Between Yizkor, the holidays and the several Saturdays since the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1, ample opportunities have existed for local rabbis to address the recent tragedy and associated issues surrounding gun control. In driving home any messages to congregants, Steel City spiritual leaders have sermonized their thoughts, communicated through writing and elected to employ prayer as a particular vehicle.
“The shooting in Las Vegas hit too close to home. My uncle lives there. I have friends who live there,” said Rabbi Stacy Petersohn of Congregation Emanu-El in Greensburg in an email to congregants immediately following the shootings.
After spending much of the day on Oct. 2 locating each of her Las Vegas connections and ensuring their safety, Petersohn remaining unsettled. “That did not assuage the horror that once again a community in the United States was rocked to its core by gun violence,” said the rabbi.
“Seriously, what is there to say that hasn’t already been said after Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the Dallas sniper shootings, San Bernardino? On and on!” said Rabbi Mark Mahler of Temple Emanuel of South Hills. “You follow the news: This is almost a daily event. Tragic beyond words.”
The matter of gun control and concerns surrounding the Second Amendment have been previously addressed by Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. In making clear his interpretation to congregants, the rabbi has explained that based on various Talmudic and biblical sources, Judaism “supports gun control,” he said. However, in the aftermath of the deadliest shooting by an individual in the United States, the South Hills spiritual leader elected not to engage the subject over the Sukkot holiday and explained that there will be other periods where congregants can hear “the politics of it.” For now, “the innocent victims will be the focus.”
In Shadyside at Rodef Shalom Congregation, those injured were added to the Mi Shebeirach list and the dead to the Kaddish list, said Rabbi Aaron Bisno.
At Temple Sinai, the victims who died were “recognized as part of our Kaddish list” on Erev Shabbat, noted Rabbi Jamie Gibson. A similar act was performed at Temple Emanuel.
In New Castle, Rabbi Howie Stein spoke “tangentially” about Las Vegas but did not specifically address gun control. “I emphasized that the idea of saving a life is essential to Judaism and that while we can disagree about policies, we must be mindful of that Jewish value.”
“Jewish tradition implores us to do everything we can to prevent a loss of life in a potentially dangerous situation,” said Petersohn. “In Leviticus 19, which we read on Yom Kippur afternoon, we are commanded to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. This is a call of compassion, to not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the violence that humans are capable of. It is also a call for justice, but what justice can the friends and families of the victims of gun violence have? Nothing will bring their loved one back. We can learn from it and work toward future preventative measures.”
Immediately following the Las Vegas attack, Petersohn listened to both those advocating gun control and others imploring that the moment for dialogue had not arrived and instead was “a time for thoughts and prayers.”
In invoking a traditional Judaic practice, the rabbi questioned, “To those trying to avoid the conversation, I ask in the words of Hillel the Elder: If not now, when?” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.