Crying for Rabbinic Leadership

Over the past year or two, we in the traditional and Orthodox communities have waged a spirited debate over the role of women in public worship, the tension between classical halacha and modern thought toward homosexuality and the LGBTQ communities and what should be the width and length of our definition of Orthodoxy.

Scores of blogs, social-media sites, journals and publications have expended countless words on these important topics, often devolving into castigations, finger-pointing and good old-fashioned one-upmanship.

Sadly, not even a fraction of verbal fuel has been spent on some of the most important issues of the day affecting and infecting both the Jewish community and broader society. Where are our rabbis—our mesorah’s spiritual leaders—on gun violence? Why have their words been largely muted on sexual abuse and the #metoo campaign?

The Orthodox Union (OU) did recently issue a statement calling for federal and state funding programs for school safety and “common-sense measures to reduce gun violence—including banning certain sophisticated assault weapons such as the AR-15 used in yesterday’s attack.”

But the statement seemed more procedural than passionate, more obligatory than a plan of action.

From the sages, we have superheroes like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai who rose to the challenges of their day. We laud our original forefather Abraham for praying on behalf of the sinful Sodom.

Yet, today’s cries for justice are generally coming from the Reform and Conservative movements. Don’t we in the Orthodox community care about gun violence and sexual offense?

How would we respond if, lo aleinu, a degenerate blasted his or her way into one of our yeshivot or day schools, leaving unspeakable carnage?

We have sources from the Torah and Talmud from which to draw. Vayikra 19:16 states: “lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa,” do not stand idly by your brother’s blood. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a) elucidates that if someone sees a person in a life-threatening situation, he has an obligation to save him or her.

Devarim 22:8 requires a parapet for the roof of a new home “so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house should anyone fall from it.”

Do these pesukim—among many from both our written and oral traditions—not speak implicitly to the notion of gun-safety requirements? Likewise, the repeated admonition safeguarding the vulnerable should not be restricted to the stranger, orphan and widow. Rather, the Torah speaks to those most exploitable, identifying the most susceptible of ancient times. How should these verses and their commentary extend to victims of unwanted sexual advances? To preserving the innocence of our children?

Put simply, were Moshe descending from Har Sinai today, what might the Torah look like? What would it say about school shootings and offense to women?

The pasuk in Exodus 22:22 speaks in timeless tones: אִם־עַנֵּ֥ה תְעַנֶּ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י אִם־צָעֹ֤ק יִצְעַק֙ אֵלַ֔י שָׁמֹ֥עַ אֶשְׁמַ֖ע צַעֲקָתֽו׃

“If you mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me.”

Rabbis, isn’t it time to act on their cries?

Mitch Morrison