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Every Shul Should Have An Armed Person – A Halachic Analysis

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

The horrific tragedy in a conservative synagogue in Pennsylvania Shabbos morning that left eleven 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. There is a surge in anti-Semitism happening now, and this creates new realities in Shuls, schools, and Yeshivos.

[RELATED – WATCH: Trump: If Pittsburgh Synagogue Had An Armed Guard “They Would Have Been Able To Stop” The Shooter]

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 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.

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.  It is highly probable that it is to this general Mitzvah that 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 that a handgun may be similarly covered and thus would not present a problem according to these authorities.  And 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 hanhallah 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 24 hours a day.

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 zt”l explained that there is an idea found in Sefer Dvarim (31:18) of “Hester Panim”, where Hashem, so to speak, hides His face. “I shall surely Hide My Face on that day..”

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 [email protected]

25 Responses

  1. Great article once again but I think it was a reform synagogue not conservative. Just clarifying but great article either way. Yasher Koach

  2. Great pilpul However, this meshugeneh managed to shoot three armed, trained police officers. Two of them were members of the SWAT team. He was carrying three handguns and a rifle, and he had spent a lot of time on a gun range learning how to use them. How much chance would a civilian with a gun have against him? He would just be the first person shot. It’s really comforting to pretend that there are easy answers, because it makes us feel safer. However, in this case there is no easy answer. There’s never been an easy answer. Imitating the goyim by buying guns just like theirs isn’t going to help. They’ll just come with more/bigger guns. like this guy did.

    BTW: the people in the synagogue were Jews. It doesn’t matter if they were Chareidi, Conservative or Reform. We are all one family. If really does interest OOTJ, though, it’s a Conservative synagogue.

  3. 4 armed trained police officers were injured trying to take down the gunman. Having an armed presence outside in or inside the synagogue would likely not have helped. Perhaps a halachik analysis of voting for candidates who opppse any and all types of gun control would be in order.

  4. There is no question that qualified, able and armed hidden belong in every place where we are congregated and vulnerable. That this was even a kasha, even before tonight, is a sad relic of the failed political hashkafa of American jewry. It’s up to each kehilla and mossad to determine the details and the people, and to be held responsible for them. (E.g. The wrong chevra at the helm of this effort can lead to disastrous results.) But it deserves the same level of planning and maintenance as any shuls roof, building campaign or learning Seder.

  5. I am very much familiar with Pittsburgh. Some shules are heavily armed and others have number of yiden who carry even on Shabbos (Pittsburgh has an eruv). No wonder this creep picked a liberal synagogue that is very anti-gun.

  6. I’m not going to attack posters who don’t have the tactical know how to decipher what happened in Pittsburgh and learn from it. Suffice to say an instant and overwhelmingly violent initial response to an active shooter is an entirely different thing than a first responders response, and an attackers reaction to both is world’s apart. To those who bring up the law enforcement officers who were attacked, had they been inside the congregation when they attack was precipitated, the results would have been far different. Interior security disrupts an attackers OODA loop and whoever is ahead there, wins. Every time. First responders are behind before they’ve even began.

    Every mossad that got hardening grants and called it a day is fooling themselves. No serious security plan ignores the inside of the onion.

    Often times shuls and schools that spend six figures on exterior security are just doing so to avoid making the hard decision that we live in dangerous times and we require armed personnel inside with us. Uneducated post-attack assessment such as this one (look even cops got shot) are just part of that defense mechanism.

    I’d venture to say that the shuls in my area, with multiple armed trained congregants inside – discreetly and quietly- are far safer than some of the larger Metropolitan institutions that have a grand appearance of external security but very little actual security.

    As always it’s up to hkbh, but as the article lays out, and I’ve yet to hear an orthodox opinion to the contrary, it is also the correct halachic approach for us to be prepared on our own as best we can.

  7. An armed presence in the shul would be critical as long as it was not obvious (someone keeps a gun hidden an their shtender), and if the person is trained and disciplined. Training can be arranged but the discipline is a problem. It wold ideally be someone asked to do so by the gedolim, not an overly enthusiastic frum gun nut.

  8. I remember when a few years ago there was a shooting in Har Nof and the rabonim in our area (not Har Nof) asked people who have guns to bring them to shul just in case. People did.

    However in Israel, there is a strict training program how to use and carry and gun.

    So a person who is the armed staff member must be well trained and physically fit.

  9. I haven’t commented here in years, but as a frum (non-enthusiast) gun owner with prior professional firearms training, I feel it is important to educate those of you who aren’t:

    1) I completely agree with ArmedJew. Officers (even SWAT) entering an active shooter scene from the outside always have the odds against them. A person on the inside with a concealed firearm, reasonably sufficient training (e.g., 20-30 hours of CCW type courses from a reputable school and periodic refreshers) can be extremely effective at stopping the threat.

    2) Mispallelim have the following advantages over an officer on the outside:
    A) They are generally very familiar with the layout of the building, which doors are locked, where people can hide, etc.
    B) They know their fellow mispallelim, which means they know who the bad guy is. A police officer coming to an active shooter scene often cannot tell who is who and wastes valuable time assessing who the threat is. They can (and do) make mistakes and engage an innocent person.

    C) When someone has something to lose (a child/spouse/friend/co-coreligionist) he is much more likely to stay and engage the threat. Police officers may be good people, but they aren’t all heroes, and risking your life for a stranger always takes more courage than risking your life for a loved one. Case in Point: The Parkland shooting where the officer waited outside while people were being massacred. He wasn’t a bad person; he just wasn’t a hero.

    3) akuperma, keeping a gun in a shtender is not a good option. If it is easy enough to retrieve, then it is too easy for someone else to get their hands on, especially when you are called up for an aliyah or go to the bathroom. If you secure it, it will be too difficult to retrieve when you need it. Handguns can easily be concealed in IWB (Inside the waistband) holsters, especially if the carrier is wearing a suit jacket.

    4) Police officers have basic firearms training and generally only twice a year qualifications. The qualifications themselves are not easy to fail. Yes, some police officers take their firearms proficiency seriously and take extra training and spend extra time at the range, but most don’t and most are lousy shots.

    5) Armed guards have similar basic training and are being paid ~$20/hr. They are not the cream of the crop.

  10. “How much chance would a civilian with a gun have against him?”

    A lot more than a civilian with NO GUN.

    “Perhaps a halachik analysis of voting for candidates who SUPPORT any and all types of gun control would be in order.” / FIXED IT.

    Any Jew who votes for “gun control” is voting with communists who want us Jews disarmed. These same people want Israel cut in half and given over to the so-called “palestinians” , these same people want America’s borders softened and tens of millions of DEMmigrants given the vote so they can go back to theBolshivicker Narishkeit of Obama, the Clintons and Sander/Warren/Occcasional Cortex.

  11. 1. Regarding soldiers, there is an additional consideration that a soldier may not leave his weapon out of his sight. If he does and something happens to it he will be in deep trouble.

    2. After the Har Nof massacre Rav Asher Weiss instructed members of his congregation (in Ramot) to bring their guns to shul.

  12. A couple of points
    1.hashem ooz lamo yitain hashem yivarech et amo bashalom
    2.Bareheaded and Long knifes arent permitted in Shul mishne brurah
    3.The reason would be to excuse klal Yisroel from the mitzva to go to daven with a minyan daily if within 1-4 mil
    4.As Israel being an unsafe place excuses many of klal Yisroel to reside in chutz laretz
    5.Tzaddik bemuoonosa yichye
    Have a guard booth or two yes
    Permit weapons in a place of religious worship
    NO WAY
    No weapons allowed inside a heichal kodesh
    It’s a shot in the foot
    Yireh shamayim is a much stronger protection than mispalellim with weapons

  13. B”H,
    Dear Brothers, After such a terrible tragedy we should first of all stick together and not make a difference between
    our different groups of religious Jews. When something happen to a Jew, religious or less religious I feel the same
    pain. We have the whole World of non-jewish people against us. We really don’t need internal conflicts.
    It’s however a fact that related to today’s situation, we should at least keep the doors closed to our synagogues.
    As a second step, it becomes necessary to have an armed guard inside and within the vicinity of the synagogue,
    especially during Shabbos and Yom Tov. The problems we already have in Europe and in Israel are arriving to the
    the United States. We must get prepared to defend ourselves like in Israel. The events told in the weekly Haftara
    are giving us a foretaste of what looms ahead.

  14. I can confirm that most Rabbanim in Israel instructed those Mispalilim with gun permits to bring their guns to Shul following the Har Nof terrorist attack. I can also confirm that a number of Rabbanim in Israel either allow or encourage soldiers on leave to bring their guns with them to Shul – more of a chidush since these are rifles, and not easily-concealed handguns, so there’s more of an issue of bringing it into a Shul.

    And to all the “fein shmekers” who say that there’s “no way” weapons should be allowed in a place of religious worship – “ein somchin al hanes”. The world is not a safe place, and Jews are targets throughout the world (not only in Israel) – so prudence would dictate that measures be taken.

    an Israeli Yid

  15. The concept of having trained armed mispallelim already exists here in New York,There is 1 shul in boro Park,a few in Flatbush & a lot in five towns where regular mispallelim are carrying a concealed gun ready to act

  16. an Israeli Yid, et al

    Israelis live with a heightened sense of insecurity to begin with- I used to live there as well and unfortunately it’s reality though not the most healthy one.

    Having a fellow with a gun in shul will raise that for the children Growing up in America as well
    Might that now be a necessity?Perhaps
    (whose fault with would that lie with?)

    Let us though not fall back on an immediate need jerk reactions which certainly will change the eventual atmosphere

    Every aspect need to be weighed

  17. I certainly wouldn’t feel safe if every Moshe, Shloime, Duvid and Yankel would carry weapons. Could you imagine the shooting that would go on?!

    I think there should be an organization where designated and trained members should carry guns with knowledge and permission from the Rabbonim of the shuls where these members daven. Similar to hatzala, totay almost all shuls have mispalelim who are hatzala members. Maybe Shomrim should be trained ( and Rabbonim should not let competition of these types of organizations).

    These things cannot be a free for all-out it creates even more dangerous situations than having no armed people in shul.

  18. It’s good to see discussion on this issue. It’s long overdue.

    Jews in other parts of the golus have had to face the question of what is appropriate hishtadlus to make in the face of increased threats and have developed a number of different responses, depending on the local conditions.

    In the UK, where firearm ownership is very tightly restricted, trained members of the community take turns to be unarmed guards. Their role is not to fight back against armed attackers, but to raise the alarm, bar entrances and manage evacuation.

    In France and Belgium the authorities supply armed police and troops to guard shuls, liaising with the local communities.

    In South Africa (where most of the threat comes from lawlessness rather than antisemitism) a mixture of professional armed guards and community volunteers stand ready to act.

    What has been singularly lacking in the US has been a serious discussion about how to respond to this threat. If the murders in Pittsburgh lead to such a discussion, some good will have come out of the tragedy.

  19. I see nothing wrong with going to shul to daven while carrying a gun. I have done that hundreds of times. Sometimes my tefillin retzuos will drape over my gun’s grip.
    But, even with an eruv, what about Shabbos?

  20. Philosopher – Israeli gun laws are very strict – in order to get a license, the person has to show a reason and undergo training – with an annual refresher required to keep the license. There are also limits on how much ammunition an individual is allowed to purchase each year. As such, guns are seen as necessary tools, not as something “cool” to have.

    So yes, I’m extremely comfortable with the people in Shul who have guns.

    And RebAvi, re: Shabbos – I am not a Posek, but if it is determined to be Pikuach Nefesh to carry a gun on Shabbos, how would this be any different from a member of Hatzoloh carrying a radio?

    an Israeli Yid

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