July 19, 2024
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Correcting an Inaccuracy Regarding the Second Amendment

I have personally benefited from the Torah teachings of Rabbi Moshe Taragin and look forward each week to reading his Torah column in The Jewish Link. I was therefore taken aback by Rabbi Taragin’s piece last week (“Parah Adumah, Democracy and Worshipping Human Constitutions” July 2, 2020) where in the course of making a point related to the parsha, he errs on the origins of the Second Amendment and the practical facts related to gun usage on the ground today in America.

I contacted Rabbi Taragin earlier this week and he graciously gave me his time to discuss the matter with him (despite his son getting engaged the day we spoke—mazel tov, Rabbi Taragin and family!). In a tremendous show of humility, Rabbi Taragin has agreed with the substance of my feedback. Given the serious nature of the current matzav in America, I nevertheless feel it is prudent to correct some of what he wrote as it’s critical for people not to be misled into thinking that the Torah is not aligned with the Second Amendment and the right for all citizens to protect themselves and their families when necessary. While Rabbi Taragin has not endorsed every word I will write, I do write this with his permission.

Rabbi Taragin wrote: “The right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment, was intended to protect against the aggression of a foreign empire.” As can be confirmed by anyone with a quick Google search, there were many reasons the Founding Fathers chose to include this amendment, primary among them were for citizens to be able to protect themselves from their own tyrannical federal government as well as based on the common English law of self defense. The latter being especially relevant today.

Historians are also of the near unanimous view that the Torah (or Bible) played a large role in the thinking of our Founding Fathers and contributed much to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It stands to reason that the Second Amendment was no exception.

Rabbi Taragin continues: “Today, it is unlikely that handheld guns could be of much use in actual warfare; widespread handgun ownership serves only one purpose: the murder of fellow citizens.” This is simply not the case. I won’t get into the whole argument that it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people. There’s something much more basic at play, which is especially important in the dangerous times in which we live in today. Guns are critically necessary for many people to defend themselves today, and that is the primary reason they need to remain legal for law-abiding citizens to own them in America in order to protect themselves, their families and their property.

Look no further than what happened in St. Louis last week where a couple’s lives were threatened by a violent mob and they were only able to defend themselves with their legally owned firearms. Closer to home, over Shavuot the Jewish community of Los Angeles had violent mobs loot and damage Jewish owned-businesses and shuls. The rioters were only deterred from doing the same to Jewish homes (and potentially worse) by the presence of armed defenders on their properties. Saying that gun ownership “serves only one purpose: the murder of fellow citizens” is not only wrong but dangerous rhetoric. It’s more often the opposite. It deters criminal behavior, most of the time without a shot ever being fired.

Rabbi Taragin concludes: “The worshippers of the Second Amendment are modern worshippers of “Molech”; their worship spills the blood of children in schools across the country.” Here, after speaking with Rabbi Taragin, I believe that he just used a very poor example to make a very different point. For clearly, self-defense is a cardinal Torah value as expressed in the pesukim of לא תעמוד על דם רעך and אם במחתרת ימצא הגנב as well as countless statements of Chazal like הבא להורגך השכם להורגו.

Rabbi Taragin is a talmid chacham, a beloved rebbe, a marbitz Torah, a yerei shamayim, and after speaking to him for the first time earlier this week, I also realize he is a true mentsch. I ask mechilah if I offended his kavod in any way. I look forward to continuing to learn much Torah from him in the future.

Gershon Distenfeld
Bergenfield
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