Dear PASJE Parents,
Our class today was devoted to a debate about gun control. Thanks to Ryan E., a debate knowledgeable 8th grader, our debate was based on correct debate structure and etiquette. Please see the attachment discussing the implications of Jewish Law on this controversial issue. The students used this paper to help them form their personal positions.
Jewish denominations have plenty to say about gun control. The Reform and Conservative movements have both issued statements about the need for steeper gun-control measures.
However, in the Reform movement’s multiple resolutions on the matter, dating back to the 1970s, and the Conservative movement’s to 1993 and 2012, make almost no mention of Jewish texts in justification for their positions.
Perhaps liberal Jews who support gun control are reluctant to draw on our classical texts because guns are so different from swords, dogs, snakes, or any other items. After all, a single sword can’t kill dozens of people in seconds. Guns don’t have minds of their own, like dogs. Lions aren’t easily concealed. Yet, when taken as a whole, I believe these texts provide us with a clear ethic.
All these analogies weigh individual interests with societal good. The rabbis understood the liability that an owner of weapons or animals faced and did their best to safeguard against anything that might cause their misuse. You can certainly protect yourself, says the tradition, but not at all costs. Furthermore, the rabbis were not uniform in who could own dangerous things.
Unstable individuals shouldn’t own swords. Neither should those who did not understand how to use them. Anyone who might panic can’t buy weapons, nor should someone who can’t control their animals.
Jewish law has never worked in a vacuum, and so it is impossible to totally divorce our modern values from our ancient texts. Nevertheless, I believe that the ethics displayed in these texts teach us that we are not doing enough to safeguard our society and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who might misuse them. I have little doubt that were I unfamiliar with these texts, I would still support background checks, waiting periods, and bans on assault weapons. But I’m proud to be a part of a religion that contains legal ethics and values that fall in line with why I support these positions: a desire to safeguard against accidents, a vision of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who may misuse them, and an emphasis on societal good.
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, a third-century Jewish sage, once taught: Great is peace … if the Holy One had not given peace to the world, sword and beast would devour up the whole world. Let us all hope that through our discourse we silence the “swords and beasts” of our day, bringing about a world one step closer to peace.
There are over 33, 000 people who die each year in the US from guns. The deaths include suicide, murder and accidental deaths. This number is a little greater than the number of annual deaths from auto accidents.