Recently, the New Yorker discussed a peculiar American institution. Jill Lepore’s article on the second amendment yokes a sickening feeling over our bristling-with-arms culture to a history chronicling the Amendment’s recent miraculous growth. The analysis is anything but dispassionate. Of her trip to a gun school, Lepore has this to say.
We got earplugs and headgear and ammunition and went to the range. I fired a hundred rounds. Then Dietzel told me to go wash my hands, to get the gunpowder off, while he went to clean the gun…I opened the door, and turned on the tap…For a long time, I let the water run.
Is this unexpected in a country still reeling from the tragedy of Trayvon Martin? Probably not. Lepore frames the issue like this:
In an average year, roughly a hundred thousand Americans are killed or wounded with guns. On April 6th, the police found One Goh’s .45. Five days later, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. In May, T. J. Lane will appear at a hearing. Trials are to come. In each, introduced as evidence, will be an unloaded gun.
Does the Jewish tradition agree with Lepore’s bleak assessment of gun ownership? With Meir Kahane and Clarence Thomas, Jews could argue that, notwithstanding the deleterious social consequences of gun ownership, it’s a necessary evil which enables minorities to defend themselves. To quote Justice Thomas in McDonald v. Chicago: “The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.”
the use of firearms allowed targets of mob violence to survive. One man recalled the night during his childhood when his father stood armed at a jail until morning to ward off lynchers. …The experience left him with a sense, “not ‘of powerlessness, but of the “possibilities of salvation” that came from standing up to intimidation.
While unrelated to the specific American context, Moshe David Valle (previously discussed here) offers a unique Kabbalistic perspective on the problem of guns. Valle balances Jewish exclusivity with a view that can only come from Jewish existential security. Jews are metaphysically distinct from non-Jews. But the use of guns to defend Jews is never countenanced.
In previous times the Ishmaelites only used fiery arrows and sometimes swords, that being their tradition. When the Edomites came and taught them, they took up the firearms which are amongst the harshest judgments of “the red redness.” (Genesis 25:30)
Go and look at the black powder which they use which is the secret of darkness. The fire ignites in it and burns it, in the secret of “a great cloud and flashing fire.” (Ezekiel 1:4) The ball which goes out and hits with great force from the forces of fire and dirt is the secret of “a whirlwind coming from the north.” “Surrounded by brightness” is the spark itself, which is like a lightning bolt coming out of the gun.
Valle clearly demonstrates his commitment to Jewish exclusivity by establishing a metaphysical distinction between Jews and non-Jews and subsequently, between subtypes of non-Jews. From this passage, it seems like the triumphalism of Christendom over Islam is carried on by Valle in a funny manner. In another passage, Valle compares Christendom (Edom) to gold and Islam (Ishmael) to silver. He goes on to say that Christians are intelligent, while Muslims are stupid.
Valle’s animadversions against the local goyim are not simply responses to persecution. Instead, they belong to a Kabbalistic tradition which posits an alternative sefirotic pleroma for the “other side.” In this schema, Edom truly embodies the demonic potential of the other side, while Ishmael are sort of shleppers who just learn about guns by aping the Christians.
Still, if the golus is metaphysically fraught, there’s no self assertive moment where Jews cleanse or otherwise appropriate the guns from the Edomites and use them to stand up to intimidation like Justice Thomas. Guns are demonic and strictly the province of gentiles. Perhaps this has to do with the fairly emancipated situation in the Early Modern Venetian republic. If so, then Valle mirrors our own moment even more acutely, as Jews who enjoy security and rights, but are still experimenting with the metaphysical discourse of exclusion.
This uncomfortable moment between exclusivist truth claims and accommodative reality is captured by the subtle disclaimer at the end of Valle’s discussion of the difference between Edom and Ishmael.
Know that when we say Edom is the secret of gold and Ishamel is the secret of silver, we don’t mean gold and silver themselves, god forbid! Only the waste products of gold and silver. Gold and silver themselves are holy.
There’s a complex move here. Edom and Ishmael are both bad. But Edom is really bad. Its a fitting antithesis to the entire complex of holiness. Ishmael consists of low quality metaphysical evil. In this way, Valle can identify with Edom and not Ishmael. After all, Edom may be impure, but its the impure mirror image of divinity. Ishmael just sucks.
We don’t need to stretch too much to see this attitude of identification with Edom as a historical precursor to the recent rapprochement between exclusivist Jews and Evangelical Christians. Valle knows in his kishkes that one kind of goyim are simpatico to him, and the other kind are weird foreigners. Of course, he’s committed to Kabbalah and its endless discourse of exclusion. How to square the circle? Bite the bullet.