For those who have been reading my essays for a while it should be clear what my stand is on this topic, especially if someone has taken on himself to read the beautiful fragments of writings of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, which I 've posted on my blog many times in the past and whose words I acknowledge and say hundred times 'Amen.' In his writings particularly do I find the best expression of the Jewish attitude about violence and use of weapons. He is not the only one who writes about it; we can go through the ages and follow many teachings of Chazal on this topic, which are always consistent and based on the example of our father Yaakov, who taught his children how to behave in the future, especially how to act in times of golus and having on our collective Jewish focus the end of history and goal of our national existence. For details please read what Rav Hirsch has to say about it here: From commentary on Chumash of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:
But let me go to the story which happened just last week.
I came to sell my merchandise in a town somewhere in the South. The type of goods which I sell is usually used by ladies, but purchased many times by men. After waiting for the owner of the business for a while he came to me from the back of the store, and with a not so apologetic voice, began to explain:
- I’m sorry, my friend, but this time I can’t buy anything, for the season wasn’t that good and I have still most of the products from your company from my previous purchase.
- What happened – I asked him – is the economy that bad in this part of the state? I see operating oil wells everywhere and new wells being drilled, which indicates that people have money; why are they not buying?
- You see, maybe there in
from where you came, you don’t believe it, but here we believe in the second
amendment of American Constitution, and you know what is going on -- they want
to take our guns away from us – so every man here spent all his extra money for
ammunition. That’s why they didn’t have enough money for gifts for their
I opened my eyes broad and felt my jaw slowly dropping. But then a few seconds later I couldn’t stop my laughing. And believe me, in my life I have been in many challenges when I must keep my face straight despite situations where it was almost impossible, yet here I couldn’t.
I was laughing bitterly, being sorry for all those ladies, partially because they didn’t get presents, but also for being married to idiots who can’t even understand the law and reality of the world.
- But you see – I told the guy – up there in
York we have the same constitution as you have it
here, and most of the people also respect the second amendment, as the Constitution
is the means to make us as a nation. As far as I know no one is talking about
banning weapons entirely. What some lawmakers want is better background
checking and the prohibition of military-style weapons, which anyhow some of
them like tanks or nuclear weapon are prohibited for the public despite the second
- Yeah, but hunting and reliance on weapons for any other life situations is deep in our culture here in the South.
Well, I thought to myself, deciding not to engage in possibly hostile and certainly fruitless discussion, I know what he's talking about. Here in the Bible Belt it should be understood better than anyplace else, if only their reading of Bible would be more than superficial.
Among our Jewish relatives’ ancestors, there was one individual who is the prototype of all of those who like to hunt and have inclination toward use of weapons. He took over the mode of suppressive civilization of conquerors and physical domination based on military force from another one. His name was Esav, the twin brother of our father Yaakov. He – Esav – was the one who killed Nimrod to take over his ‘empire’ mode of civilization from him and to continue the form of culture glorifying physical power and industrial achievements. Nimrod was also the originator of all governments submitting the individual freedom to service of the regime.
What boggles my mind is how many of us, the children of Yaakov, have become, especially in the past seventy years, adherents of this strange ideology -- the ideology where some people think that weapons will give them freedom from the government.
For others, it is the ideology where the government is the one that we are supposed to serve and submit to. They seem to forget that it is the government which is supposed to serve the individual to allow him to be, to live in peace and freedom, and to pursue happiness, as the Bible-inspired document declares.
And perhaps the most bizarre thought: some believe that it was and it is in our hands to gain freedom and protection for ourselves. However, this particular assumption should be the one which we Jewish children should be trying to eradicate from the minds and hearts of humanity by our own example.
Hu g'malanu – Hu Gomlaynu – Hu yigmelaynu, are the words which we say every time we finish eating bread. Rav Hirsch explains those words in his commentary to Birkat Hamazon: after tragedy of Beytar at the time of the Bar Kochba uprising, our sages composed this blessing to make us remember forever –that we have only one Savior, one Defender, and one King who has all the powers necessary to keep us alive and well – Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
If a calamity comes over us, it happens only because He withdraws His shielding power due to our sins; as Rav Hirsch has written in another place, “we have no other enemy than sin and we have no other protection than innocence.”
I can hear already all of those who will call me unrealistic, or even going against established Halacha – Jewish law – which allows self-defense.
Well, let me make it clear that it is a mitzvah to kill someone who wants to kill you. But the holy Rashi explains the words of the Torah describing Yaakov before meeting his brother as “being afraid and in distress.” He was afraid that he might lose his life, and he was in distress that perhaps he would have to take life of another human being.
This thought is precisely what the civilization called “Israel” represents. This is how this nation outlived greater and more powerful nations in history. Not because we were using our hands or political manipulation to engage others in war – which are means of Esav, but because we used voice, thought, idea as our weapon. There is no blessing if we use “stolen” means of violence, not belonging to us Jews, as Shimon and Levi did once (see Rashi where Yaakov Avinu ‘blessed’ his sons).
Rabbi Nachman from Breslov writes that one day humanity will mature to a higher understanding and they will resign from use of lethal tools, the same as they understood that serving Avoda Zarah is just stupid.
One more time, I will bring the fundamental teachings of Rav Hirsch: we Jews are the progressive vanguard of humanity.
Hope, that day will came when we understand this.