Debate Magazine

Gun Control in the Talmud

Posted on the 24 October 2011 by Mikeb302000

Repost from my blog

First off, one principle of Judaism is that of Tikkun Olam, or healing the world. Jews are supposed to be an example of good in the world. That's what being chosen is about. It is to be an example of how to be Godly and show the light into the world.

What does that have to do with firearms anyway? Some Jews, such as JPFO, use appeals to history and the Judaic tradition. These pleas to oppose gun control are far from convincing. To argue that Jews must respond to gun violence with a paranoid impulse to grab guns in self defense is a dangerous perspective. This is using darkness to fight the darkness in the world

The bigger picture does not support opposition to firearms regulation, especially if that will lead to the prevention of harm. Life is sacred in Judaism. Preservation or a human life can even justify violating mitzot with only three exceptions: avoda zarah [idol worship], shfichas damim [murder], and giluy arayus [illicit relations]!

In Judaism, safety is a religious concern, especially if protecting human life is involved. The Bible requires that a roof be properly gated, in order to prevent people from falling off of it (Deuteronomy 22:8). This commandment is understood by the Talmud as a general directive to remove any safety hazard (Bava Kamma 15b; Shulchan Aruch CM 427:8). Contemporary rabbinic authorities include in this commandment an employer's responsibility to ensure occupational safety (Piskei Uziel 47) and an injunction against reckless driving (Minchat Yitzchak 8:148). Someone who refuses to remove a safety hazard can be punished by excommunication (YD 334:7). In general, safety regulations are treated with far greater stringency than any other section of halacha (YD 116:7). Clearly, any Jewish view of gun control places high value on safety.

In the Talmud there are specific regulations that resemble gun control. There is a law against owning a dangerous dog (Bava Kamma 79a). One who owns a dangerous dog must keep it tied in metal chains at all times (CM 409:3). Even if the dog is defanged or trained not to harm people, it must be chained because it may frighten strangers, and as a result may cause stress related injuries such as miscarriage and heart attacks (Shabbat 63b). One of the more pious Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair, was so stringent about this law that he refused to own mules, because they can occasionally cause injury (Hullin 7b; Terumat Hadeshen 2:105).

There were instances when allowances were made to these rules. In border communities, where there is a threat of marauders, owners of dangerous dogs may unchain them at night for protection. Some say that any dangerous city is similar to a border community (CM 409:3).These sources demonstrate that halacha would require any gun to be carefully locked at all times, with allowances made in cases where the gun is actively being used for security. Those who are more stringent would avoid guns completely. (It should also be noted that many authorities prohibit hunting for sport; Rama OH 316:2, Darchei Teshuva YD 117:44)

There is a second halacha that is relevant to this issue. The Talmud prohibits someone from selling offensive weapons to idol worshippers and suspected criminals (Avodah Zarah 15b; YD 151:5-6). The rule against selling to idol worshippers is based on an assumption that the idol worshippers will use them against Jews; however, if the Jews are allied with the idol worshippers, it is permitted to sell them arms. It is likewise prohibited to sell such weapons to anyone suspected of reselling them to criminals. This halacha requires that the buyers of firearms be carefully screened, and resembles in many ways laws requiring a national registry of gun and rifle owners.

Although halacha is extremely concerned about safety, it does not prohibit the ownership of guns. However, recognizing that a gun is a dangerous object, halacha (like many current gun control laws) requires that owners and vendors of guns take all possible precautions to prevent their guns from causing any harm.

Jewish tradition compels us to uphold the sanctity of life. An instrumentality like a firearm is not more valuable than a human life. The ownership of firearms must be responsible. These instrumentalities must be regulated in a manner which respects life. Anyone who argues otherwise is going against Talmudic tradition.


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