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Repairing the World: The Truth About Ending Gun Violence Now

If not now, when.

I’ll spare you.

You don’t need a rabbi to preach to you about how sad the Connecticut massacre was; or about the preciousness of life; or about how we need to appreciate every moment; or about how we should hold our children a little tighter. All of that is true. But we’re all feeling all of those same sad, raw, exposed feelings right now; they have been as fully articulated in recent days as I can imagine; they needn’t be articulated again here.

What I do want to articulate here are some thoughts about what in my Jewish tradition is called “tikkun olam.” It means “repair of the world.” The phrase, in Hebrew, comes from the Jewish mystical tradition and it takes what some would consider to be a radical theological position, while others would see as obvious: that this cannot be what God intended for the world. Not even close. Something is fundamentally broken here; something cries out desperately for repair.

We can do better than this. And we must, and we will. Sometimes, it seems, things have to get so bad that there is a shock to the collective system, a blow to the collective psyche. Such was the news last week regarding the twenty and six – the children and adults mowed down at their school in broad daylight. How is this possible?

It’s possible because our country is awash in guns: handguns, rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazine clips capable of holding as many as 100 bullets each (gun purveyors call them "novelty" items). How all of this came to be is of vanishingly little interest to me right now. I’m just a congregational rabbi, and I’m happy to leave the pondering of the underlying societal factors that went into the creation of such a culture of violence here to folks expert in such matters. But however we got to where we are my tradition is very clear about where we must go next: Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother (or sister, or child, or someone else’s child).

The time to act is now. The rabbi’s group to which I belong – the CCAR – has long been on record in favor of saner gun control laws, and was very active in the last fight on this issue, which sadly we lost. Well, the fight is about to resume again even as I hope – and expect - it will be much less of a fight this time; even as I hope – and expect - that many more people this time - folks from both parties, folks from every religious tradition, and folks with no religious affiliation - will be willing to get on board for saner gun control laws.

Petition drives are ongoing, and other actions will I understand be announced soon. Please keep an eye out for these initiatives. In the meantime, please support The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. Also look at Demand A Plan and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

If you’re a member of the Jewish community and would want to sign as such, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is circulating a petition. A non-denominational petition can be found at We The People.

Finally, please don’t feel dismayed by strong comments you may read on-line which even now, after this unspeakable tragedy, are echoing NRA talking points. The truth will out. And—regardless of what you’ve read or heard—the truth is that the problem is not primarily mental illness, serious as that issue is; only four percent of violence in this country is attributable to mental illness. The truth is that there is no constitutional protection whatsoever for the sort of semiautomatic rifle that killed the kids in Newtown (even Justice Antonin Scalia admits this). The truth is that countries with stricter gun control laws, like Australia and countries in Europe have fewer gun deaths. The truth is that 76% of Americans favor some form of gun control!

The tide has turned; the wind is at our back.  

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue—with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public; everyone—without exception—is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS”—as well as service times and events—at www.ShalomPCS.com.

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James Adnaraf December 21, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Rabbi, you had me until your slight about Scalia. ...EVEN Justin Antonin Scalia admits this. I think that is a backhand insult, one that is not worthy of a man of God. A very poor use of words. I will not attempt to analyze your motives in using that phrase, but you certainly could have said it better. How about "strong believers in the right to bear arms, such as Antonin Scalia, believe there is no constitutional protection..."? I think there is zero conflict between believing that law abiding citizens have a right to own guns, within reason, and a belief that the ability of guns to kill people requires reasonable controls.
Racman63 December 21, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Rabbi well said. Thank you for your insight, wisdom and encouragement. The wind is at our backs!
Hugh Marshall December 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Maybe this will be the year Scalia will step down.
PC Proud December 27, 2012 at 02:29 AM
With all due respect Rabbi, remember that one of the first acts of the Nazi's was take away the guns so people couldn't defend themselves.

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