Should Jews Be for or against the Right to Bear Arms?

Moment, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Should Jews Be for or against the Right to Bear Arms?


INDEPENDENT

For. The Torah implores each of us to be responsible for our own safety and not rely on governments. In the words of Moses: "And you shall very much safeguard your souls" (Deuteronomy 4:15). Later, the ancient rabbis would state it more dramatically: "One who comes to slay you, rise up (preempt his intent) and slay him" (Berachot They applied this principle as well to situations where someone other than yourself is in danger (Leviticus 19:16, Sanhedrin 57a). So there is not only a right to bear arms but a duty to make sure you have the means at hand to defend yourself, your family and the stranger in the street, whether by bearing arms, learning self-defense or chanting Kabbalistic incantations. Whatever works for you.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Walking Stick Foundation

Thousand Oaks, CA

HUMANIST

As Gilda Radner might have said in her persona as Roseanne Rosearmadanna, "What's all the fuss I hear about bearing arms? Why can't people walk around in short-sleeved shirts?" If told that "bearing arms" had to do with owning weapons, she would still wonder why it is such a big deal--why we can't allow people to own guns while also putting in place better controls and background checks and limiting the types of guns that ordinary citizens can purchase.

Traditional Jewish teaching inveighed against hunting and causing unnecessary cruelty to animals. But classical Jewish law also says that if someone breaks into your house, you have a right to defend yourself At the same time, the principle of self-defense isn't limitless, and the village dog still must be tied up by day because of the liability associated with letting it roam free.

Of course, John Lennon could imagine a day when there would be "nothing to kill or die for," and Isaiah, long before him, could prophesy a time when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." But until those days come, bearing arms and doing so responsibly will continue to be a big deal.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism

New York, NY

RENEWAL

As a rabbi who follows shmirat shalom, the Torah of Nonviolence, I find the answer very clear. There are passages in our texts and traditions that promote violence and those that promote nonviolence and peace. We have to choose which pathway we feel best preserves and enhances human life and maintains social justice. I stand with those who read Jewish tradition as did Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv from 1936-46, who said, "Through what means do we blot out Amalek and ... those who glorify the sword? How, and in what manner are we to bring an end to the world's militarism? 'Evil cannot be extirpated by evil' means terror cannot be eliminated through the use of counter-terror. Therefore, one cannot destroy a 'strong arm' with a 'strong arm' ... About this it is said, 'Write this in a book of remembrance,' that is to say: Wage war against the sword with the book."

Most rabbis before the Holocaust defined Judaism as a religion that rejects "the hands of Esau." The violence of the Holocaust has shaken our faith in the wisdom of nonviolence. My faith in compassion and nonviolence, however, is based not on idealism but on the documented history of nonviolent civilian resistance movements over the past 150 years, including the village of Le Chambon during the Holocaust--where villagers risked their lives to hide hundreds of Jews from the Nazis. This history demonstrates that nonviolence is a much more effective tool for resistance to oppression than violent methods. We need the courage as a community to resist the alluring but dead wrong logic of "arms" as an effective tool of physical security. Instead let us educate ourselves about nonviolent alternatives in our own tradition.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence

Berkeley, CA

RECONSTRUCTIONIST

Our Jewish foundational texts, filled with values-based regulations, align with our foundational American "well-regulated" right to bear arms. …

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