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Educating fellow Jews about the sporting and defensive use of firearms. Especially Jews in North America, too many of whom are instilled with the belief that guns aren't for nice Jewish boys and girls.

If you know of notable Jewish shooters that should be documented on the blog, even if it is only at the local club level, I am happy to report and profile them. And don't be shy if that person to be documented is you! Please drop me a line at jewishmarksman at gmail dot com. Also follow me on twitter @JMarksmanship.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Understanding Jewish Opposition to Gun Ownership Part 2

In Part 1 (click here) I advanced the premise that Jewish opposition to private gun ownership is not so much a function of being Jewish, per se, but rather a function of general "progressive" liberalism which most American Jews identify with. This post will attempt to lay the groundwork for explaining the diversity of views within the Jewish community on gun ownership, and the natural correlation with varying political views.

Within American Jewry there are three major "streams" of belief: reform, conservative, and orthodox. For my purposes here, two will suffice, we can consider only reform and combine conservative and reform into "conservadox." The Wikipedia description of reform Judaism hints at where reform Jews will likely fall on gun control:
In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Many branches of Reform Judaism hold that Jewish law should be interpreted as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews.
Ergo, if the "surrounding culture" holds a certain belief, then very likely you can find a Reform Rabbi who will preach it as if it were a Jewish principle, even if the position is not well supported in light of the holy scriptures and centuries of scholarly comment. "Compatible" as used in the definition is code-speak for "politically correct." Just as a progressive judicial activist views the Constitution as a "living" document, Reform Rabbis view the Torah (Old Testament) the same way. Most Jews in the US identify themselves as belonging to the Reform movement.

Conservative and Orthodox Jews approach secular society differently than Reform Jews. From Wikipedia on the Conservative movement:
The term conservative was meant to signify that Jews should attempt to conserve Jewish tradition, rather than reform or abandon it, and does not imply the movement's adherents are politically conservative.
And Orthodox:
Orthodox Judaism's central belief is that Torah, including the Oral Law, was given directly from God to Moses and applies in all times and places.
(Now, even among Jews you will find a lot of debate about these definitions, and how we label ourselves. A Jew might belong to a Reform synagogue, but actually hold beliefs that are traditionally "orthodox" and cringe at his Rabbi's liberal sermons, yet he might also eat pork in violation of the kosher laws. And an Orthodox Jew has been known now and again to marry a non-Jew, which is perfectly acceptable by the Reform movement but a no-no by the orthodox. Frankly, I don't think an American Jew who labels himself as "politically conservative" can be, deep down, a Reform Jew because the American conservative movement is steeply rooted in traditional Judeo-Christian values...nonetheless you will meet politically conservative Jews who consider themselves Reform Jews, primarily because they don't keep kosher and sometimes work on Saturdays. To me, the observance of rituals are not the true test, rather, the foundations of one's beliefs are the more relevant standard. To me, if you're a Jew and politically conservative, then you really aren't a reform Jew despite how you label yourself. And if you're a secular progressive (e.g. abortion on demand), then you aren't a conservative or orthodox Jew no matter what you label yourself. Granted, its all semantics, but I'm trying to peel away the layers of the onion for the non-Jewish reader.)

So generally speaking, within Reform Judaism there is a tendency, if not pressure, to conform Judaism to secular society. Whereas, for conservative and orthodox Jews, the idea is that secular society would gain much by adopting traditional Jewish values, as G-d gave them to Moses. For the most part, conservative and orthodox Torah values are highly compatible with conservative Christian values, which is why conservative and orthodox Jews feel a political kinship with evangelical Christians, especially on issues surrounding Israel. Reform Jews, who have, so to speak, hitched their wagon to secular progressives, are of course bothered by conservative evangelical Christians, who as Obama voiced for all secular progressives, "cling to guns or religion." Reform Jews, like secular progressives, have a history of indifference or outright anti-Zionism when it comes to Israel issues.

Hopefully this post gives the non-Jewish reader a bit more flavor for the idea that the majority of Jews in the US belong to the Reform movement, which by definition seeks to harmonize itself with contemporary secular society and treat the Torah as a "living" document much the same way that some Supreme Court justices believe the Constitution should be interpreted to create harmony with contemporary progressive sentiment. The recent Heller decision illustrated the way the conservative majority carefully examined the intent of the framers of the Constitution through the lens of history and the philosophical views of the day, whereas the liberal judicial activists sought to interpret the plain text of the Second Amendment into something other than what it actually says. The exercise parallels the way a Reform Jew and a Conservadox Jew would read the Torah.

I hope I have not offended any one with this post, I am not the one to say which branch of Judaism is "correct," for as the Talmud asks, "how do you know that your blood is redder than his, perhaps his blood is redder than yours?"

In the next post, I'll discuss how the different branches of Judaism discussed above interpret the Torah as to private gun ownership.


  1. Might I suggest that you're overthinking this a bit?

    America has functioned as the "promised land" long before the State of Israel was thought to be possible. To be sure, Jews were denied access to country clubs and some universities, but there was never any real discussion of a "Jewish Problem" much less an Endlosung. We've had blacks to kick around instead, you know.

    As for those Jews who were fortunate enough to flee the Nazis, remember that along with their lives and families, whatever portable wealth they were able to bring, they also brought along the notion of "it can't happen here". When that was proven to be an untenable idea, they up and left to another place where "it couldn't happen here", and our long tradition of religious tolerance simply reinforced that idea.

    Also, keep in mind the 'contribution' of the media. I'm specifically referring to the New York Times: during WW2, any reporting about the Holocaust was buried in the inner pages, at least until the concentration camps were liberated. More recently, I'd mention the Times' coverage of the Crown Heights Riots, as opposed to what was actually happening. And don't forget the conventional 'wisdom' that Israel is the agressor vs. the Palestinians, and if that weren't bad enough, there's the whole 'aparteid' smear, which is a meme throughout the Western press.

    I'm a Catholic who is married to a Nice Jewish Girl (Reformed) who is "horrified" that I have guns in the house, so that sort of denial is a daily fact of life for me. What I've always thought was bizarre are the Jews (to include my wife's family) who have relatives in Israel and who know fully well what the situation is (and can be), yet are strongly anti-gun.

  2. Peter-

    Welcome to the blog and thank you for your comment.

    Your denial theory ("it can't happen here") has legs, but the problem is that such denial seems to be more heavily concentrated in the Reform spectrum of American Judaism. And it doesn't address the issue of gun ownership for self defense, aside from communal defense from an oppressive state.

    Also, I am not sure if you are aware but secularization of Judaism and the Reform movement began in Germany in the early 19th century:


    Reform Judaism, and its emphasis on conforming Judaism to secular society (political correctness) was around 100 years before the Holocaust and flourished in Germany. And so, many who fled the Holocaust brought this philosophy with them, and it continues today.

    That said, in time I am sure your wife will come around. It would not surprise me that you someday let us know that she has become a gun rights advocate. A little taste of Truth has a way of causing one to develop an insatiable appetite for it, especially when starved of it for some time.