Time to take responsibility

4 Tevet 5773/December 16, 2012

In the wake of the awful massacre in Newtown, many people must face their responsibility for the gun epidemic in America that helped enable this and so many other acts of evil. A lot of the blame goes to those who would rather see children killed than be inconvenienced if they want to own a gun. But those of us (politicians and voters) who realize the need for reasonable gun regulation but put the issue aside for the election should have continued to speak out. I hope President Obama’s speech tonight was the beginning of this change, but it has to be continued by all of us.

As for the argument that more children could have been saved if the teachers (and the children? why not?) had also been armed — in a civilized society, unarmed civilians, to say nothing of children, have the right to expect everyone to respect their safety. Merely giving ordinary people more firepower is a gross abdication of the responsibility to maintain a civilized society.

Another development late last week, while not remotely comparable, raises similar issues of taking responsibility for our words and positions. Reports came out that two senior rabbis at YU had been accused in the past of sexually abusive behavior. I was acquainted with one of them but have no knowledge of the accuracy of the accusations. What I have seen, and found very disappointing, were the evasive and bureaucratic explanations given by YU’s (past) leadership for its shoddy reaction at the time. Again, Richard Joel’s current comments give some reason for hope, but once again we see how easy it is for a religious bureacracy, in any religion, to put its own interest ahead of Divine will.

I mention these two events together to underscore how frequently people put forth positions that help create a poisonous atmosphere, or enable this by their silence, and then hide behind the evildoer they helped create. In our tradition, we are supposed to react to every evil deed by asking ourselves if we contributed to it in any slight way and if there was anything we should have done differently. May we, as Jews and Americans, find the courage to live up to this.

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