Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz speaks to the crowd at the candlelight vigil on Aug. 4 at First Church United Church of Christ Phoenix.

In the wake of the two mass shootings that occurred within 13 hours of each other this weekend, the First Church United Church of Christ of Phoenix hosted a candlelight interfaith vigil to mourn the victims of the shootings. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix worked to help bring the vigil together.

“There is no place for hate in Phoenix. There is no place for hate in Arizona,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said to vigil attendees. “It is the 216th day of the year. We have already had 251 mass shootings in this country. That is 251 too many. We must demand change. I am not here to offer prayers, but hopeful words for action.”

The vigil was a communal response to a devastating week- end. On Saturday, a shooter killed 22 and injured more than two dozen at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. On Sunday, another shooter opened fire at a popular nightclub in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring 20.

The president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, quickly joined the interfaith coalition to help plan the vigil interfaith vigil. Hate wins, he told the gathered mourners, “when it makes us cynical, when it gives us a negative view on the human condition. We come together because we dare not accept the mass shootings as acceptable, as normal. We dare not give up hope in this country and we dare not give white supremacy the upper hand.”

Arizona Faith Network Executive Director Rev. Katie Sexton also spoke at the vigil.

“We are here tonight, again,” Sexton said. “‘Again’ is a word that no one hopes to say as we gather to mourn the mass casualties of the mass shootings. But again, we say tonight we are here, again.”

The JCRC was motivated to help organize the vigil, said JCRC Executive Director Paul Rockower, “because we wanted to help the Jewish community share its sadness and grief alongside other faith communities of the Valley. This was a means for us to express our collective condolences to the families and communities affected by these tragedies, and to understand the ramifications of xenophobia and gun violence, as means to counter these horrific incidents.”

Multiple spiritual and community leaders at the event called for the denouncement of hate-filled acts of violence and the ban of military-grade firearms such as assault rifles.

After the vigil, Yanklowitz talked about the Jewish perspective on gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

“Jewish law is clear on two points,” Yanklowitz said. “Firstly, that we must protect ourselves. Secondly, that we must remove dangerous objects from our homes and from society. It is clear that the current regulations in place fall very short of what Jewish law and values require in ensuring a safe society to protect our children.”

Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman of Congregation Kehillah added that there are cases in the Torah that allow for killing a home invader, and provided examples of the Israelites arming themselves. She also referenced The Talmud Avodah Zarah chapter 15b, which states that it is prohibited to sell a weapon to someone who might kill.

“When this was all being written, no one could have possibly predicted that there would be assault weapons like the ones used in the shootings,” Sharfman said. “There is a difference between owning a handgun and an assault weapon that can cause just horrific carnage and should only be used by the military.”

In Arizona, there is no permit, background check or firearms registration required when buying a handgun from a private individual. The purchaser only needs to be 18 years old. The minimum age requirement to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer is 21. There is no ban on assault weapon sales in Arizona.

Arizona does have some restrictions on who can purchase a gun. Prohibited possessors include those convicted of a felony, undocumented aliens or anyone who is considered a threat to themselves and others.

As a constitutional carry state, Arizona does not require an individual to have a permit for concealed carry. The state is the third in modern U.S. history to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit, and it is the first state with a large urban population to do so.

Yanklowitz doesn’t believe in banning gun ownership, but he said he wishes there were more sensible and responsible regulations in place to protect families.

“I have found most gun owners to be quite hostile toward studying the Jewish values on this approach,” Yanklowitz said. “For many, their specific interpretation of the Second Amendment was revealed at Sinai.”

Sharfman said that she doesn’t want to go to another vigil and hopes more can be accomplished at the legislative level.

“You should keep praying, sending good thoughts and attending vigils,” Sharfman said. “But this is also a legislative issue, and there’s a lot of power we have in how we vote.” JN

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