Responding to Newtown Tragedy, Jewish Leaders Remind Administration and Congress of Moral and Ethical Obligations in Gun Control Debate
December 21, 2012
Community leaders and heads of school at 30 Jewish day schools around the country today issued an open letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. The letter urges them to enact legislation that will limit access to the types of assault weapons that were used to massacre 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The letter reminds the Administration and Congress that gun control is not just a legal or political issue, but also a moral and ethical one. “The Torah teaches us that when we live in a community, we must actively work to prevent harm to others,” the letter points out. It cites to passages in Deuteronomy and the Talmud, the compilation of rabbinic interpretations of the Bible that illuminate that point. While acknowledging the murderer’s own guilt, the letter reminds leaders that “[blood] is also on our hands, because we allowed a murderer easy, legal access to weapons that are especially lethal. It is on our hands because we failed to build adequate fences around things that we knew were dangerous, as the Torah commands us.”
The leaders call on the Administration and Congress “to take up immediate and definitive legislation that will erect meaningful fences around dangerous weapons that kill indiscriminately”. (The reference to fences hearkens to a passage in Deuteronomy that a builder must erect a fence around the edge of a roof to prevent people from falling off.)
The authors of the letter wanted to make a strong statement – as community leaders and teachers of Jewish values – about the moral and ethical implications of inaction in the face of tragedy. In a message to his colleagues, Daniel Labovitz, president of the Board of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, and one of the drafters, explained that “this tragedy speaks to us as Jews, as parents, and, most interestingly, as leaders of Jewish schools. If we collectively are not qualified as ‘authorities’ on the moral and social implications of this tragedy, it’s hard to imagine who else could be.”
Signatures were collected from heads of schools and school board presidents through the auspices of the Solomon Schechter Day School Network, a umbrella organization for Jewish days schools that operate under the Solomon Schechter name or principles. The schools represented on the letter come from 11 states, educating over 7,500 students nationwide.
The letter was transmitted to every member of Congress and the President. Follow-up meetings with legislators are being scheduled for early January.