Asserting that armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, a New Jersey-based Jewish gun club is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.
Namely, the Golani Rifle & Pistol Club, with members throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, wants the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union to reconsider their support for restrictions on gun ownership.
“Discouraging gun ownership seems dangerous for Jews, who perhaps more than any other people have faced constant threats, large and small, through the ages,” said Joshua Levy of Teaneck, a Golani member who signed a statement criticizing the RCA and OU last month. “The RCA’s discouragement of gun ownership and preparation for armed self-defense invites greater danger.”
On July 16, the RCA, representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in self-defense. However, the statement also called for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition.” It denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants…or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons.”
The RCA resolution came just over a year after the OU issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common-sense gun safety legislation” and calling on the Senate to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”
According to the Golani statement, these statements ignore basic facts and “fail to recognize Judaism’s strong support for the value and practice of armed self-defense.”
The Golani Club isn’t pushing for the RCA and OU to side with any particular pro-gun politicians, but it does hope that the organizations will reconsider their positions “to do what’s best to ensure the survival of Jewry and to follow the Torah,” Levy said.
At a time when Jews face increasing danger around the world, the RCA and OU are sending the wrong message, he added.
“Every Jew is capable of training themselves to protect their families and their community,” said Levy. “And in fact it’s very Jewish, according to the Torah, to protect your family and community. We’re required to preserve Jewish life and the lives of those around us.”
The Golani statement, which is posted as a PDF at golanirpc.com, was signed by 12 rabbis from across the country, including Rabbi David Bendory of Livingston, a firearms instructor who runs the website thegunrabbi.com.
A liberal tilt?
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck, another signer, said the signers certainly do not support the unlimited distribution of firearms. He agreed, for example, with bans on criminals and the mentally ill owning guns. But, he said, the Jewish teaching of “Haba lehorgecha, hashkem l’horgo” — to kill your enemy before he kills you — “can only be done by someone who is armed and can defend himself.”
“Jews have the right and halachic obligation to exercise the right of self-defense,” Pruzansky said. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That should be obvious.”
Pruzansky, a member of the RCA’s executive committee, said only about 7 percent of the RCA’s 1,000-plus members voted in favor of the gun-control resolution. More than 800 abstained, he said. The RCA is a “big tent” that welcomes differing views, but the gun control resolution was drafted by a small committee with a heavy and disproportionate liberal tilt; it is therefore necessary “to set the record straight,” he said.
OU policy positions are developed at the organization’s biennial conventions, where delegates from across the country propose and vote on resolutions.
“On a topic like this, there’s a diversity of opinion among rabbis,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the OU. But he noted that there hasn’t been any other response to the resolution. The next OU convention will take place this December in New York’s Westchester County, he said, and the process for submitting resolutions is open.
A week after the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform leaders issued a joint statement calling for greater gun control. “Our worship of guns is a form of idolatry,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, said then at a joint press conference with Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and the OU’s Diament.
Last year, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group of national Jewish communal organizations, issued a contentious resolution at its annual plenum in support of legislation to control the sale of certain firearms and boost background checks. In the end, the resolution also reaffirmed the right to bear arms and gun-owner rights, which several members wanted to remove in favor of harsher anti-gun language.