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Gun Ownership in Halachah (PART 1)

Laws about gun control serve as perpetual fuel for political debates. However, everyone agrees that some people should carry guns in some circumstances. Whether police officers or soldiers, on duty or prepared for duty, some people need to carry guns in order to protect the public. In Messianic times, weapons will be turned into ploughshares (Isa. 2:4). Until then, weapons serve a necessary purpose in this unredeemed world.

Anyone who owns a gun needs to understand proper gun training, safety and usage in order to avoid tragedy. These issues are crucial but not our topic. Here I am interested in exploring other aspects of gun ownership.

I. Bringing a Gun Into a Synagogue

Rav Meir (Maharam) of Rothenburg is quoted as saying that you may not bring a long sword into a synagogue because it contradicts the purpose of prayer–prayer increases a person’s life (Berachos 8a, 54b) while a weapons shortens life (Orechos Chaim, Hilchos Beis Ha-Knesses 7; Kol Bo 17; Tashbetz 202). Similar ideas can be found in a number of rabbinic passages. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82a) says that you may not enter a beis midrash, study hall, with a weapon. The Mechilta (Ex. 20:22) explains the prohibition against using tools to fashion the stones of the altar that the altar is intended to extended people’s lives while iron shortens lives.

However, numerous rabbinic passages mention a sword in a beis midrash, such as Shabbos 17a, 63a; Mo’ed Katan 18a; Sanhedrin 94b. Rav Reuven Margoliyos (Margoliyos Ha-Yam 82a:34) suggests that a sword was brought to the entrance but not inside. This is somewhat difficult. However, all these passages refer to a beis midrash and not a synagogue.

Rabbeinu Peretz added a gloss to Maharam’s comment that the only concern is when it is uncovered. This can be interpreted in two ways. One possibility is that Rabbeinu Peretz was qualifying Maharam’s statement, saying that only an uncovered knife is forbidden (Eliyah Rabbah 251:10). Alternatively, Rabbeinu Peretz disagrees with Maharam and permits someone to enter a synagogue with a long sword but forbids someone whose head is uncovered to enter (Birkei Yosef 251:9).

The Taz (Orach Chaim 151:2) compares this rule to a similar rule requiring covering any knives on the table while bentching, reciting grace after meals, except on Shabbos and holidays (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 180:5, from Orechos Chaim, Hilchos Birkas Ha-Mazon 8). The Taz asks why we have the option to cover a knife for bentching but not for prayer. He answers that covering works for both. However, at the table, we have small knives that we can easily cover. For prayer, we are discussing long swords that are hard to cover. However, if we can cover the long sword, then everyone agrees you can bring it into a synagogue.

Mishnah Berurah (151:22) and Aruch Ha-Shulchan (151:11) agree that covering is sufficient to allow bringing a gun into a synagogue. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as 5:28) adds that if you cannot cover the gun or put it in a safe place, you may rely on the lenient opinion and bring the gun uncovered into a synagogue.

Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Tzitz Eliezer 10:18:6) adds another factor. A gun without bullets is relatively harmless. While you can use it to hit someone hard, you can do the same with a book or a pen. Effectively, removing the bullets from the gun disables it as a weapon, thereby permitting you to bring it into a synagogue. (He does not say that turning the safety on disables it.)

Therefore, he provides the following order of behavior:

In a time of danger or military preparedness, carry your gun with you according to your orders

Otherwise, if it is no extra bother, remove your guns before entering a synagogue and give them to someone to watch

If that is not possible remove the bullets from the guns (you can still keep the bullets in your pocket, just not in the weapon). If possible, cover the guns also.

If you cannot remove the bullets, keep your pistol in its holster and cover any large gun with something like a jacket or tallis.

Again, safety has to come first. This rule should never place anyone’s life in danger. Be smart and safe.

(To be continued)