After the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, the issue of guns at synagogue was bound to arise. Many of us here in Canada might find that regrettable, but there’s no doubting our collective concern in the wake of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history – or Jews’ reflexive response to defend ourselves. At one major Toronto-area synagogue, a dialed-in member relates, there have been lengthy conversations in recent weeks about security matters, including the pros and cons of bringing firearms into the shul. A possibility that’s been raised by some would see the synagogue store guns – properly and legally – on its premises, and give trained members access to them in the case of an emergency.
Such are the times that a plan like this seems worthy of consideration.
At least it’s more reasonable than individuals bringing guns to shul on their own accord. In recent days, Canadian Jewish groups have offered an important reminder not to even think about doing that. “This is strongly not advised and would create a security incident,” Ryan Hartman, director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ National Community Security Program tells The CJN.
But even so, as Ron Csillag reports in this week’s paper, that isn’t stopping Canadian synagogue-goers from raising the issue. At Chabad Flamingo in Thornhill, Ont., according to a letter sent by one of its members to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, “there are quite a few congregants who have gun licences and lawful weapons who want to bring those weapons to the synagogue,” even if they know it’s against the law.
Conservative MP Peter Kent told The CJN that a recent communiqué to his office expressed a similar sentiment that “some members in some congregations who are legally registered gun owners may … decide to bring those weapons to synagogue, just on the admittedly remote possibility … that something would need to be defended, that they’re not in a position, at the moment, to adequately defend.”
At the mid-sized American synagogue I attended this past Shabbat, security was high, as you might imagine. All doors into and out of the building were locked. The only way to gain entrance was to knock. Inside, security guards with plastic earpieces were clearly visible as they milled about, and though no weapons were outwardly detectable, there was little doubt they were on the premises. The rabbi, in his sermon, intoned that “thoughts and prayers are not enough” when it comes to processing what happened in Pittsburgh. He left the door open as to what might be “enough,” but for some there’s no question it involves armed congregants.
Is that such a crazy idea? In Israel, after all, it is entirely common for people to bring firearms to shul, rifles slung over their shoulders along with a tallit. After you’ve seen it a few times, it doesn’t really seem like that big a deal. Certainly, the presence of firearms does not adversely affect the synagogue ambience – if anything, it brings a measure of comfort. In Israel, of course, the confluence of guns and the synagogue is born out of necessity. Let’s hope it doesn’t become necessary here.