Friday, June 22, 2012


In response to a 6/21/12 New Jersey Jewish News article which equated Orthodox+Republican+Gun Rights on the one hand versus Non-Orthodox+Liberal+Gun Control on the other, I have sent the following critique to the editor:

There is no necessary connection between one's religious approach to Judaism and one's political view of gun control. Most Jews - from anywhere on the religious spectrum - who are in favor of gun control in America would never advocate similar personal gun control in Israel.  Similarly, we are proud of those who have served in the armed forces, and their prowess with weapons.  There is no inbred disdain for guns.  The issue is defined instead by the role of the individual in matters of personal security in the larger society. Therefore, it is not a matter of religious "streams."

Similarly, the use of "liberal" or "conservative" in this arena is inappropriate.  Historically, liberalism in American Judaism is about an affinity for organized labor, public education and civil rights. This tends towards the Democratic Party often, but not necessarily so. Guns are largely unrelated to these "liberal" issues. For example, a libertarian-minded "liberal" is likely to support the individual right to own or carry a weapon as a matter of personal freedom.  A pro-law enforcement "conservative" may be pro-gun control to give police every advantage possible.

Gun ownership is also not equal to hunting.  Hunting has been a core part of American culture since the first colonists landed and needed to eat two centuries before the first Jews landed in New Amsterdam. You are correct to cite Judaism's lack of use for hunting, and our general discomfort with the practice as sport.  But the first merchant license issued to a Jew in those days included the sale of animal pelts.  As a rabbi, I teach that "sport killing" is forbidden.  Culling a deer herd however, is open for debate.

Gun ownership and gun use are perfectly legitimate in Judaism for both sport (target) shooting and for home/property defense. The later is common among Jewish store owners, while the former is rare among Jews in general.  The truth is that most of us aren't very passionate about it.  

Personally, I am pro-second amendment gun rights, as interpreted by the current Supreme Court of the United States.    Our religion - Orthodox Conservative and Reform - believes in personal responsibility for our actions.  I see nothing less moral about a gun than a knife. What matters is what you do with it.