Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Are guns kosher?

(RNS) — What does Judaism say about guns — or, to be more accurate, about any dangerous weapon or situation?

The Torah is not terribly helpful here — other than the mitzvah (commandment) of making sure that the roof of your house has a parapet in order to prevent someone from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8). In other words, you have to make sure that you do all that you can to eliminate household dangers.

Neither are the books of the prophets terribly helpful — other than the good old messianic “beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” thing, which would seem to endorse a kind of generalized pacifism.

How do we make the gun conversation “kosher”?

Consider the Jewish attitude toward meat.

Originally, in the divine meal plan, God wanted human beings to be herbivores.
After the Flood, God realized that human beings have this insatiable need to eat meat.

So, God said, in essence: You want to eat animals? We need some rules.

• You cannot consume the blood of the animal, because blood symbolizes life.
• You have to slaughter the animal according to Jewish law.
• You have to separate meat and milk. Meat represents death; milk represents life. You cannot mix the realms of life and death together.
• And, while we are at it, there will be some animals that you are forbidden to eat — ever.

That is how God, and the Jewish tradition, tried to put limitations upon the human appetite.

Shotgun shells. Photo by David Levêque/Unsplash

The United States could be doing the same thing about guns.

The United States could be saying this: We, as a society and as a civilization, understand that human beings have an aggressive streak, and that they are going to want guns.

But, just as the Jewish tradition limited our ways of dealing with our hunger for meat, a new emerging American tradition could limit our ways of dealing with our hunger for guns.

Because that is the essential meaning of kosher. It means putting limits on those things that are natural and legitimate — eating, sex, power and war.

“Kosher” gun laws could mean:

• Limiting the the number of guns a person can own.
• Limiting the amount of ammunition a person can buy within a certain time frame.
• Outlawing the purchase of certain kinds of guns.
• Instituting mandatory waiting periods.
• More extensive background checks.
• Mandatory gun training — as we have with automobiles.
• Gun owners must carry insurance — as with automobiles.

“Hold on a second. You are forgetting one very big thing, Jeff. It’s called the Second Amendment.”

Here, once again, let’s turn to Judaism for guidance — for guidance on how to read a legal tradition.

Many Second Amendment fans are “fundamentalist” in their obsession with the right to bear arms. The Constitution guarantees that right, along with the right to a “well regulated militia.”

Except, most modern approaches to Judaism understand that Jewish law grows and evolves. Judaism, in the words of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people. The geographical, religious and social environments that brought forth certain laws and teachings have also evolved.

Our understanding of the Second Amendment must also evolve. We would need to ask questions, like:

• What was the original intent of this amendment?
• How have social conditions evolved since that time?
• What did the Second Amendment mean by a “well regulated militia?” Is such a militia necessary today?
• What about guns? The framers of the Constitution only knew about muskets. They had no concept, could have had no concept, of the AR-15 — not to mention slower, perhaps comparably lethal weapons.

As society has evolved, is it not time for our understanding of the application of the Second Amendment to evolve?

Because here is the thing about “beating spears into pruning hooks.”

If you have ever looked at a spear, and if you have ever looked at a pruning hook, you will notice something.

It takes only a small bend of the metal to convert that weapon of war into a tool of agriculture.

About the author

Jeffrey K. Salkin


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  • Moot issue since the founders of Judaism, Abraham and Moses are myths making Judaism an invention of Jewish scribes.

    origin: NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.
    New York Times
    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document. “

  • Great points. A fundamentalist view of laws is not the example of carefully observing them with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul.

  • You consider protecting ourselves and our children from mass shootings to be a “moot issue”? Thank you for providing yet another reason we can all safely ignore you.

  • We have a method for modifying our Constitution as our understanding of what is needed or appropriate evolves, it’s called Article V. Until that method is used, the old understanding is the constitutionally applicable one.

  • If you want a gun under an 18th century document, then allow each person one musket or a dueling pistol. To keep it kosher have a rabbi bless it. For bullets an extensive background check, training, insurance and license will be required along with a limit on musket balls and gun powder.

  • This modestly amusing attempt to back into his personal political views by analogy to kosher runs into several problems in the real world.

    The Second Amendment’s provisions are more akin to the classification in the mitzvot of laws that do not have a rational explanation (chukim). For example, you cannot consume the blood of the animal because G-d forbids it. Period.

    Our legal system is based on a written Constitution, which simply forbids certain government actions. Since the government is the creature and the Constitution a creator analogue, there is no “interpretation” which legitimately voids the command of the creator.

    The Constitution provides a means for dealing with changes in social conditions, or changes in technology or consideration of whether in fact there should be a Second Amendment at all. The solution is found in Article V which provides for amendment.

    As to “what did the Second Amendment mean by a ‘well regulated militia” and they “(t)hey had no concept, could have had no concept, of the AR-15″, unlike Judaism, the Constitution provides for authoritative interpretation.

    That authority has concluded that, as with the First Amendment, rights pertain to analogous new technology, that a right cannot be conditioned on carrying insurance, that the original intent of this amendment was to guarantee the right to possession of and practice with the means for self-defense, that it was therefore not conditioned on the existence of a militia, and so on.

    The alternative is the constitutional equivalent of the “Trefa Banquet” held on July 11, 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Honoring the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College, it featured non-kosher (treyf) foods such as littleneck clams, soft-shell crabs, shrimp, frog legs, as well as dairy-based desserts to follow the meat-based meal.

  • As long as you also advocate that freedom of speech and of the press do not apply to television, the internet, electronic media, and the presses must use handset type and be manually operated, not electrically operated.

  • This is an extremely perverse way to read our constitution. It was never meant to evolve because humans haven’t changed in thousands of years. In fact, I think we need to apply original intent to the constitution now more than ever because of the technology that has made it easy for governments to violate our liberties more than ever.

    Also, if we did apply all of the talking points listed above do you think it would stop there? If you do your ideology has blinded you to reality.

    If you take away the second amendment or severely cripple it then it’s only a matter of time before we lose all of our liberties because we could not fight back.

    The framers of the constitution were some of the most educated ever and they knew how men with power are always tempted to try and get more power. The second amendment deters that for now though.

  • Do you seriously believe that what you suggested is not the exact opposite of the original intent to the second amendment?That goes way beyond infringed upon.

  • “After the Flood, God realized that human beings have this insatiable need to eat meat.”

    This is incorrect. God instituted meat eating because life would be much harder after the Flood. The hydrosphere came down and created the oceans. The hydrosphere had given us a worldwide greenhouse with nice temperatures worldwide and no storms. After the Flood we had both. Life was much, much harder.

    Lewis and Clark had plenty of game available and were still starving despite eating an estimated 5000 calories per day in their trek acroiss the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas.

    “That is how God, and the Jewish tradition, tried to put limitations upon the human appetite.”

    Incorrect. The dietary laws have been shown as the healthiest way to have a carnivore diet. God wasn’t limiting his people; he was blessing them. ALL of God’s laws are for OUR benefit.

    “• Outlawing the purchase of certain kinds of guns.”

    This seems like a very ignorant statement. There are only 4 types of guns:

    1. Muzzle loaders – legal

    2. Bolt action – legal

    3. Semi-automatic – legal

    4. Automatic – illegal without a special permit.

    I don’t see how the law could be more reasonable. Outlawing semi-automatic weapons would be foolish and result in in a large increase of innocent deaths.

    Only a fool talks about “assault” weapons. An assault weapon is just an ugly semi-automatic. A pretty pink semi-automatic gun works exactly like an ugly semi-automatic rifle that is called an “assault weapon.”

    “Except, most modern approaches to Judaism understand that Jewish law grows and evolves.”

    And, this is foolishly wrong. “For I am the LORD, I change not . . .” (Malachi 3:6) The more you change, the more you move away from God.

  • When do you draw the line? Should people be allowed to have machine guns, tanks, cannons, bombers, or nuclear weapons?

  • That 18th century document is more relative today than it was then for our rights under God given the countless ways governments can infringe on those rights. No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to allow any civilian to have true weapons of war which is what you’re talking about. However, law abiding citizens won’t change their following of that law regardless of a weapons power and ability to inflict mass casualties, so I don’t think that argument helps in trying to make a case to restrict lawful civilian semiautomatic gun ownership.