Should Halacha Allow People to Carry Weapons in Shul?

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman, Five Towns Jewish Times

The horrific tragedy in a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Shabbos morning that left 11 people dead should cause us, perhaps, to rethink the manner in which we observe a certain halacha.  It is not that halacha should change.  Rather, changing circumstances leads us to the application of different aspects of halacha.

The question is, does the current situation warrant that a number of responsible and well-trained members of shuls and administrators in yeshivos should, where it is legal, arm themselves with guns at this point?

This author believes that it should.

Here is why.

Background:

The Talmud (Brachos 54b) tells us that Tefillah, prayer, lengthens a person’s life. A long knife or sword, on the other hand, shortens a person’s life. The Orchos Chaim cites the Maharam of Rottenberg that based upon this dichotomy, a Jew should not bring a sword or long knife into shul. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 151:6) rules in accordance with this view, although some Poskim have stated that this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is really more of a piece of ethical advice rather than psak Halacha.

The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (82a) cites the fact that Pinchas arose from the congregation and he took a spear in his hand. The Gemorah explains that from here we see that a weapon is forbidden in the Beis haMidrash.

The Situation Today

First and foremost, the issue of Pikuach Nefesh supersedes the halacha of not bringing a weapon into shul.  The Torah tells us v’chai bahem – and we shall live by the Torah – not die by them.

Secondly, having armed individuals in shul can save lives, and saving life is a fundamental Mitzvah. What is the source of this Mitzvah? The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida, returning an object, with the words “vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.”

The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.”  For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “vahashaivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the Mitzvah of saving someone’s life. I believe this is the general mitzvah the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 325.

Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha

There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well.  This is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.  Collectively, if we adopt such a policy in having armed people in every Beis Midrash in Eretz Yisroel, we can ensure that we do not stand idly by our brother’s blood.

Lo Suchal l’hisalaym

There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.”  This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well.

V’Chai Achicha Imach

The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a,  understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you.  The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life – until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself.

V’Ahavta l’Rayacha Kamocha

The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “and love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from physical enemies as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.

There are authorities (Rabbeinu Peretz, TaZ 151:2, and Eliyahu Rabbah 151:10) that write that the halacha is limited to a long knife or a sword that cannot be covered. If it is a smaller and coverable knife, these Poskim are lenient. It would seem to me that a handgun may be similarly covered and thus would not present a problem according to these authorities. While this may be a minority view, when dealing with issues of danger to life, one may rely upon minority opinions.

Both Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Tzitz Eliezer Vol. X #18) Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechave Daas Vol. V #18) rule that Israeli soldiers may hold on to their guns in shul when necessary.  The idea presented here is merely an extension of that ruling in light of the new dangers in this Intifada.

Just like we have fire exits in this country, the hanhalah of our mosdos should consider making sure that there are responsible and adequately trained staff members or kollel members that are both present and armed. There should be an armed presence in our mosdos 24 hours a day.

Idna D’Rischa

From a theological perspective, we have perhaps entered what Chazal term as an, “Idna d’rischa.” One of my rebbeim, Rav Dovid Kviat zt”l once explained that there are two manners in which Hashem judges the world. He judges with both Midas HaDin, the attribute of Strict Judgement, and with Midas HaRachamim, the attribute of Mercy.

Generally speaking, Hashem judges us with Midas HaRachamim. However, there are times in Jewish history known as an idna derischa: periods of Divine Anger. The Gemorah in Menachos (43a) tells us that generally Hashem does not punish people for abnegating a Mitzvas Assei, a positive Mitzvah in the Torah.  We are only punished for violating negative prohibitions. However, in a period of Divine Anger, we are punished for negating positive Mitzvos too.

Rav Kviat explained that there is an idea found in Sefer Dvarim (31:18) of “Hester Panim”, where Hashem, so to speak, hides His face.

In an idna derischa, Hashem ceases to judge with Midas HaRachamim. He judges instead with Midas HaDin. Midas HaDin is almost unfathomable to the mortal mind in terms of its sheer strictness. No one wishes to be judged with the Midas HaDin.

What Hashem did during the Holocaust, a period of idna derischa, was to invoke the idea of Hester Panim – where He hid Himself. Hitler and his Nazis y”s could use their freedom of choice here because it was an idna derischa and there was divine Hester Panim. The Hester Panim, however, is limited to the point of Midas HaDin.

With such dangers facing Klal Yisroel, we must take steps to ensure the safety of our shuls and Bnei Yeshiva in whatever way we can. This recent tragedy brings this idea home. Eleven dead is a huge and tragic number. It goes without saying that it should never involve breaking the law, and it should be done with the cooperation of the local police departments.

May Hashem bring yeshuos and nechamos to His nation and end this period of Divine Anger.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

Five Towns Jewish Times

{Matzav.com}

13 COMMENTS

  1. Why only in shul? If people can be killed anywhere at anytime shouldn’t the same halacha apply and every frum jew should be armed just in case a mass shooting unfolds

    • In the 1950’s we brought cap guns to Shul for Purim. This is not allowed anymore, and u tell me a real gun is ok for Purim! I don’t get it?? What if someone has a water balloon then what would you do,.?

  2. Life is wonderful. Shoot them and kill them or just maim their eternity.

    Help our synagogues. Man can put the gun in his schtender. It might not bother the divine decree.

    Somehow.

  3. Guns in shul. Distracted minyan. Hashem still present.

    Add if legal or consider the minyan.

    Schtender fit or carry side arm. Be careful. Fear Hashem. He may help you choose your day.

    A sword to carry is finicky. Same even a gun. There may be rash or right decree.

    Torah comes first.

    The rational decree.

  4. If Hashem won’t protect, guns and ammunition are worthless. Guns don’t protect. Hashem does. Hashem doesn’t need any help, thank you very much.

  5. It is sad to see people saying that this story should push us to carry weapons in shul. Of all american cities, Pittsburg stands out as having a ‘Shomer Shabbos gun club’ known as the “Shaloshooters” affiliated as i understand with the Poalei Zedek Synagoge. However the shooter did not end up there, rather at a less armed congregation. Simply put when Hashem makes a Gezeira you cannot prevent it. And to think that if we would be better armed it might make a difference is a hard argument to make. Especially after the targeted community in this horrific case was from the better armed Jewish community’s nationwide.

  6. Hiring armed security guards is the logical solution, although it is an additional financial burden for each institution. Hopefully, in view of the current environment, communities will be eager to accept any additional expenditure for security. Regarding the suggestion of the author to have guns in shul, I believe there is a gemara in meseches Shabbos where the Rabbonon, according to whom we pasken, hold that one may carry a sword on Shabbos since it is considered a “tachshit’ (like jewelry), so at least the issur of carrying a gun on shabbos would be obviated.

  7. I carry Nitro pills to keep me alive during a cardiac emergency. We should be able to carry a loaded gun to keep us alive during a terrorist attack. What’s the problem? Political correctness or lame thinking?

  8. abbi Dr. Raymond Apple, 29/10/18

    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney.

    Q. Should people be prohibited from having guns?

    A. Guns have wrought immense harm in the United States and elsewhere in the hands of people on a rampage. Hundreds of innocent victims have been killed and hundreds wounded.

    Whatever the perpetrators’ motives they have made normal life like going to school and shul vulnerable and unsafe.

    There can be no justification for imperiling or destroying human life: everyone, young or old, must be able to “sit under their vine or fig tree with none to make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Wanton killing is the worst crime there is (Exodus 20:13), even if it is unpremeditated (Numbers 35:11).

    The problem with guns is threefold:

    The gun, which is the symbol of all means of doing harm.

    In Jewish law a person must not own a dangerous dog (Bava Kamma 79a). If one owns a dangerous dog it must be kept under restraint at all times (Choshen Mishpat 409:3). Even a dog that is unlikely to do harm must be kept under restraint because it can frighten people (Shabbat 63b).

    Hence it is best that nobody should own a gun and if they do they must keep it under restraint. Not only guns but all potential means of harm must be identified and dealt with as if they were guns, though it is admitted that guns seem to have a worse potential for harm than many other means of damage.

    The motivation: society must train its members to be law-abiding and peaceful and not use violence even if they are aggrieved or angry. In the long term, therefore, moral education must aim for good citizenship…

    The community as a whole has this responsibility because no-one should “stand idly by when your fellow’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16). This recommendation does not imply that teachers should be armed. That would be an irrelevant “quick fix”.

    Some gun owners will insist that they have valid reasons to possess weapons. This may have an element of validity but there is still something that they can do.

    Acknowledging that other gun owners are a threat to others, “decent” gun owners must exercise self-discipline and allow themselves and their genuine motives to be placed on a register and be regularly monitored. Fair’s fair and this is something they can do to alleviate the problem

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