Antisemitism: What is to be done?

Some scholars on the edge of retirement enjoy a symposium and Festschrift on their 65th birthday: what happened on mine was the massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue. In the year that has followed, violent attacks on Jews— in Europe and now increasingly in the United States— have skyrocketed. Foreign leaders like Khamenei and Erdogan incite genocide with impunity, while the “International Criminal Court” (I think its title means, “an international court that is criminal”) presumes to call Israel to account for defending itself against terrorists.

In all the outraged, noble rhetoric, from Presidents Trump and Rivlin, and Mayor DeBlasio, down to the esteemed editor of this paper, one thing is missing. It is the most important thing. By evading it, one is evading reality. By evading reality, one evades responsibility for oneself and one’s loved ones, and the capacity of agency.

It is this: the realization and determination that Jews need to learn to defend ourselves. I do not mean with op-ed pieces, or in interviews in which we explain how really human and cuddly we are, or by means of outreach programs to this or that new disgruntled group to persuade them to like us. (“Black Israelites” or whatever. The hell with them.)

I mean guns. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every adult citizen the right to bear arms in self-defense. The Second Amendment is not the property of the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association, or the hunting lobby. It is not about stockpiling military grade automatic weapons. It’s about taking a test, getting a license, doing safety training, and keeping a legal weapon— securely stowed at home so, God forbid, a child won’t play with it— and being ready to defend yourself, your family, your home, and your community.

The police are great and deserve our support, but I think they would be the first to tell you they can’t be everywhere all the time. Not long after a middle-aged African American male wielding a machete burst into the home of a rabbi in Monsey, NY, a man with a gun assaulted a Church of Christ in Texas. Many of the congregants there were armed, and cut the attacker down in a hail of bullets. Scores of innocent lives were saved. These Texans understand that their security is not just their right, it’s their responsibility. Bravo.

If the Mayor of NYC is serious about prosecuting “domestic terrorists”, then perhaps he— and New Jersey, after the attack there, and this country generally— can learn from Israel, which deals with terrorism on a daily basis. The Israeli government often dynamites a convicted terrorist’s family home: if he survives his crime, the criminal pays more than the personal price of life imprisonment for it.

In short: What is to be done about anti-Semitic attacks in the US? This: Study your state’s manual, pass a test, get a permit, buy a legal firearm, learn to use and store it safely, and be ready to defend your home, your school, your store, your shul.

Got a problem with that? Well, this is what our Torah teaches: “If someone is coming to kill you, then you get up early and kill him first.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 72a) Based on this ruling the Hasidic rabbi of Lask, Yehuda Leib, may his righteous memory be for a blessing, declared when the Germans invaded Poland, “Any Nazi must be killed on sight.” (cited in Shema Yisroel, Kaliv World Center and Targum/Feldheim, Jerusalem, p. 51.)

There’s a Turkish saying: To one who understands, a fly buzzing in his ear is enough. To one who does not understand, not even a brass band will help.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University (semi-retired), Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London; and he taught Ancient Iranian languages and religions at Columbia University from 1982-1992.