(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.
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.