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Carrying firearms on Shabbat


Rabbi David Samson

18 Elul 5762
A recent Arutz 7 article stated that, "Investigations surrounding Islamic fundamentalists apprehended in Europe reveal that bin-Laden terrorists are planning attacks against Jewish communities, with targets including synagogues.” Several questions must be asked: 1) Is carrying a firearm on Shabbat prohibited because it is “Muktzah"? 2) Is wearing a holster containing a weapon considered impermissible carrying on Shabbat (as opposed to carrying a weapon in one’s belt)? Presumably, one would only carry or use a firearm when threatened or while having a reasonable belief one could be killed or maimed unless one is fully able to defend oneself. What is a reasonable belief of being threatened? Seeing a mob of rioters coming toward you? Seeing a potential attacker in the act of attacking you or someone else? Receiving a specific threat, either by mail, telephone, or in person? Seeing someone who looks threatening (i.e., someone else visibly armed or obviously hostile by his actions or words?)?
Before answering the question about carrying firearms on Shabbat, I would first like to relate to the concern about safety. Since “Sept. 11” there is a growing concern amongst Diaspora Jewry for their safety. This is a result of the marked rise in anti-Semitism that has been documented worldwide. The potential growth of this anti-Semitism into an international rampage is certainly frightening. However, when we look at this phenomenon in a historical perspective, we see that the Jewish people have suffered waves of anti-Semitism from the time of the first Semite, Abraham, when Nimrod threw him into a fiery furnace for believing in one G-d. As long as there have been Jews, there have been Jew haters. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, well known as the Natziv of Volozhin, wrote a treatise on the subject of anti-Semitism known as “Rina shel Torah.” In this study, the Natziv offers an explanation for these waves of anti-Semitism. He says that anti-Semitism is the tool used by G-d to remind the Jews that they are Jews. Sometimes Jews may forget that we were created to be a special people with a Divine calling. When we forget ourselves, the anti-Semites rise up to remind us who we are. Rabbi Berlin further comments that the more we try to fit in with the gentiles, the greater the persecution will be. Rabbi Yaacov Emden, in the introduction to his scholarly prayer book, “Beit Yaacov,” writes that “When it seems to us, in our present peaceful existence outside the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this to me is the greatest, deepest, most obvious, and direct cause of all of the awesome, frightening, monstrous, unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora.”[1] With this introduction, let’s return to the question about carrying a firearm on Shabbat because of the growing danger to Jewish communities throughout the world. First, we would like to remind our readers that one of the activities prohibited on Shabbat is carrying objects through a public domain. Because Jews were lax about this prohibition, the Sages saw a need to reinforce it by also prohibiting the handling of objects that are forbidden to be used on Shabbat. These objects are “muktzah.” Examples are flashlights, computers, and chainsaws. Regarding the question whether a firearm is “muktzah,” Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first Chief Rabbi of the Army, and later the Chief Rabbi of Israel, explains in his book, “Mashiv Milchamah,” that regarding Shabbat observance, a firearm is no different than a Kiddush cup, and a holster is no different that a decorative spread used to cover the challah loaves. He maintains that a firearm is something that is needed for Shabbat observance, because it is intended for security, enabling a Jew to celebrate the Shabbat in peace. Even though shooting a gun is a form of igniting fire, something normally prohibited on Shabbat, in situations where life is imperiled, shooting a gun is a mitzvah.[2] Rabbi Goren states, “Behold, a firearm is meant for firing since it is a mitzvah to shoot both on weekdays or Shabbat, in instances when needed for self-defense or for attacking the enemy. And it is not meant for non-security uses (like sport or hunting) so why should it be considered an object that is forbidden on Shabbat?”[3] What Rabbi Yehoshua Neurvert writes in his treatise on Shabbat, “Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchatah,” differs somewhat in his understanding, stating that a firearm is indeed categorized as “muktzah” since firing (ignited fire) is prohibited on Shabbat. Nonetheless, he rules that carrying a firearm on Shabbat is allowed since it has a definite value as a deterrent - discouraging enemies from attacking Jews on Shabbat. Therefore, it is needed for the observance of Shabbat. Furthermore, since carrying a firearm is a deterrent, there is no need for immediate danger in order to carry one. When the enemies of the Jews know that we are ready to defend ourselves, mobs are less likely to rise up against us. (It is important to note that these rulings apply to communities where there is an “eruv,” a legal halachic enclosure, which permits carrying objects on Shabbat.) When this question was asked many years ago, Rabbi Meir Kahane, may G-d avenge his death, had a no-nonsense answer. Jews in Crown Heights and Boro Park, New York asked certain American rabbis how they could prevent being mugged on Shabbat. They were told to carry ten-dollar bills to give to their muggers, so they wouldn’t be beaten. Rabbi Kahane protested this response, saying, “Instead of considering the permissibility of carrying money on the Shabbat because of the need to save lives, let us consider the permissibility of carrying guns on Shabbat for the defense and welfare of our Jewish communities.”[4] ------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. For more on this theme, see the book, TORAT ERETZ YISRAEL, The Teachings Of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook. 2. “Mashiv Milchamah,” Vol. 2, Folio 54. 3. Loc cited, 20:12, subsection 28. 4. “Jewish Press,” October 17, 1975, article, “A Jew Dies in Brooklyn.”
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