Where men carry guns to synagogue on Shabbat

ON an average Saturday morning at the Orthodox Ohel Tefillah synagogue on Chicago’s North Side, about 10 per cent of the men carry a handgun, writes BEN SALES.

That number may seem high in a liberal city with some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

But in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last year, Rabbi Moshe Revah expects it will grow.

In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if soon, 10 of the 40 or so men who pray there each week — 25 per cent — will be packing heat.

“Definitely, Pittsburgh sparked the interest,” the rabbi said regarding gun ownership. “Originally it was much more of a taboo topic in the community. Definitely people are much more understanding of the idea.

“There’s more and more problems and things happening.”

Following the Pittsburgh shooting, in which 11 worshippers were killed at Shabbat services by a lone gunman, a synagogue in another liberal bastion had the same conversation — and came to the opposite conclusion.

The Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist congregation in New York City, decided that having more guns in synagogue would only create more danger.

The synagogue even opted against an increased police presence so as not to push away Jews of colour, who may feel threatened by police.

“We don’t believe guns will help the situation,” said SAJ Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann. “They would exacerbate the situation.

“In terms of congregants holding guns, it would create a culture of fear and promote a culture of guns when we believe access to guns should be more limited.”

In synagogues across the country, policies differ greatly. Some ban guns from their buildings. Others are OK with their members carrying firearms in the sanctuary, as long as they are concealed.

But supporters of armed congregants say that with responsible training, they are a necessary defence in an age of frequent mass shootings. Call it the good Jewish guy with a gun.

“We don’t want to be looked at as an easy target,” said Rabbi Stuart Federow of Sha’ar Hashalom, a Conservative synagogue in Houston that allows the concealed carrying of handguns.

“People understand when seconds count, the police are minutes away. They understand that they have to take personal responsibility for those they love.”

In Texas, where more than a third of residents own guns, the fault line isn’t between whether to allow or ban guns, but whether to allow open carry as well as concealed guns.

At Congregation Shearith Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Dallas, Rabbi Ari Sunshine said that he assumes some congregants bring guns to synagogue . . . “but the idea of having guns in full view, that’s just not part of the idea of the sanctity of a sacred space”.

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