Commandment 184 is that [God] commanded us to remove obstacles and danger from all dwellings…. – Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment #184 (12th century)
King David is a central figure in our Jewish Tradition. Held in highest esteem by God, David (whose name means “beloved”) is a warrior who, at times, functions in ruthless ways. And yet, he is devoted to the Covenant between God and the Jewish People and is rewarded for doing so.
I have always found it inspiring that such a leader like David, who is held in such high regard, could not build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was his leadership that united the kingdom when he conquered Jerusalem to make it the capital of the Jewish People, and still he could not build the Holy Temple because as a warrior, he had blood on his hands.
Not only that, our Holy Temple could not be built with iron. Jewish tradition teaches that the people used other methods to carve out the massive stones. Iron couldn’t be used because that material was often used to shorten another person’s life; thus inconsistent with the sanctity of the Holy Temple. (See Deut. 27:5, M. Middot 3:4).
There is even a custom in Jewish families to cover up the knives when we say our Shabbat blessings around the dinner table. Since our table is considered a mikdash m’at—a miniature altar (referring to the ancient Temple) – it is a sacred place and a place of peace. So we cover the knives that represent weapons and bloodshed – imagery that has no appropriate place in the midst of our Sabbath blessings.
And so it is… this is why I have been earnest in speaking out against what I consider to be the idolatry of guns in our society.
We can debate the intentions of our founding fathers with regard to the Second Amendment. That is for a different time. As a people of faith, we are commanded “to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19.6) As I reflect on these words, it teaches me that we are to not simply go an extra mile. We are asked by God to choose a path that will model holiness. So we must balance our necessary requirements of security with holiness. From my point of view, it is a holy act to provide hospitality, and thus security, for those who come into your house. That is an important reason why we have our friends from the Roswell Police Department with us regularly and routinely. The chair of our Temple Security Committee is a Police Detective. We take safety and security seriously.
And it is with these two values combined – security and holiness – to guide us, that I can say I am proud of our leadership to make Temple Beth Tikvah a weapons-free zone, with the exception of those who are law enforcement professionals or on active duty in the military.
The recent law that the Georgia Legislature passed and which Governor Deal signed into law, says that houses of worship are to be considered private property. The law does not permit individuals, whether they have a permit to carry a firearm or not, to bring a firearm into a house of worship. The law will now permit congregations to OPT IN and permit people to bring weapons onto their property, if they choose to. Our synagogue’s Board responded to a thoughtful plea by our own Mark Mosbacher and resolved to make TBT a weapons-free zone in our building and on our grounds.
Why did we (along with Temple Sinai and The Temple, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta) pass resolutions when the law hasn’t changed in terms of bringing weapons into houses of worship?
One reason is to affirm our truth – bringing weapons into our sacred space, whether it is the sanctuary, the school or the social hall, diminishes that very same sacredness as illustrated in the beginning of this article. A second reason is to have an opportunity to educate how the interfaith religious leadership in Atlanta is predominantly opposed to bringing weapons into houses of worship and we are opposed legal changes that will uproot reasonable gun ownership and carry regulations. I have joined over 280 other members of the clergy in the Interfaith Coalition against Gun Violence to do what we can to provide a faithful response to these issues. And a third reason: Leviticus 19:16 teaches that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. This is a pro-active position that communicates to our faith community, the larger Atlanta faith community, and our government leaders that gun violence is a serious issue that needs serious solutions. We fully expect that the issue will reappear in next year’s legislative session to advance that congregations will need to OPT OUT rather than opt in if they want to be weapons-free. (We also expect them to return to raising legalization of carrying weapons on college campuses).
This isn’t about the right to own or carry a weapon. This is about having our synagogue remain a sanctuary from the storms outside. For me, it is also about my concern about the easy access and prevalence of guns that will raise new challenges to issues of public safety. And it is statement that we see every life as precious.
Kol Hakavod to our Board of Trustees for passing this resolution:
WHEREAS, in keeping with the spirit of Isaiah 2:4 ” And he shall judge between the nations and reprove many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”;
AND WHEREAS, reflecting that Temple Beth Tikvah is a house of God and a house of hope,
THEREFORE, with the exception of active military and law enforcement personnel, Temple Beth Tikvah shall be declared a weapons-free zone;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this be actively communicated to the congregation and to law enforcement.
–Resolved April 17, 2014