Jews With Guns
Are they to be admired or dreaded? Three new fiction books take on the legacy of Jewish passivity with sometimes-flawed, sometimes-gripping violent fantasies.
By Adam Kirsch
What makes a Jew pick up a gun? Like so many things about Jewish life today, the question goes directly to the deep division between American Jews and Israeli Jews. In Israel, thanks to universal army service, the sight of Jews carrying guns is commonplace; one of the Israeli products known around the world is the Uzi, even though it has not been in military service for decades. In my experience, American Jews take a particular pleasure in Facebook posts that show young Jewish soldiers, men and women, in civilian clothes, with semiautomatic rifles strapped to their backs. When you think about it, the ubiquity of weapons in Israeli society is the symptom of an ongoing crisis: Only countries under siege need to have their citizens armed at all times. But of course, the image of the armed Jew has a deep resonance for a people traumatized so often and so recently by the violence of other peoples. The armed Israeli Jew is a visual shorthand for the Zionist abolition of Jewish weakness and passivity. Today, Jews are known, and sometimes hated, around the world as fierce fighters—as they were in Roman times, when Josephus testified to their reckless courage in combat.