Violence rests heavy in the mythological and religious womb of our civilization. The first murder happens just verses after Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden. According to legend, Cain was stunned after he struck and killed Abel, as death had not yet inhabited the world. He was literally at a loss as to what to do. The birds taught him about how to bury the body.
Violence has never left us from that wayward moment. However, our biblical religions do not glorify the violence. When God commanded Israel to build a Tabernacle so that God might rest amongst the people Israel, part of the package was that the altar would not be hewn with metal. Metal brought death in the form of swords and the altar was a symbol of life. Death would not bring life. If a priest fought in a war, even a commanded war, a righteous conflict, he was forbidden to do the Temple service if he had taken life. King David was not allowed to build the Temple because his hands were bloodied.
The Torah might sanction war and violence in limited cases (self defense, perhaps), however even sanctioned violence is not glorified. Extinguishing the life of a person, even an enemy, even a bad person, is still an act of evil. Continue reading
Yesterday during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a ban on 157 different types of assault weapons, and magazines containing more than ten bullets, Ted Cruz, Republican Senator from Texas, lectured Diane Feinstein on the Constitution. Cruz archly asked Feinstein, the author of the bill, if she would agree to limit the First Amendment so that it only applied to certain books and not others. While Sen. Feinstein appropriately decried and dismissed Cruz’ inappropriate attack, there is still more irony to be exposed and explored. Continue reading
There are two different forces arrayed against gun control in the current debate—the forces of opposition and the forces of obfuscation. The forces of opposition are those whose allegiance to gun ownership brooks neither compromise nor debate. The forces of obfuscation are a more challenging opponent. Their stance is not a fealty to gun ownership per se, nor a mindless chanting of the fantastical slogans of opposition to government tyranny, neither are they simple supporters of easy and universal access to guns. They think gun owners should be trained, perhaps even licensed. Guns should be regulated. However, they stand on the peak of an Olympus of their own making from where they can discern that the territory is far more complicated than you know (you on the right, you on the left) and therefore none of your solutions are really helpful. Most mass killings were not carried out by people with rifles. Most of the gun violence in this country does not involve the types of weapons that the current and proposed laws would regulate or ban.
More importantly, nobody who is writing in support of gun control actually knows of what they speak. The editorial writers and pundits make rookie mistakes when speaking of weapons and ammunition. It’s enough to make you laugh out loud. Then, there is the fact that in the midst of a violent assault by a man armed with a gun it is better to be armed than unarmed; teaching people to defend themselves with furniture or their laptops is tragically absurd. Finally, those on the gun control side of the aisle need to admit that there are actually bad and violent people in this country and a person should defend themselves and their family. Ultimately, the obfuscator’s final argument (and Sam Harris has written one of the more eloquent of these) is that he has a gun, and he is trained to use it, and therefore he knows more about both the problem, and the problems with all the solutions, than you do. Continue reading
This is a piece that I published a few years ago in Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility in an issue on gun control. In light of the recent shootings I thought it might be of interest.
When I went to Israel in the mid-1970s to study in yeshivah for a year (which became two years, then five years, then aliyah and a life-long commitment, then twelve years), there was a moment ritualized in the surety of its repetition with every new cadre of American students.
As I was studying at a hesder yeshivah, all of my Israeli contemporaries were either serving or on the brink of serving in the Israeli army. As a result of this, our Israeli colleagues in the bet midrash and with whom we shared dorm rooms and lunch tables were — when on security detail — armed. This was quite a change from the urban and suburban lives that my American colleagues and I had led prior to our time at yeshivah. The reaction to this situation is fascinating in hindsight. The overwhelming response was awe. Here’s the ritualized moment: At some time during the year, almost every one of the Americans would borrow one of the Israeli students’ weapons (usually an M16 submachine gun), unloaded, and be photographed holding the gun. There were ancillary moments to this central ritual such as acquiring IDF shirts or hats or T-shirts. However, all were secondary to the moment of posing with the weapon. Continue reading