The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is a tragic reminder that more than 30,000 Americans die each year as a result of gun violence.
Our nation is experiencing an epidemic of violence. In the Jewish community, we are taught by a tradition and faith that proclaims the sanctity of human life, and instructs us to turn weapons of destruction into tools for the greater good of our society.
The major Jewish religious denominations have all called upon President Obama and Congress to act in order to institute sensible gun control and safety laws, which means removing assault weapons from our streets and improving upon our current procedures for background checks.
Guns are not the only issue. We are a society obsessed with violence. We call it entertainment. We watch it on television and in the movies. We read it in books. We purchase games for our children that allow them to kill a maximum number of virtual people. We witness road rage on our highways almost every day.
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The sad reality is that our culture glorifies violence and honors aggression. We say that we have freedoms and rights, but we rarely talk about the responsibilities that go with those freedoms.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the holiness of human life. The Bible commands us "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). The Talmud teaches that "for a person who takes one life -- it is as though they had destroyed the universe, and for a person who saves one life -- it is as though they have saved the universe."
Isaiah pleads with the people of the earth to "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4).
Let us remember this: Sensible gun control and safety is a religious issue. The indiscriminate distribution of guns in our country is an offense against God and humanity. Controlling guns is a solemn religious obligation. Our gun-saturated society has turned weapons into idols, and that is called blasphemy. What is urgently needed in 2013 is sustained moral outrage and moral action.
We must all do something and take the first step. Ask your member of Congress to work on behalf of sensible gun laws in America.
To contact your member of Congress, call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
It is time for us to mean it when we say "God Bless America."
Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Shabbat services are held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 941-755-4900 or visit www.templebethelbradenton.com.