By Rabbi Shlomo Pinkus / AJT //
I enjoy the AJT very much, but I am greatly perplexed by the article “Gun Control is a Jewish Value” [by Harold Kirtz, Dec. 28 edition]. The article shows a great lack of understanding of Jewish ideals and morals on the writer’s behalf.
He is correct that there is a commandment both for the Jewish people and for the rest of the world “thou shall not murder.” There is even a verse in the Torah stating that if a body is found outside of the city, all surrounding cities must measure which city is closest to try to determine who was responsible for that person’s death.
The Torah assumes that the city did not give the person a proper send-off, and the cities’ leaders must, as a whole, bring an offering to repent for the person’s death.
But at the same time, there is an equal commandment which basically states that if a person comes to murder you, you should wake up early and kill him first. That verse says a lot about the Torah’s view on life and death.
First, there is a clear distinction that “murder” and “killing” are two very different and separate acts. A court has the power to kill; a soldier in battle kills; and a person is clearly told not to hesitate but to “kill him first.”
And who does the Torah tell them to kill? The murderer – a person who takes innocent life unjustifiably. The Torah does not say to harm, injure or maim him; it says that when a person tries to take an innocent life, Hashem is handing over to you (or the court) the keys to life and death and – not giving permission – but commanding you to kill that other person.
The cited article itself asserted that “every citizen must do their utmost to prevent it,” speaking of murder. That is true, but the way to do that is by following the Torah, not by creating a false sense of safety.
The Torah puts the right to defend oneself in each of our hands, not in the hands of courts or government. Even Moshe Rabbeinu went out and killed the Egyptian who was attacking another Jew, and not there is no recourse mentioned in the Torah for this; it was his duty to defend. Life is precious, and we should do everything we can to protect it. That is why I do not understand how we should defend ourselves by disarming and making ourselves defenseless.
Examining the Book and the Bill
The Torah says many things, some of which throughout history have seemed controversial. For example, the Torah says that “a man should not lay with another man,” that you should “not cook the calf in the mother’s milk” and that “thou shall not murder.”
But the Torah is not just a book – it’s the book, the eternal laws given down by Hashem himself as a blueprint for the world. Thus, all of its commandments are also eternal, and that’s why it says those things are not allowed.
Because however you may feel and whatever you may think, there will always be a physical want for certain men to be with men; meat and milk will always be delicious; and there will always, under any and all circumstances, be murder in this world. Nothing any of us do will ever change that.
The only thing that we can change is the way in which we treat ourselves. Consider: The city that is closest to a body is held accountable not because they murdered him. What they are liable for is not taking proper care of him. This tells us: “If you had taken better care of your fellow, he would still be here.”
The Torah doesn’t tell us to take away knives, guns or other weapons; it says that if you want to prevent murder, be nicer. Care for one another as if you were family because you are, and – above all – protect yourself.
The U.S. government and the citizens of this great nation feel the same way. The aforementioned article claims that “The Second Amendment was never written with the intention for everyone to own guns,” but that’s missing the point entirely.
The Second Amendment was written very clearly written: It guarantees our right to “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” and also that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
The whole purpose is to protect our rights from the government becoming too strong and taking them away. The idea of having a weapon for hunting or self-protection was never questioned and did not need to be mentioned. The Founding Fathers of both the Jewish nation and the American nation would both own a guns if they were alive today.
Abraham had a spear, Yaakov had a sword and arrow and the prophets not only carried daggers but even used them to kill when necessary.
So your idea to disarm American citizens is obviously not a Jewish idea, and it is clearly not an American one either.
What Is the Answer?
Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, yet it makes the top 10 list of U.S. cities with the most murders. Meanwhile, Texas – which has very lenient gun laws – ranks in the bottom half of U.S. states with the highest murder rate.
And across the pond, England may have fewer guns and therefore fewer murders by guns, but the amount of stabbings and other forms of murder are much higher.
We all want a safe environment, a place where our children can come and go without fear. No one wants another incident, but at the same time, how many of these incidents were caused by normal gun owners? There is nothing wrong with owning a weapon – and that means any kind of weapon, according to the Torah – and that is the “Jewish value.”
All this considered, I believe that “Gun Control is a Jewish Value” was a product of fear and not logic. But the question remains: How do we prevent this from happening again?
We can’t just follow part of the Torah; we must follow all of it. We must follow when it tells us to “love your neighbor like yourself” and not to “place a stumbling block.”
These are the precepts for peace. This is how you prevent murder in your cities.
As the Torah said: You measure, and if he is closest to your city, your city is held accountable for his death because you did not take care of him. So take care of one another and make yourself responsible for each other.
These incidents – like that at Sandy Hook Elementary – happen when people fall through the cracks, when no one is paying attention.
Whether you carry a weapon or not is your right as a Jew and as an American. And no matter how many weapons we add or take away, the situation will not improve until we open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to one another.
Rabbi Shlomo Pinkus is a rabbinic field representative for the Atlanta Kashruth Commission.