”

Continuing, he declared; “We must defuse the nuclear arms race and make every effort to reduce the escalation of nuclear arms. Perhaps as we wind down the expansion of weaponry, we will also wind down the threat of nuclear havoc and holocaust.” Klaperman pointed out that “The immense colossal, inconceivable destruction that could result from a nuclear war is a quantum leap from the destruction resulting from the use of convential weapons.”


Rabbi J. David Bleich, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and Tenzer Professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at the Benjamin Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University, said there is no more significant social, political issue to which rabbis could now turn their attention than the question of nuclear war.

He said that according to Judaism, war is absolutely forbidden, other than at specific divine behest. The only time when one can use arms, other than at divine behest, is for self-defense. But, Bleich noted, self-defense is not characterized as war. “Self-defense give the intended victim the right to eliminate aggression, but not the right to sacrifice the lives of innocent bystanders,” he said.

The rabbinic scholar pointed out that war, “when theologically sanctioned, generates the right to go to battle even though there may be casualties among non-combatants. Nuclear warfare, such as occurred at Hiroshima, involved intentional annihilation of innocent combatants.” The direct intention to kill non-combatants “such as in nuclear war is morally and theologically odious and morally indefensible,” Bleich added. He stressed, however, that he is opposed to unilateral disarmament.

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