(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
“Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the kohen saw this, arose from the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.” (Balak 25:7)
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82a) cites the above verse regarding Pinchas’ courageous act and explains that it serves as a source to prohibit entering into a bais medrash while carrying a weapon.
The Yad Rama explains that the Gemara understood the aforementioned verse to be stating the following, “he arose” from the bais medrash and only then “took a spear”. As long as he was in the bais medrash he did not have any weapon readily available.
This hallacha prohibits carrying a weapon in a study house. In this article we will focus on whether one is allowed to pray and to enter a bais knesses (house of worship) while carrying a weapon and how these hallachos may affect Israeli soldiers who must carry a weapon on their person at all times.
Prayer While Carrying a Weapon
The Orchos Chaim (Bais Knesses 7) writes that it is prohibited to enter a house of prayer while carrying a weapon. He explains that prayer extends one’s life and it would be inappropriate to do so while carrying a weapon which cuts life short. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 151:6) codifies this ruling, he writes: “There are those that prohibit entering (a bais knesses) with a long knife or with an uncovered head.”
The Tzitz Eliezer (10:18) notes that although the Shulchan Aruch wrote this law in the section of laws of the beis knesses, the hallacha would apply as well for one who is praying alone at home. Meaning that one may not even pray at home while carrying a weapon. He explains that the reason for the prohibition exists when praying at home as well, for while one is praying, which extends life, one should not be carrying an item which cuts life short. He adds that one may not even enter a Synagogue while carrying a weapon. A similar view can be found in the sefer Beer Sarim (2:10).
See however Yechave Daas (5:18) who disagrees and feels that the prohibition exists only in a synagogue which has a lot of holiness. Praying at home while carrying a weapon would be permitted. It is also worthy to note that the Sefer Tzedaka Umishpat (chapter 1 note 42) feels that it is better to daven without a minian than to enter a house of prayer with a weapon.
We have thus found that there exists a prohibition of entering a shul while carrying a weapon and according to some authorities this prohibition exists even while praying in one’s home. It would seem to the reader that an Israeli soldier who must carry a weapon would never be allowed to pray, which is clearly problematic. In this article we will offer a few possible suggestions which may help avoid any hallachic problems.
Concealing the Weapon
The Torah Temimah, on this verse, cites the words of the Shulchan Aruch and he raises a question. The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter a shul “with a long knife or with an uncovered head”. The simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch seems to suggest that there are two entirely different topics being discussed: firstly, one should not enter a shul with a weapon and secondly one should not enter without properly covering one’s head (yarmulka). The Torah Temimah wonders what connection there is between these two statements. What’s more the Shulchan Aruch already discussed the hallacha of praying without a head covering in siman 91, why then would he feel compelled to repeat himself?
He therefore offers an entirely different interpretation of the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch is actually discussing one topic throughout and that is weapons in the synagogue. When the Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter with an “uncovered head” he is actually referring to the “head” of the weapon. The prohibition exists only if the weapon is uncovered. One is allowed to pray as long as the weapon is concealed. Although the Levush seems to not agree with this novel interpretation of the words of the Shulchan Aruch, the Elya Raba seems to concur with the Torah Temimah.
Rav Avigdor Neventzhal shlit”a (Pirush Viyitzhak Yikarey on the Mishnah Berurah) feels that according to the Torah Temimah one is allowed to pray as long as the nozzle of the gun is covered. However, the Tzitz Eliezer proves from the words of the Mor U’Ktziah that in order to rule leniently, the gun must be completely covered and not be noticeable to others.
Removing the bullets
The Tzitz Eliezer feels that if the bullets are removed from the gun one can enter into shul and pray. He explains that unlike a knife, a gun without bullets is not considered at this moment a weapon and therefore the strict ruling would not apply.
The Tzitz Eliezer continues to write that a soldier or guard who must carry a weapon on his person at all times is permitted to enter a synagogue and pray while carrying his weapon. For these people removing the weapon can lead to dangerous and possibly life threatening situations and they therefore may pray while carrying a weapon. He does write that if possible one should place the gun on the floor during tefila and if that is not possible one should at least cover the weapon with his tallis.
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