By Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky
ויּרא פּינחס בּן־אלעזר בּן־אהרן הכֹּהן ויּקם מתּוֹךְ העדה ויּקּח רמח בּידוֹ (בלק כ”ה:ז)
Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the kohen saw this, arose from the congregation, and took a spear in his hand (Balak 25:7)
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82a) cites the above verse, regarding Pinchas’ courageous act, and the Gemara tells us that it serves as a source to prohibit entering into a bais medrash while carrying a weapon. The Yad Rama explains that the Gemara understood the verse to be stating the following, “he arose” from the bais medrash and only then “took a spear”. As long as he was in the bais medrash he did not have any weapon readily available. This hallacha prohibits carrying a weapon in a study house. In this article we will focus on whether one is allowed to pray and to enter a bais knesses (house of worship) while carrying a weapon and how these hallachos may affect Israeli soldiers, who must carry weapons at all times.
Prayer While Carrying a Weapon
The Orchos Chaim (Bais Knesses 7) writes that it is prohibited to enter a house of prayer while carrying a weapon. He explains that prayer extends life and it would be inappropriate to enter a house of prayer while carrying a weapon, which cuts life short. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 151:6) codifies this ruling, he writes: “There are those that prohibit entering (a bais knesses) with a long knife or with an uncovered head.”
The Tzitz Eliezer (10:18) writes that in addition to the issur of entering a shul, it is also prohibited to pray while carrying a weapon even if one is praying in one’s home. He explains that this is a natural extension of the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. For while one is praying, which extends life, one should not be carrying an item which cuts life short. A similar view can be found in the sefer Beer Sarim (2:10).
See however Yechave Daas (5:18) who disagrees and feels that the prohibition exists only in a synagogue which has a lot of kedusha (holiness). Carrying a weapon while praying at home would be permitted. It is also worthy to note that the Sefer Tzedaka Umishpat (chapter 12 note 42) feels that it is better to daven without a minian than to enter a house of prayer with a weapon.
According to the aformentioned poskim, there exists a prohibition of entering a shul while carrying a weapon and according to some authorities this prohibition exists even while praying in one’s home. It would seem to the reader that an Israeli soldier would never be allowed to pray, which is clearly problematic. In this article we will offer a few possible suggestions which may help avoid any hallachic problems.
Concealing the Weapon
The Torah Temimah, on this verse, cites the words of the Shulchan Aruch and raises a question. The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter a shul “with a long knife or with an uncovered head”. The simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch seems to suggest that there are two entirely different topics being discussed: firstly, one should not enter a shul with a weapon and secondly one should not enter without properly covering one’s head. The Torah Temimah wonders what connection there is between these two statements. What’s more the Shulchan Aruch already discussed the hallacha of praying without a head covering in siman 91, why then would he feel compelled to repeat himself?
The Torah Temimah therefore offers an entirely different interpretation of the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch is actually discussing one topic throughout and that is weapons in the synagogue. When the Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter with an “uncovered head” he is actually referring to the weapon. The prohibition exists only if the weapon is uncovered. One is allowed to pray as long as the weapon is concealed. Although the Levush seems not to agree with this novel interpretation of the words of the mechaber, the Elya Raba seems to concur with the Torah Temimah.
Rav Avigdor Neventzhal shlit”a (Pirush Viyitzhak Yikarey on the Mishnah Berurah) feels that according to the Torah Temimah one is allowed to pray as long as the nozzle of the gun is covered. However, the Tzitz Eliezer proves from the words of the Mor U’Ktziah that in order to rule leniently, the gun must be completely covered and not be noticeable to others.
Removing the bullets
The Tzitz Eliezer feels that if the bullets are removed from the gun one can enter into shul and pray. He explains that unlike a knife, a gun without bullets is not considered at this moment a weapon and therefore these hallachos would not apply.
The Tzitz Eliezer continues to note that a soldier or guard who must carry a weapon on his person at all times is permitted to enter a synagogue and pray while carrying his weapon. For these people removing the weapon can lead to dangerous and possibly life threatening situations. He does express that if possible one should place the gun on the floor during tefila and if that is not possible one should at least cover the weapon with his tallis.