Jews and Guns
Two mass shootings in the past month—in Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin—have focused American attention once again on the issue of guns. Are guns a Jewish issue? Jewish organizations have expressed their opinions by their statements and their silence.
The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center has decried the recent shootings and called for “common-sense gun control laws.” A blog on the Center’s website clarifies what the RAC thinks this means. “The most effective way to prevent gun deaths,” it says, “is to reduce the number of guns.” An earlier editorial by a RAC associate director went further. It decried the prospect of an armed and balkanized American society—and derided the argument that “only when Jews have guns have they been able to preserve Jewish honor and dignity.” The RAC’s answer to threats that Jews might face is tikkun olam.
The president of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly made a more interesting comment on the shootings. He condemned them, but also noted “the fragility of the fundamental social contract that binds us to each other in a civil society. Each and every assault on that unwritten contract,” he observed, “erodes our sense of security, and in so doing, threatens to make us that much less trusting, and less compassionate.” This is undoubtedly true—and unhelpfully abstract. It begs the question of whether it is the guns or the shooters that pose the real problem.
The Orthodox Union condemned the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin as an assault on religious freedom—but did not mention guns. While Orthodox rabbis, like rabbis of other denominations, have undoubtedly sermonized on guns and violence, taking various positions, Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America issued no public statement about the recent events.
Jewish exegesis related to guns is necessarily indirect. Biblical and talmudic texts generally require people to secure possessions of theirs, such as dangerous dogs, that pose safety hazards. There are prohibitions on selling weapons to idol worshippers and criminals, lest the weapons be turned against Jews. At the same time, there are complicating biblical and talmudic pronouncements about moral freedom and pikuah nefesh, saving a life. In one talmudic commentary on Deuteronomy, the prohibition on a woman’s wearing men’s clothing includes a ban on her wearing weapons, the quintessential male accoutrement. It follows that for men, wearing weapons is natural.
But none of these sources figures in American Jews’ discussions of guns; instead, there is near blanket opposition. Why?
At the center of the gun issue is power: To whom does the positive and negative power of weapons rightfully belong? Max Weber famously defined the state as an entity with a monopoly on violence; and the American Jewish attitude towards guns, following Weber, cedes all responsibility for the protection of individuals—of Jews—to government. American Jews, as opposed to Jews through most of history, unilaterally cede this power even though it is available to them.
The issue is not simply Left versus Right. The Reform movement explicitly wishes to restrict or prohibit individual gun ownership. In contrast, Orthodox silence on the issue tacitly accepts both the legal status quo, which permits private guns, and social norms, under which Jews do not own guns. The denominational positions effectively converge. Guns are not for Jews.
One pathological consequence of Jewish powerlessness has been the tendency to embrace weakness, rationalizing it and the suffering it produces as elevated and noble. Another pathology is guilt regarding whatever power one does possess. For American Jews, who are not shy about wielding their social and economic power, the choice to remain unarmed is perverse—but logical.
Jews also follow the prejudices of their social class. Educated upper middle-class suburbanites, largely untouched by gun violence, are notably opposed to guns. Their opposition reflects intellectuals’ assumptions about the sources of and solutions to violence, and blame is assigned to the technology. True, the culture of the shooters themselves is identified as the problem in certain cases—say, neo-Nazis. But in other cases, such as inner cities, culture is quietly ignored: Highlighting it might be thought racist. Expiating a sense of privilege by restricting the rights of others is another hallmark of the educated upper middle class. In this sense, too, Jews emulate their fellows and embrace weakness.
There is also a passive-aggressive element in the American Jewish attitude: It cedes a monopoly on violence to government not just in exchange for the government’s protection but as a way of establishing an entitlement to—of demanding—such protection. Government, correspondingly, offers sympathy to victims while accepting empowerment as their protector. Unfortunately, criminals and terrorists have not agreed to the bargain. Thus, the Jewish attitude, a form of pacifism, entails the occasional human sacrifice.
But the American social contract uniquely specifies that government does not retain a monopoly on violence. The country was founded precisely in rebellion against such an idea, a rebellion that is burned into the nation’s founding documents. Moreover, the power of governments to threaten liberties is fact, not paranoid fantasy; Jews have been victims of state violence as much or more than non-state violence. The question of whether to place total trust in the state for protection does not have a self-evident answer.
Then there is the problem of guns and Zion. How many American Jews are taken aback at seeing young Israeli men and women with assault rifles slung on their shoulders? How much alienation from Israel comes from the American Jewish desire that violence be impersonal and distant, rather than, as in Israel, intensely personal?
Guns are an imperfect last defense against adversaries—governments, terrorists, home invaders. In rejecting guns, Jews elect to put their full faith in government—also imperfect, as well as haphazard, biased, even vindictive. Placing faith in government rather than in legal rights places faith not in laws but in human discretion. Such a choice in the haphazard and political is necessarily foolish. And faith in powerlessness is still worse, demeaning and potentially suicidal.
Actually gun ownership is highly regulated and limited in England. The rights in England to use a gun in self-defense are, I believe, non-existent. After England rounded up most guns, violent crime actually increased with guns. Violent crime with knives in England increased after the guns were grabbed and attacks with knives is high. Criminals do not fear breaking into English homes as there is little threat to them.
Joffe honestly spoke to Jewish hang-ups about guns. But there are some problems. Many citizens, especially the young, old, infirm, and unexpert, may not be able to defend themselves with guns in sudden time of need. Should everybody have brought their gun to the Aurora, CO movie theater? And Elihu Davidson articulately demurs, citing traditional Jewish values weighted in favor of public order.
That is important in these two respects:
First, the author asks if guns are a Jewish issue. Easy answer. If guns are an issue at all in America, and the Jews to whom he refers are American, then, yes, of course, guns are an issue for American Jews. Why should they be considered different from anyone else. And it matters not to American Jews what the Bible or the Talmud or any other Jewish cite may provide if guns are an American issue.
Second, since it is clear that the article refers to an American issue, I think the article should have delved significantly into the Second Amendment to the American Constitution. This is especially so because of the author's reference to the Weber state definition, where he implicitly equated violence with gun ownership. The Second Amendment's reference to militia (not to mention numerous other sources) demonstrates that the purpose of the right to bear arms was to permit ordinary citizens of states to protect themselves against federal government threats. Bear in mind the context of the time, and the hatred for George III. The Second Amendment, as it is for all Americans, is the governing rule for Jewish Americans. And the Supreme Court recently ruled that it covers personal gun ownership.
The men who killed others in Colorado and Wisconsin would have been able to obtain the weaponry needed for their sordid goals in an American where gun ownership or possession is outlawed or severely controlled.
In American law it is explicitly and extensively written that government does NOT have a responsibility for your personal protection.
Should the Israelis give up their guns? Guns save more lives than they take. Daily, among the pro-gun blogs and sites are news reports proving how guns have been used by private citizens to defend themselves, their family, neighbors, and businesses from criminals that were armed and unarmed.
It should be noted that the first systematic bans on firearms possession in the USA were part of the reconsolidation of Democratic Party control in the post-Reconstruction South. They were directed at freed slaves who were trying to protect themselves against the Klan and similar forces. The Sullivan Laws in NYC were a corrupt move to reduce the hazard posed by armed citizens to Tammany allied street thugs. The well-intentioned Weimar era firearms registration laws made it much easier for the Nazis to disarm their political enemies.
As it is now, budgetary constraints have led the police in, for example, Oakland, California to decide not to respond in person (unless you are well-connected, of course) not just to loud noise complaints and the like, but to crimes such as burglary, grand theft, extortion. And of course the police have no legal obligation to respond to any particular call at any time. As the saying goes, "when seconds count, the police are only minutes away."
From time to time I am hit by the impulse to learn to shoot and acquire a weapon--I live alone, BTW) but given my innate carelessness and clumsiness I talk myself out of it, not to mention that I now have grandchildren turning up from time to time. Chalk it up to post-holocaust syndrome--I spent my childhood imagining what I'd do if "they" came to the door--but I believe strongly in Jewish self-defense, individual and organized.
I recognize there are ugly and unstable characters who love armaments--I once occupied a cubicle adjoining that of a writer (Jewish) who pored over knife catalogs--but in the days when I made business trips to Texas, I wasn't bothered by the ubiquitous rifles in pickups. Certainly, there are dangers in owning guns, but I do believe--within limits-in the right to bear arms.
I have to admit I was delighted when visiting Israel in the early eighties to see young soldiers around and about, on and off duty, with machine guns. Smiling, joking, making eye contact, they give off very different vibes than their US counterparts.
"What would happen, if a Jewish community center was armed with guns, and somebody walked in there, to ask directions about the neighborhood, and was shot, because they were a stranger, and considered threatening"
That is a ridiculous hypothesis.
Jews simply need to study their history, and that inherently will dictate that they arm and train themselves (if they are self-respecting and have a brain)pionrsw case
I am armed from the moment I rise, until I retire for the night.
Hopefully I will never need it, but one thing is certain......I will never be a victim.
What would happen if one or more well-armed Jew-haters walked into a JCC and started shooting? The presence of an armed guard is no guarantee of protection and the police can be long minutes away to save the day. If you lack confidence in yourself to properly use a gun then please don't buy one. Please don't ask the rest of us to go through lives defenseless.
I am Asher. I was born in Israel to parents who survived the holocaust. Growing up with survivor parents raised perplexing questions in me. How did these individuals survive during the war and become capable of starting not only a family but a nation. I found this paradox bewildering. How could they survive against all the statistical odds? They should have perished according to actuarial statistics. My brother and I should have never been born: yet we are here. Was it an accident of fate or was it divine intervention? Looking at my parents, garnering the strength to create a family, nurture it, love it, protect it and living their lives affected by horrors of the past, was a super human task in maintaining balance. However, life for us has never been in balance compared to Jews whose family never experienced the holocaust. The most striking example is that I never had grandparents. As a matter of fact, I grew up in a neighborhood where none of my friends had grandparents. Few had uncles or aunts, though some had distant cousins. Overall we were a nation of family orphans. I remember in the late 1950’s my father’s only surviving brother came to visit us in Israel. I had a procession of friends coming over to look at a strange concept of an uncle. None of them had nor seen one. They were gawking at him as if they were in a trance watching a new cartoon in the movies. That was my normal.
My father joined the Polish Brigade at the beginning of WWII and picked up a gun. Later he was transferred to the British army and valiantly fought the Nazis. However, his father and other brothers were not allowed to have guns, so they all perished. The same story was on my mother’s side. Jews and civilians were disarmed by their respective government and they also perished. http://www.stephenhalbrook.com/article-nazilaw.pdf .
I always wondered how Jewish life would look if they were not disarmed. Most certainly hundreds of thousands would have perished but not six million. I am certain the Nazis with their Tiger tanks, army and Luftwaffe would have conquered but at a much higher cost. Definitely the Gestapo and the SS would suffer tremendous losses trying to round up Jews. Their challenges for massive roundup would have cast an existential doubt in their twisted mind. The Nazis would have had a tougher time controlling or governing the conquered, after their successful blitzkrieg. Therefore, the odds of my friends and me, as little children in Israel, having some semblance of the concept of grandparents, uncles or cousins would not have been so abnormal.
The tragedy in Aurora Colorado and previous mass murders should not be a call for naïve creation of a greater tragedy. Disarming the citizens by eviscerating the second amendment through calls of foolish politicians, could pave us toward cataclysmic tragedy. Constitutional Democracies are a weak form of governance which should be strengthened and enshrined by adhering to its constitution.
(Refer to the previous blog) "Tell Me Who Your Friends Are and I’ll Tell You Who You Are”
As a Jew living in America, I have the legacy of witnessing over 3200 years of empires, states and nations come and go. We have witnessed many national flags and constitutions being torn into shreds through greed manipulating ignorance. The Soviets had theirs constitution and so did the Germans. However, the power elite finding mechanism in canceling it destroyed their nation. Being a grandparent now, I am witnessing our constitution being tinkered toward a dangerous path of evisceration. In the scheme of Jewish saga, I am wondering if this is the beginning of the American empire's entering the path of insignificance and into the dust bin of history. The difference now, my granddaughter, living in Israel, will not have to ask “Where Are My Grandparents”?
Copyright Asher Najer 2012
Here, in the U.S., since I am living in the city and I am able to live without "gun-toting" and not a hunter, I do not need a gun. That is my choice.
I find that there is a national gun club in the U.S. financed by the gun and ammunition manufacturers who offer membership to gun-lovers and owners at a nominal fee. While it actually is a well-financed pro-gun lobby, it calls itself an 'association' and enrolls its members in its lobbying activities. As a result, most elected officials turns away from any hint that they might vote for anything as mild as getting ammunition manufacturers to put identification marks in their ammo to assist police when guns are used in a crime.
If someone who has been vetted by police and psychological records wants a gun, then that is something they can do now. But the problem is that there are too many gun-owners who are not vetted as being capable of responsible and lawful use of their firearms, but too many of these people can also get guns as freely as the responsible gunowners. I do not think that people who actually believe that the "black helicopters" are going to come and invade them, and that they will be able to defend themselves adequately is in my estimation psychologically too unstable to hold a gun.
I don't argue that if I were to own a firearm it would stave off another Holocaust.
I argue that people who favor governmental forms which seek to regulate every aspect of their subjects' lives end up enabling governments which regard life and property as privileges the state may grant at its discretion.
One of the striking pictures coming out of the Rodney King can't-we-all-get-along-riots in LA of a few decades ago, was of two Korean storeownes standing in front of their respective properties, guns in hand, facing down the crowd threatening to loot and destroy their property as they had the rest of the neighborhood. A number of unarmed people had already been killed attempting to protect their property, but those two Koreans, their families and their businesses survived.
It graphically demonstrates that government isn't always there to protect. It can't. But one can take steps to lessen the odds of calamity by taking on that responsibility oneself and should have the right to do just that.
Many areas of the United States are very dangerous, with increased crime, drugs, violence, burglary, and the police will not help you. In Oregon, where i live, police do not do anything, unless it has a gun involved. You are on your own for protection. Everyone here has a gun at home; many people and women, take classes to carry a gun legally. The property crime is so bad, burglary is common. I myself realize that I have to take a refresher course to handle my 38. smith and wesson, as I am not familiar enough with it. I'm an older woman, living alone, in Lane county, Oregon, which is now full of drug violence, crime, rampant burglary, and "Meth-heads" running around downtown, in broad daylight.
I totally support the 2nd ammendment, and so do many gun-owners, gun clubs, and individuals in Oregon. Oregonians are pretty smart, independent, and not passive about protecting their families. We know the govt. is not going to protect us from crime: We have to do it ourselves. We are never going to relinquish our guns; we remember history of "taxation without representation," and know dictatorship could always happen again."The only necessary thing for tyranny to flourish, is that good men do nothing."
I wish those Jews who are so complacent, and think the govt. will always protect them, should visit Oregon, and see that we have no functioning police or real govt. to protect us. And Israel has every right to have soldiers, arms, and protect itself. There is much chaos in the US alone, that we must ask Reform Jews to question their complacency.
What would any of them do, should a "home invasion" happen to their family, home broken into, and no self-protection at hand? Do they think the police will PREVENT this? And keep their kids from getting killed, or harmed? No way! That will not happen! The police will come hours late, and just take a report. They will do nothing to keep this from happening, or come to your aid. You are now responsible for the protection of your family in the US, and no one else. Please inform Reform Jews, it's a violent, dangerous world, even in the US. Passiveness is only going to make you a victum.
I invite you to consider whether your perception is due to a Jewish ambivalence concerning state power that other commenters in this string have discussed.
As for private ownership of firearms...my wife protected herself from a threat of rape by producing a weapon and calling a person's attention to the laser dot on his chest. Five minutes later, she was offering coffee to the friendly police officers.
Regretfully, we can't just become England, or even Switzerland or Israel where gun ownership is common but crime rare. Gun ownership does offer protection to those who wish it, and train for it. That's not a fact that excludes Jews.
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My politics are called by many Progessive, Left of Centre, whatever. Yet, as a Jew, and as a Jew who has volunteered 5 times and served on combat bases on the Lebanon and Syrian borders , I am avidly pro Second Amendment. My friends on both sides of the political divide think I am just confused. Hardly.
No where is it written that the government is responsible for our personal protection. I'm not a lawyer, but, show me? So, now that I no longer have small kids at home, after a 38 year no-guns allowed agreement with my wife, I have armed myself. I have an assault rifles, pistols, a shotguns, and most importantly , have taken , and continue to take , excellent training to keep my skills and knowledge current.
I take gun ownership very, very seriously and am appalled at fellow gun owners who've never even taken a basic skills course. I give them wide birth when at the range. I am representative of the MAJORITY of NRA members who do not oppose stricter gun show controls, training requirements , etc.
So, putting all the pieces together I feel very Jew should own and be trained in the proper use of arms for self-defense . For a pro gun Jewish view of the issue, visit the website of Jews For The Protection of Firearms Ownership. An organization of which I am a proud member.
As Jews, of all minorities, we have seen the horrible results of being defenseless. Anyone who says the Shoah can't happen here, is in my opinion pollyannish and naive. Israel herself has always been threatened existentially , and never more so with the current Iran rush to go nuclear.