Justice, Religion

Collateral Damage

As this week’s Torah portion opens, a prominent Israelite named Korach ben Yizhar, together with two hundred and fifty chieftains, publicly revolts against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach’s grievance is is expressed thus:

They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself about the LORD’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)

The rebellion does not go well for Korach, to put it mildly – at the climax of this episode, the earth opens up to swallow him, his followers, their families and all of their possessions.
One of the most common issues folks have with this troubling story has to do with the “collateral damage.” Even if we assume (as many commentators do) that Korach and his followers were self- serving charlatans who deserved what they got in the end, why on earth did their “wives, their children, and their little ones” have to be swallowed up as well?
It is ironic that Korach, who purports to have the good of the people at heart, ends up destroying them. Indeed, though he speaks the rhetoric of the masses, his actions ultimately lead to a tragedy of massive proportions. In this regard we might claim that Korach’s primary failing was not hubris per se, but his willingness to let his zealous attachment to a single principle endanger the safety and well-being of his community.
This lesson has particular relevant this Shabbat, coming as it does one day after the US Supreme Court struck down a gun-control law in Washington DC, ruling that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a firearm unconnected with militia service and to use it for “traditional lawful purposes.” It is clear that this landmark ruling – the first time in 70 years that the High Court has ruled on the Second Amendment – will lead to widespread challenges to gun control laws across the country.
It is equally clear that this ruling will have a real effect on public safety in our nation. An editorial in today’s NY Times put it aptly:

Thirty-thousand Americans are killed by guns every year — on the job, walking to school, at the shopping mall. The Supreme Court on Thursday all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly with its wrongheaded and dangerous ruling striking down key parts of the District of Columbia’s gun-control law.
This is a decision that will cost innocent lives, cause immeasurable pain and suffering and turn America into a more dangerous country. It will also diminish our standing in the world, sending yet another message that the United States values gun rights over human life.
There already is a national glut of firearms: estimates run between 193 million and 250 million guns. The harm they do is constantly on heartbreaking display. Thirty-three dead last year in the shootings at Virginia Tech. Six killed this year at Northern Illinois University. On Wednesday, as the court was getting ready to release its decision, a worker in a Kentucky plastics plant shot his supervisor, four co-workers and himself to death.

I have written before on the importance of gun control from a Jewish perspective. According to halacha, pikuach nefesh – the preservation of life – is the most sacrosanct commandment, taking precedence over all other commandments, obligations, or even “rights” (as we would say here in America). As such, I would argue that gun control is a critical spiritual imperative for our national community.
If you agree, check out the Brady Campaign for more info and actions you can take in the wake of this latest ominous ruling.

5 thoughts on “Collateral Damage

  1. There’s a considerable amount of sociological research that limiting private ownership of firearms actually increases violent crime because it means that the only people with the ability to defend themselves are criminals.
    Let’s use some examples. Mordecai is a law-abiding citizen and James is a burglar.
    Let’s start with the gun control scenario:
    James has no concern for the law, so he can pretty easily buy a gun on the street. But Mordecai can’t because he wants to be legal. If James decides to rob Mordecai, Mordecai has no defense.
    Alternatively, without gun control:
    James can buy guns much as anyone else, but so can Mordecai. If James attempts to rob Mordecai, guess what, Mordecai has a gun too. James runs away, Mordecai calls the police as he hasn’t lost his belongings. It’s a good situation.
    The supreme court ruling noted that there is nothing wrong with laws restricting the sale of firearms or preventing felons and other criminals from obtaining them legally, only that there is no basis for preventing law-abiding citizens from doing so.
    Research done both by the FBI and freelance scholars like John Lott confirms that restrictive gun control results in higher violent crime, although it does result in lower property crime.
    If your argument for gun control is that as Jews we are obligated to try to save lives, it is incumbent on you to take into account this research and ironically, the Torah would command you to support this ruling.

  2. If you want gun control you’ll have to vote down the second amandment. Simple as that. Organize a campaign instead of hoping that your favoured policy will be shared by the courts.
    Sometimes it does (gay marriage) sometimes it doesn’t. The courts,surprise surprise, aren’t always on your side.Try democracy for a change.

  3. >>“According to halacha, pikuach nefesh – the preservation of life – is the most sacrosanct commandment, taking precedence over all other commandments, obligations, or even “rights” (as we would say here in America). As such, I would argue that gun control is a critical spiritual imperative for our national community.”
    If that’s so then pikuach nefesh presumably outweighs the other constitutionally guaranteed rights as well, such as the right to free speech, free assembly, freedom to practice religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, etc.

  4. More Jews should own guns. Is it Jewish to die on your feet rather than live on your knees? To risk it all to defend your faith, your family and your country? Oh yes Bar Kochva, yes. You can have my bow and arrow when you pry my cold, dead hands from them.
    Funny how Jewish liberals never suggest that in Israel the widespread availability of guns is responsible for massive violent crime and suicide. Assault rifles – safe in the hands of Israeli Jews, but not DC residents? Who do you think is more at risk statistically – a resident of Anacostia, DC, or Ramat Aviv, Tel-Aviv?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.