OpinionJewish Diaspora

‘Before all hell breaks loose’

It’s time for American Jews to put their scruples aside and learn the responsible use of firearms.

Guns and ammunition. Photo: Kiattipong/Shutterstock
Guns and ammunition. Photo: Kiattipong/Shutterstock
Rabbi Cary Kozberg
Rabbi Cary Kozberg is the rabbi of Temple Sholom in Springfield, Ohio, and the Jewish chaplain at Kensington Place in Columbus. He has been an advocate of Jews learning self-defense for more than three decades.

As I write this, Israel continues to mourn its deaths and fight its enemies. At the same time, the full extent of Hamas’s savagery has been revealed.

Some of the world supports and empathizes with Israel, but much of it continues to demonize Israel and all Jews. Meanwhile, the so-called “social justice warriors”—both Jewish and non-Jewish– are rightfully being chastised for their unfathomable moral obtuseness.

Recently, the president of a Detroit synagogue was murdered, possibly by a “lone wolf” Muslim terrorist. Violent anti-Israel protests have taken place in Brooklyn and Rhode Island. Muslim children in Philadelphia are chanting, “We will chop off their heads!” Absurdly, the White House press secretary’s answer to a question about rising antisemitism mainly focused on the safety of Muslims.

Clearly, Jews have been put on notice. We are experiencing what the Passover Haggadah warned us of: In every generation, there are those who seek our destruction.

The question is: How will this generation respond? Of course, it will respond with official outrage, sermons from the pulpit, letters to legislators, vigils, rallies, renewed calls for educational programs and dialogue with our foes.

But there is one way to respond that American Jews have avoided. They should avoid it no longer.

The time has come for American Jews to learn and become proficient in the defensive use of firearms.

For 2,000 years, armed resistance against antisemitic violence was not possible. Jews responded to it mostly by calling upon God to redeem them. But at the same time, they believed that their suffering was the consequence of their own covenantal unfaithfulness.

With the birth of modern Zionism, this changed. Zionism advocated replacing the mindset of passive victimhood with pro-active, optimistic self-redemption.

Given the violent Jew hatred of the time, Jews learned that self-redemption included the need to learn self-defense. After almost two millennia, there was a renewed focus on the Talmudic dictum, “When someone comes to kill you, rise up to kill him first.”The world once again saw the phenomenon of “the armed Jew.” This Jew understood that, in a world seeking to annihilate him, self-determination meant the necessary, albeit regrettable, use of weapons.

Today, self-defense is virtually tattooed on to Israel’s psyche, a sine qua non of its survival. This concept of Jewishself-defense was gloriously realized in 1967. It inspired the slogan “Never Again” and has been invoked often over the past 75 years, especially during recent events. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, singer/author Kinky Friedman composed a song with the unforgettable refrain: “They ain’t a-makin’ Jews like Jesus anymore/We don’t turn the other cheek the way we done before.”

Yet many American Jews who shep naches at the sight of Jews with guns in Israel have been the very people who believe that Jews “packing heat” in synagogue is anathema.

What accounts for this disconnect? Why is a community that honors the warrior King David and prays for the arrival of his descendant, the Messiah, crippled by an acute case of hoplophobia (fear of weapons)? Why do Jews who celebrate Hannukah, commemorating an armed rebellion that ensured the survival of Judaism, have attitudes about the use of force that are so at odds with those of the Maccabees?

One explanation is that American Jews do not see guns as tools for self-preservation but as a source of goyishe naches (what makes gentiles happy) or an a priori evil. Perhaps these are vestiges of a “morally virtuous” Diaspora victim mindset.

Another explanation is politics. Most American Jews still vote “left of center” and many if not most have assimilated the left’s attitudes about guns and gun ownership.

Perhaps both explanations are accurate.

But if the synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and Colleyville and the violence against individual Jews in northeastern cities didn’t change their minds, surely the events of the past couple of weeks—and what may yet occur in this country—should be the “wake up call” for American Jews. The time has come to abandon the “virtue” of noble victimhood and join our Israeli brothers and sisters in embracing the lesson that when someone comes to kill you, kill him first.

Fortunately, many American Jews are doing just that. The scales have fallen from their eyes since Oct. 7. They believed their goodhearted friends and all goodhearted people would naturally side with Israel. They now feel betrayed by many of those “friends” who have embraced “moral equivalence” or deafening silence. Jews who had been adamantly “anti-gun” are now realizing that “hope and good will” is not a plan. They are beginning to understand that learning how to protect themselves with force is necessary, if regrettable.

In cities all over the country, Jews are purchasing firearms and learning how to use them responsibly. In the Jewish communities of Chicago and Los Angeles, there are long-standing organizations that not only work with law enforcement to provide security for Jewish institutions, but also train individual Jews in situational awareness and responsible firearm use. In other cities, Jews have formed “gun clubs,” emphasizing self-defense as a mitzvah. One organization made up largely of Orthodox Jews is known as “Group 1441,” taking its name from Psalm 144:1: “Blessed is the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war.”

Nonetheless, encouraging responsible firearm training remains a “hard sell” in American Jewish institutions. Focusing on the protection offered by law enforcement, rabbis and lay leaders remain doubtful and skittish about laypeople bringing guns into their venues. They are clearly wrong. Given what we are witnessing daily, Jewish communal organizations must concentrate on ways to help individual Jews become more proactive in protecting themselves.

Jewish institutions, synagogues and Jewish federations need to provide programs and classes on basic self-defense to their constituents, including situational awareness, martial arts, “stop-the- bleed” and firearms training classes. Taking a cue from the rabbinic dictum that children should be taught how to swim lest they drown, the time has come for Jewish schools to make it possible for their older students to learn defensive gun use so they don’t “drown.”

In another song, Kinky Friedman sings: “Now it’s time for the chosen ones to choose/Before all hell breaks loose.”

Israelis have made their choice. What will we in the Diaspora choose “before all hell breaks loose”?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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