The Rabbinic Imperative to Confront American Gun Violence

Every issue matters. Some issues are ones in which a rabbinical group can achieve uniformity of opinion, but those remain rare. And the pluralistic Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elohim Chayim (these and those are both God’s living words) approach is hard to maintain when the issue discussed is an emotional one.

We, the Rabbinical Assembly, are an international body, with colleagues spanning the globe. In Israel, where guns are a very present reality throughout society, the Gun Violence record is much lower. This is because of a culture of Gun Responsibility, where mental health screening and national registries are understood by leaders spanning the political spectrum to be wise and important enough to enact and maintain.

In the United States, political opponents of universal background checks for the purchase of a firearm and the notion of a National Gun Registry are well-organized. Many of these organized groups, among which the NRA is the most prominent, regularly invoke the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution as their proof-text. But we, as careful readers of text are also charged with championing the primary Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh (saving lives). We need to be as ready to see the many possible meanings of America’s sacred texts and to marshal our resources and use our voices to promote the healthiest authentic reading, based on our subjective vision, just as we do for Jewish sacred scripture. We do not hold Author’s (or Authors’) Intent as the only way of determining the application of inherited tradition. If we did, we would have to consider our Founding Fathers’ vision of a musket compared to a semi-automatic Glock. We do not see the grundnorm (self-proving authority) of Torah as mandating one specific interpretation, and neither should we do so in the case of the Second Amendment.

I ask us all, beg us all, to use our rabbinic voices to save as many lives as possible. Lives are on the line, and our voices as American faith leaders can make a world of difference.

Originally presented as part of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Social Justice Commission

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York, where his role is amplifying Jewish learning, leadership and values within the UJA-Federation community of supporters, staff, and partners. In 2013, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. Rabbi Creditor has been involved in the leadership of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, American Jewish World Service, AIPAC and the One American Movement, an organization dedicated to bringing together Americans of different faiths and opinions. Among his 16 books and six albums of original Jewish music are “And Yet We Love: Poems,” “Primal Prayers,” and “Olam Chesed Yibaneh/A World of Love.”