Jewish Ideals and Self Defense

Jews and self defense, are the two mutually exclusive? Lets study some Jewish texts

Last week I was at Synagogue on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. This day is called Yom Kippur, or The Day of Repentance, and we generally observe it by fasting for 24 hours and praying for god to obsolve us of a years worth of sins.

I was following the service along in my prayer book, when particular prayer caught my attention. This prayer is called “Shelter of Peace” and here is the translation I found at http://bit.ly/1eSvbVu :

“Lay us down to sleep in peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up, our King, to life; spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Guide us with Your good counsel, and save us for the sake of Your Name. Shield us from foe, plague, sword, famine and anguish. Remove wrongdoing from before us and behind us, and shelter us in the shadow of Your wings. For it is You, O God, Who protects and rescues us; it is You, O God, Who are our gracious and compassionate King. Safeguard our coming and our going, to life and to peace from now to eternity. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who spreads a shelter of peace over us, over all Your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.”

I have often noticed that to many American Jews, being Jewish and being a gun owner are mutually exclusive. This concept is troubling to me, since I am the living breathing proof that no such rule exists. Yet, when I share with fellow Jews my chosen profession, I often hear, “Wow! That’s so not-Jewish.” It’s at that point that I wonder, how can they say that to me? And, why is that idea so widely held?

Then I see Jewish texts like the one above. This prayer is poised at the opening of a ritual that begs god’s forgiveness for another year’s worth of sins. It asks for protection while we sleep and another day of life when we awaken. Even if we were to take these ideas with the broadest understanding, the prayer would still be asking for an external source to provide us with safety. I don’t often jump on such a bandwagon, but if I had to put this prayer a category, I would call it, “liberal propaganda” at it’s finest. The fact that this concept is written into prayer books that are read by Jews worldwide, is concerning to me, but its timing also raises my eyebrow.

Just as we are begining a holiday about repenting, we throw in a request for gods protection, Intersting… If one were somewhat familiar with a little modern Jewish history, they might be aware that this particular holiday, was once the day for a war opening attack on the state of Israel. On that day in 1973, Israel’s enimies took advantage of a religious holiday (that includes obstaining from food) to gain an upper hand. Its possible, that the Yom Kippur War, could be the premiss for this prayer, because a correlation could be drawn between the state of sleeping, the state of fasting and the state of being defenseless. However, because the wording of the prayer casts a broad net, I believe it allows for readers to interpret its words into their everyday lives.

Now, every translation is different, and the one that I read in the prayer book in my Synagogue, was not the one that I was able to find online. However, this concept of being sheltered by a higher power, is not unversally heald by Jews world-wide. It’s not even an agreed upon ideal withi in our prayer book. Here is another prayer that has a completely different vibe: http://bit.ly/14TnXP0
“Our God and God of our ancestors: In this time of national tragedy and sadness, we ask your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them the insights of Your [texts], that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may once again abide in our midst.
Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions which are the pride and glory of our country.
May this land under Your providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom and helping them to fulfill the vision of your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more.”
–Based upon “Siddur Sim Shalom”

This prayer strikes me in a completely different way, because it brings the responsibility of safety back home. It seems likely, that those in the Israeli Defense Forces would not expect that god will keep them safe through the power of prayer alone. My hope is that the “Shelter of Peace” prayer, and others like it, do not foster the concept that “Jews don’t do guns”. I will continue to look for answers and continue to be an outspoken representative for a rare subset. The more we “unicorns” come out of the shadows and allow our voices to be heard, the more others will understand that there is no rule for separating Jews and guns.

29 thoughts on “Jewish Ideals and Self Defense”

  1. 1 — That photo is epic.

    2 — The main reasons American Jews tend to be anti-gun isn’t because they’ve thought it through and decided guns are bad. It’s because we, as a community, trend heavily Democrat. So when an issue comes up that doesn’t really directly and obviously impact a non-gun owning Jew, all he has to fall back on is the political rhetoric from the people he otherwise believes in and supports. My relatives who are both conservative/Republican and Jewish own guns; the ones who are liberal/Democrat don’t.

    I imagine it wouldn’t take more than a few hours walking around and talking to folks in Israel to get a much different vibe about how Jews feel about gun ownership. They still remember, as a people, how quickly a group can go from citizen to subject to prisoner to dust…

    1. Yes Todd, except for the fact that most Jews I know, especially those living in NYC, would not identify themselves at purely democrat…

      Also, this post was an attempt to go deeper than the politics, to see if I could identify a scriptural reason for the liberal leaning.

  2. The Talmud has discussions on carrying weapons on Shabbat. I suppose the Talmudic Rabbis were in communities where people owned weapons or else it would not be worth the time to discuss it.
    Sukkot Sameach!

    1. I venture to guess that most American Jews have not read Talmudic texts, nor do they subscribe to it’s laws. Those same Jews that are not studying the religious texts, may also be the Jews who are perpetuating the connection between Judaism and liberal attitudes toward self defense.

      Chag Sameach to you and yours!!

  3. It seems the perspective comes from differing experiences based on the Jewish community with which a person most commonly interacts. Your “community”, Gabby, is mostly anti-gun, non-violence, trust in something else to protect them or hope no one attacks them. And have never been attacked.

    I don’t see either prayer as exclusive to owning self-defense tools. It is very easy for any educated person to argue that the religious text definitely supports trusting in God for protection, He will fight for us, and He wants us to live in peace. But we cannot ignore that God allows evil to exist and people do bad things. I guarantee any person involved in a war is praying constantly!

    I don’t remember from where this originated, but I think it is appropriate: “Pray for peace, but prepare for war.” “War” can be replaced with “an attack”, or “to defend yourself”. It has also been said that owning/carrying a gun is like wearing a seat belt. I don’t expect or want to be in an accident, but I can’t control what other people do. In which case, I want to be prepared. The same applies to health/life/auto insurance.

    I also like the saying, “Evil prevails when good people do nothing.”. Also, “Close your eyes to the evil around you and soon you won’t be able to open them.”

    Owning a firearm doesn’t say, “I want to do violence.” It says, “I am willing to defend against violence.” “I will not be a victim!” Praying for peace, but preparing to defend is never antithetical.

    Most people — Jewish or other — are mistaken in their view of any weapon: it is only meant for attack and those who have them are violent people. Being non-violent doesn’t mean I shouldn’t stop a person from raping me or someone else. It means I seek every other avenue before resorting to violence. The strongest proponents of self-defense and weapons are those who have been through the trauma of an attack.

    It really comes down to ones convictions, but neither side should berate the other for their opinion. Plus, there is nothing wrong with enjoying firearms and shooting! It’s a hobby or activity like any other … although dangerous if not careful.

    1. I would also point out: What on our common experience in the last 2,000 years gives Jews faith that the government, any government, will be there to protect us?

  4. The Bible specifically blesses the peacemakers, calling them the Sons of God. It is significant that peacemaker is somebody who, from hatred, bigotry or violence will bring forth peace. This often requires the removal of those who are violent, bigoted, or hateful. Whether it is the woman walking home from work who shot the rapist and killed him, or the FBI HRT boys who took down a crazed gunman on a rampage, those people are specifically blessed for making the world a better place by stopping something evil. Living by the sword, to me, seems different than living with a sword.

      1. Yes, mostly it is. But there are (possibly) worse moral codes based on more dogmatic interpretations of religion. Not to start a flame war or anything 😀

  5. I look at it this way: The Jewish concept of pikuach nefesh (the preservation of life) is so highly held that only three commandments (the prohibitions against murder, incest, and idolatry) may not be violated in the service of the saving of a life. The rabbis taught that adhering blindly to any other commandments at the cost of a human life was “a piety of madness”. Given that, I have absolutely no issue with being Jewish and a gun owner. Besides, we frequently talk about the Holocaust and say “never again!” Without weapons, what chance do we have of ever making sure it’s “never again”?

    1. Tammy; Does this mean no guns even for sport. Even an anti gunner like Steven Speilburg does ‘sporting clays’. I “enjoy” shooting as a sport. I don’t hunt. Not a kosher method of slaughter. I just enjoy shooting.

  6. Gabby; I have the same problem. I belong to a Conservative Shul. The ratio of liberals to conservatives is about 50/50. Yet even the most conservative (politicly of course) are anti gun. They would ban handguns and all semi auto rifles and shotguns. And they won’t even listen to arguments. Very frustrating.

    1. Agreed. I too would consider myself as “conservative” (within Judaism, not politically) and I find this movement largely anti-gun…

      However I have long fantasized a Jewish movement of my own, I call it “Reformadox”. Traditional in observance, welcoming in atmosphere. Who’s with me?

      1. Sign me up! I should say that I belong to a warm and welcoming congregation. It’s just there is a part of my life I must hide. Though I believe there may be suspicions due my knowlege of weapons. Fortunately I also have enough knowlege of of bows and military weapons to pass it off as a hobby on weaponry.

  7. Ethan: A bit confused by your question, since my attitude (and, I thought, my comment) were pretty unequivocally pro-gun. I would argue that Jews have both a right and (Talmudically, at least) a duty to have the tools and skills to safeguard human life. The notion that “the world would be a better place if no one had guns” is, to me, a triumph of idealism over reality, and that’s a foolish place to bet your life IMO.

    1. From a Christian standpoint, the dynamic is completely different. It is the RESPONSIBILITY, not “right”, of ALL Christian men, to be armed, AND well-trained in the comfort of skill at arms, in order to be at the ready, if necessary, to protect and defend one’s self, family, community, and nation. We have suffered far too long, the influence of today’s pulpits, where one likely is to find nothing but weak-kneed, lily-livered, effeminate, namby-pamby, pusillanimous, cowardly, lying preachers, either unwilling, or unable, to tell the truth about Scriptural support for self-defense. Most of those who call themselves Christians are familiar with the phrase WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). Unfortunately, when it comes to the subject of firearms, most don’t have a clue WDJS (What Did Jesus Say?). The truth is, Christians were instructed to arm ourselves LONG before there was a 2nd Amendment: “And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword (or 1911 .45ACP, or Glock 23, or Benelli 12 Gauge, or M4 Carbine, or Savage .338 Lapua) is to sell his coat and
      buy one.” (Luke 22:36) “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property,
      unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:29)
      “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed.” (Luke 11:21)
      “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
      This position on firearms ownership is based upon the Christian concept of non-optional, God-expected, or even God-MANDATED responsibilities, NOT optional “rights”. In other words, this is a WARNING to ALL Christian gun owners, especially Christian fathers, that it is their DUTY to be adequately armed and trained, REGARDLESS what ungodly firearms ban and confiscation “laws” this, or ANY government, tries to enact.

      1. So you’re saying that Christians who chose to live a life of peace and non-violence are violating God’s commandment to be armed?

        1. Caleb, I’m saying that Christians can choose “to live a life of peace and non-violence” and STILL be armed. The Christian concept is quite simple: if you fail not to provide for your family, you are worse than an infidel. One can decide to lay down his life if he chooses. But one DOES NOT have the same “God given right” to abandon his family in doing so. I have had this conversation many times with Amish and Mennonites in the area. Many of them ARE armed. They just would refuse to use their arms in defense of their family. I have a couple of Amish friends that have an arsenal that would be the pride of a medium size law enforcement agency. Their belief is that THEY can’t use those weapons against another person, but I CAN. They actually would expect ME to use THEIR weapons to defend them. Their is nothing rational OR biblical about such a stance. During colonial times, it was standard practice for the minister to have a firearm within easy reach beneath the pulpit. We have forgotten this (or have had it trained out of us). If one does not believe in a God active in the affairs of man, then this is all a moot point. But regardless the institution, it is inconceivable to imagine a Creator not equipping His creation with a means, AND a mindset, for self-preservation.

    2. Sorry if I was unclear. My remarks were intended as commentary on the refusal of most non-Israeli Jews to be willing to defend themselves. Friends at Shul,some much more conservative than I (in a political sense) refuse to even consider owning a firearm. Indeed most would ban private ownership of all handguns and semi auto’s. I have never understood this. By the way. It was not an accident that Biden pushed for double bbl shotguns. It’s all you can get in the UK and it’s what MAIG has in store for us. Your remarks were quite clear. I on the other hand am known to ramble.

  8. It’s largely a political and cultural thing. Reform and Conservative Jews are almost all Democrats. There may be some basis for it in that anything related to death and dying are generally considered sacramentally unclean within the mosaic law. Shedding human blood is almost certainly on that list as it was explicitly forbidden within the temple.

    However self defense is important. The Jewish victory celebrated as Purim is because of self-defense. Haman sought to destroy the Jews through a pogrom, but the King gave the Jews the right to defend themselves and the ability to strike at their enemies preemptively. Thus the Jews destroyed their enemies.and the pogrom was averted.

  9. The Psalms are full of prayers for God’s protection, and yet you don’t see any indication in the old testament that they got rid of their weapons. The idea is that God will be with them while they fight. Sometimes He fought for them, but most of the time the armies were given victory through battle. They didn’t lay down their arms until they were conquered.

    The anti-gun jew is an american democrat thing. If that was the case in Israel, we wouldn’t have Uzis, Galils, Tavors, or Desert Eagles.

    1. Mark; It is not an ‘American’ thing. Most Jews abhor “weapons”. Even in Israel guns are seen as a nessesary evil. I believe this is due to the Jewish concepts on sanctity of life and “repairing the world”. Even Jews politicly more conservative than I, (and that’s saying something) are for handgun and semi auto bans. Total bans. Being American or Democrate have nothing to do with it. I have been shooting more than 40 years. I have taken many friends to the range. Some of them were Jews. Many friends developed an intrest. Never one of the Jews. And in that 40+ years I have never randomly met another Jewish shooter at the range.

      1. I’ve met tons here in GA!! Even my former employers (range owners) are a prominent Jewish family of Atlanta. And when I visit New York City and have private conversations with Jews, many have had one or two good gun experiences, but they don’t have the option to go shooting regularly.

        I do think this is a “cultural/guilt issue” where lefty Jews have made us feel as though picking up a gun is somehow blasphemous.

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