Should Jews be for or against the right to bear arms?



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


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


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...

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