Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Should you love your NRA neighbor?

People protest the National Rifle Association’s influence in national gun control policies. Photo by Josh Lopez/Creative Commons

(RNS) — So, here I am, sitting in a public meeting with an elected official.

The topic: guns.

There are police chiefs, mayors of Florida cities, teachers union representatives, mental health professionals, a few other clergy members — and a guy sitting next to me who looks like Clint Eastwood.

We all have those tent name cards — with mine proclaiming my name and my title.

His place card proclaims his name and title — “sportsman.”

So, I ask him: “What do you do?”

“I’m a businessman — and a lifelong member of the NRA.”

Gulp.

Because, here’s the deal: I think that the National Rifle Association is, to say the least, one scary organization. And if I didn’t believe that, then their now infamous ad would convince me.

I mean — seriously, folks.

Dana Loesch with an hourglass she flips at the end of a preview for her new show on NRA TV. Image via NRA video

How many times have you seen “The Wizard of Oz?” That part where the Wicked Witch of the West turns over the hourglass? Wasn’t that meant as a threat to the life of poor Dorothy?

Is there any other way to interpret the overturned hourglass in the NRA ad?

Like I said, this is one scary organization.

So, that’s what is filling my brain and my stomach when this gentleman reveals his passion to me.

Except, during the news conference that follows, this gentleman takes the microphone.

He introduces himself as, yes, a sportsman.

And as a man who has a second home in Montana. And as a man who owns multiple firearms.

And as a man who likes to hunt.

Then, he goes ballistic (sorry) on …

The NRA.

“They are a bunch of liars!” he yells. “The NRA gets money from the gun companies! That is what keeps them afloat. That money goes directly to politicians! I have criticized Wayne LaPierre (executive vice president of the NRA) to his face!”

He then goes on to explain the different kinds of guns that are available, and the nuances in assault weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and the like.

Even though I have declared myself allergic to this kind of “mansplaining” about guns, this was different.

Because he wasn’t defending the use of those guns.

He wanted us to know what we are up against.

I went over to him, and I shook his hand.

“Would you come speak at services at my congregation?” I asked him.

“Like, when? On a Sunday morning? I’m not in town that much on weekends.”

As the sages of the Talmud said: “Mai nafka mina?” What do we learn from this?

First: “Do not judge your neighbor, until you have come to his place.”

Which can only mean: Yes, he’s a member of the NRA. And he told me the vast majority of NRA members are actually in favor of more extensive background checks.

Of course, I had not known that.

As much as I revile the NRA and its stranglehold on too many politicians, and its worship of the Second Amendment over every other amendment, I relearned a lesson that I learned a long time ago: You never know what the members of an organization believe, simply because you know what the organization stands for.

When we demonize our opponents; when we think that we know our opponents — we cannot speak with them, and we cannot learn from them.

Look — don’t we know that, for example, about the Palestinians?

Isn’t that why some Jews are eager to speak to Palestinian leaders, and to open up dialogue?

To learn their “narrative” (one of the most overused clichés of our time)?

Um — don’t members of the NRA have a “narrative” as well?

Can we hear it? Not that we must agree with it. Can we at least hear their narrative?

Second: Let’s get out of our bubbles.

We have so devolved into a collection of tribes — ethnic, religious, class, and moral — that we have lost any kind of common language.

The NRA gentleman taught me: Don’t assume that you know what people think, or believe — simply based on their tribe.

By the way: that gentleman was so locked in his own social/religious tribe, that he didn’t know that we Jews observe Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) on Saturday, not Sunday.

The late, lamented Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, wrote:

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

I live according to the axiom: “Your mind should never be so open that everything falls out.”

I am not open to every opinion, every pseudo-truth, every way of seeing the world.

But, I might meet people who will help me see the world differently.

Third: “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.”

That gentleman with the gun hobby — he had something to teach me.

And perhaps all of us.

Because if we are going to defeat the scourge of guns — we will need him, and his like-minded friends, to be our allies.

For only they can speak truth to power — the power that is, tragically, the National Rifle Association.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

26 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I don’t always agree with what Jeffrey writes – but this is a diamond post.

    We are evolved to take short-cuts – but the benefits we gain from that are sometimes outweighed by the inherent generalisation that it involves.

    If I learnt one thing from forty years of selling it is that if you want to persuade someone of something you first have to understand their needs and the environment that generates those needs – that usually means questioning and always means listening.

    What are the chances of someone getting to London if they’re in Tromsø and I give them the directions from Truro?

  • OMG, so the author is finally getting to the point in his life where he is ACTUALLY living out what he proclaims for himself and others. That being, to never judge without knowing the truth of the matter. The hypocrisy of those who seem to believe and will shout it from the roof tops that they are so inclusive, are never biased, judgemental, discriminating, or are so tolerant, and loving, the whole ball of wax we know see and hear is NEVER extended to those they seem to think are their enemies. For all the tolerance speech, all the SJW screaming, they NEVER stop to address their own need for self examination. I am glad to read that the author was able to be open minded and allowed himself to change his judgement against this man who he had already deemed a threat. Can people understand that when they have these biased, discriminatory attitudes against someone they do not know, they are doing exactly the same thing as those who have the same attitudes against different ethnicities, gender, sexual orientation, social standing,legal status. That is where their hypocrisy comes in. Please do as the author did and take a minute to get to know people, lose the hate and bias, just like you are capable of doing to others. With regards to the ad mentioned, what I heard was the anger most conservatives have with the state of society. They too need to do the same personal work so that maybe large amounts of people can REALLY lose the hate, and start loving one another regardless.

  • Yes, yes, we know Rabbi Salkin believes inanimate objects are the root of all evil, not a malevolent personal evil, even as a metaphor for yetzer hara (evil inclination – Genesis 6:5).

    To someone with that mindset the NRA is, to say the least, one scary organization.

    Here is an organization of roughly five million ordinary citizens who believe that people have innate rights, that evil triumphs if good fails to resist, and that every American citizen has a natural right to self-defense. In their minds the Rabbi Salkins are a root cause of the problem, not a solution.

    Politicians respond to two things: money and votes.

    A quick look at the NRA’s supply of both makes it clear it’s a minor player in national politics. Multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg, for example, the former mayor of New York City spends more personally each year on promoting gun control than the NRA-ILA does resisting it, and he is just one of the incredibly wealthy gun control mavens.

    The reason why the NRA appears to have influence is because a majority of the voters in the majority of the country agree with it. The politicians learned that at the polls the NRA echoes the voters’ sentiments, and they pay a price for defying the voters.

    Yes, it’s fun to pretend that the NRA “worship(s) … the Second Amendment over every other amendment” even though its members also “worship” the entire Bill of Rights, and make that clear every single day.

    And they are not alone.

    http://jpfo.org/

  • All of this bloviating over an event that is still in question and unfolding. Whatever happened to logic and reason.

  • You are correct that the phrase “inanimate objects like guns are the root of all evil” does not appear in this article or any of his preceding articles demonizing guns, the NRA, NRA members, and not once mentioning evil, bad people, free will, self-defense, or individual rights.

    I am sure it was a multiple article oversight on his part while he was waxing eloquent about inanimate objects and his desire not to hear any facts about them.

  • “Evil” in Judaism is something people do, it’s not something that exists as a separate malevolent force. Satan is neither evil nor an embodiment of evil. He tempts us, as in the yetzer harah you mentioned, to do bad things.
    So it doesn’t surprise me he would not write about “evil.” And with mental illness seemingly a major part of the Florida (and other) shootings, it makes it even less pertinent.

  • Well, in some schools of Judaism. It is not monolithic.

    Rabbi Salkin is at a congregation which styles itself “liberal Reformed”, which I take it based on the materials on its website is to Reformed what Unitarian is to Anglican.

    It doesn’t surprise me, either, he never even mentions evil, or for that matter mental illness or being tempted. There are some theories about how positions like that arise:

    http://jpfo.org/articles-assd02/why-jews-hate-guns.htm

  • Reform (not Reformed) Judaism in a nutshell is a liberal stream of Judaism that views the Torah as important but not authoritatively binding per se. It also adheres to a focus on the ethical precepts rather than the ritual or moral ones (I’ve heard that claimed about a certain 1st century Jew btw..). By “liberal Reform,” they may be distinguishing themselves from “traditional” or “classical” Reform, which in its late 19th century American roots consciously sought to emulate the high-church Protestantism of its neighbors. Ironically, Reform’s evolution into a more politically liberal and religiously inclusive movement today allows things like the prayer shawls and head coverings you see on Rabbi Salkin’s synagogue’s website, which never would have been allowed by the “traditional” adherents of Reform Judaism.

  • I was hoping to stick to the discussion rather than explicate the roots of rabbinical Judaism and all its variations.

    Yes, Reform Judaism and Liberal Protestantism came out of the German liberal tradition which also led to Karl Marx.

  • Oh how I hate to enter in…but you said something quite intriguing. You in essence limited Satan’s influence to that of a tempter; that He is not evil, or the embodiment of it. But isn’t the proffering of temptation, in any context, in itself an act of evil? Even if that evil is primarily contained within the motivation of the tempter? Best and utterly mild wishes.

  • I am puzzled each time I encounter Jewish voices deploring the private ownership of firearms.
    Read about the Warsaw Ghetto. Pay particular attention to what happened to the Germans’ plans to ship all of the inhabitants to the death camps when some of the occupants managed to arm themselves.
    According to Thomas Jefferson, governments exist to protect people’s rights. History has shown that, all too often, governments trample on rights rather than protecting them. The Third Reich is a textbook example.
    The Second Amendment is not primarily about hunting, or target practice, or even home defense. All of those things are secondary to the primary reason: So that if the politicians fail to respect a paper-and-ink ballot, We the People can vote a powder-and-ball ballot.

  • Yes, it could be an evil act. If a human did it, wouldn’t you say the same? Still, this is ultimately a divide between the Jewish and Christian views of Satan. Satan is acting as the agent and servant of God. There is no separate “evil force” that God must contend with. God “makes peace and creates” what most Bibles correctly translate as evil, although if you look at the word “ra,” a better translation is “badness.” It’s a different theological and theodical problem for Judaism. Thanks and be well!

  • In Islam and Christianity Satan is not a separate evil force that G-d must contend with.

    G-d does not “contend” with his creatures. G-d can extinguish his creation, or any part of it, and chooses not to.

    Just as Man is a creature of G-d, who given free will can choose to disobey (which is the definition of evil), so Satan is a creature of G-d who disobeyed and continues to do so.

    In Islam G-d created Adam then told Satan – the former chief angel, the Light Giver – to kneel before Man, and Satan refused. In Christianity his rebellion is also the source of his current position.

    The modern rabbinical view of Satan which underlies the “divide between the Jewish and Christian views of Satan” is not universal now nor was it historically. Maimonides suggested that Satan may not actually exist except as a symbol of the inclination to sin. That rationalism has become a dominant theme in rabbinic Judaism.

    Kabbalistic sources expand the view of Satan considerably, offering a detailed portrayal of the demonic realm and the forces of evil in the world, which are to be warded off in some cases with exorcisms.

    Hassidic Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Poloniye wrote in his “Toldos Yaakov Yosef” that G-d would eventually slaughter the angel of death during the messianic age – an echo of the Christian view of a final showdown between G-d and Satan at the End of Days.

    These views carry on a tradition that was strong when Christianity arose, including the exorcism of demons, in Judaism.

    Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews, and their Christian cousins both carry on that tradition. Both consider the Book of Enoch inspired, a text from around 300 BCE. Its first book, The Book of the Watchers, describes the fallen angels, their predations on mankind, and angels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel appealing to G-d to judge the inhabitants of the world and the fallen angels. Uriel then appears to Noah to save a righteous few before G-d exercises his judgment.

    The human need to personify evil and the need to find amulets and magic is demonstrated by Rabbi Salkin’s personification of a 501(c)3 corporation he happens to disagree with – the National Rifle Association – as Evil Itself and guns as evil amulets. Different words, same basic thing.

  • The rabbinic view of Satan that you say is modern is actually ancient. There’s a reason rabbinic Judaism did not canonize Enoch.
    Hasidism, as you note, took an interest in both mysticism and demonology. I have to think its origins in Eastern Europe has something to do with it.

  • I cannot but disagree as to the age of the belief described by Maimonides, which is certainly not well attested in the range of 100 BCE to 100 CE, while the contra beliefs were common.

    The destruction of the Temple altered the landscape then and all the way to the present.

    In any case contact with Christianity and Islam in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and Eastern Europe – away from the rationalizing influences of the Germans – certainly kept the concepts in Enoch alive.

  • #neveragain

    Benchwarmer Bob and Windy Edward Cooper BS Boswell, enough of your useless blathering about your sky fairy stories already.

    Get off your fat lazy old backsides and start helping to make gun control happen.

    This is what you can do to help. So get on it, you fat lazy bums! Do something useful in your otherwise useless lives already:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDx6Ys4P5_Q

    Get on it now, you fat useless old slugs!

  • #neveragain

    Benchwarmer Bob and Windy Edward Cooper BS Boswell, enough of your useless blathering about your sky fairy stories.

    Get off your fat lazy old backsides and start helping to make gun control happen.

    This is what you can do to help. So get on it, you fat lazy bums! Do something useful in your otherwise useless lives already:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDx6Ys4P5_Q

    Get on it now, you fat useless old slugs!

  • I’m a FORMER member of the NRA having departed when it was becoming what I consider a terrorist organization as it was supporting Black Tallon (cop killer) ammo. This was ammo designed to penetrate body armor worn by police. Now I’m rethinking my position and may soon rejoin the NRA and am encouraging other liberals to do the same. My idea is that we take over the organization from the inside and oust La Pierre (sp?). When I first belonged it was a hunting organization and emphasized gun safety, running gun safety courses that were required to obtain a hunting license if you were under 18. I was one such student at the age of 16.

    It’s purpose was twisted from its original and I believe if enough of us take this route we can steer it back to its original focus.

  • Good grief. If that’s the best you can do, go elsewhere where McCarthyism is alive & well. You certainly have no place in reality.

  • The problem with the NRA is not its existence, it is its power. Because of its power, some in the NRA have denied the significance of the existence of certain people.

    I very much like this article, especially the line that is quoted below:


    When we demonize our opponents; when we think that we know our opponents
    — we cannot speak with them, and we cannot learn from them.

    The willingness to demonize others, which almost always includes the exaltation of ourselves, is destroying our nation today. Regarding the NRA, we must oppose its power while protecting its voice. That is because we share society with all members of the NRA.

    I very much appreciate Salkin’s article.

ADVERTISEMENTs