A month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, two haunting images are seared into my mind. The first is the smiling countenance of 6-year old Noah Pozner, the youngest of the 20 children to die in the shooting. Noah was hit 11 times and buried in a blue tallit that he will never wear as a bar mitzvah.
The second is the terrified image of another boy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Noah: It is the fam-ous boy of the Warsaw Ghetto, hands up and terrified, behind him standing a German soldier with a machine gun pointed directly at him.
There is little, if anything, any of us could have done to protect the Warsaw Ghetto boy from his terrible fate. But what should haunt us is the question of whether we as a society could have protected Noah and all the other children cut down by the scourge of gun violence in the United States. Is it possible — in some indirect but proximate way — that none of us is guilty but all are responsible? Could it be that our country’s willingness to put up with lax gun laws is directly responsible for the serial tragedies that have stricken a Colorado movie theater, a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center, a Virginia college campus and a Connecticut elementary school? Could it be, however unwittingly, that we are sacrificing our children on the altar of the so-called right to bear arms?
More than 27 centuries ago, the ancient Israelites faced a scourge of idolatry. One particularly vile form of it took the form of sacrificing children to the Ammonite god, Molech. Yet in time, owing to the censure Torah accorded the practice and to the resolute leadership of King Josiah, child sacrifice was driven out of the land. Effectively Israel smashed the idols of Molech-worshippers and stamped out their pillars.
Now it is time for us to rid ourselves of a form of idolatry peculiar to us moderns: the unremitting worship of guns and the exaltation of so-called gun rights. As a life-sanctifying people, it is time for us to name this pestilence and to exile weapons of mass destruction from our midst. A civilized society has no place for high-powered semi-assault weapons that can fire off 100 rounds a minute and extinguish the lives of people, one dozen at a time.
The time has come to treat gun worship with the same disdain that ancient our forbears treated the worship of Molech and Baal. Our task is to erase it from our country, permitting only those weapons with legitimate self-defense or sporting purposes. Then and only then may we have the comfort of knowing that we’ll have done whatever we could to spare ourselves the agony of burying any more Noahs.
John Franken is the rabbi of Bolton Street Synagogue in Roland Park and a member of
the Baltimore Board of Rabbis. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis or its members.