Rabbi urging his congregation to take stand on gun control

January 06, 1994|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

An Arnold rabbi is pushing his congregation to join the battle for gun control -- even if people leave the Reform synagogue as a result.

Rabbi Robert G. Klensin of Temple Beth Shalom said he believes the synagogue must take a stand when it votes on the issue Tuesday.

"Some may disagree," Rabbi Klensin wrote in the temple newsletter. "I believe we must take that risk."

In a telephone interview this week, the rabbi said a history of social concern runs through Judaism, generally, and the Reform movement, specifically.

"We often see churches today taking a much more active role regarding community concerns than many synagogues," he said. "We cannot be true to our tradition and our heritage by burying ourselves in rituals and folk customs.

"The shofar is a reminder not only of Abraham's faith in God, but that God does not want us to sacrifice the next generation."

Reform Judaism has traditionally emphasized the words of the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah, who repeatedly called Israel to repent for failure to care for the poor.

Today, the Reform movement sponsors the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., which emphasizes concern for society and religious action.

"The movement takes positions on things from pro-choice issues to support of United Farm Workers," Rabbi Klensin said.

"There are always some people who would prefer we just be involved in ritual. But that's not what we're all about. We are about taking the values that are expressed in prayer and rituals, and carrying them into action."

Rabbi Klensin, who is a former chairman of the Maryland Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, preached about gun control when he first came to the synagogue in 1974, he recalls.

"Unfortunately, for a lot of people it's taken the realization that murders are not just going on in inner cities," he said. "It's starting to affect people everywhere. That's why there's a lot more support for gun control today."

The synagogue has not taken any formal position yet, nor endorsed any particular gun control legislation, Rabbi Klensin emphasized.

He said the temple board will consider the proposal of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, which would ban assault weapons and restrict all handguns, at its next meeting.

Many religious groups, including several Anne Arundel County churches, have endorsed the proposed legislation. In addition, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park began collecting guns from church members who decided to remove weapons from their homes after the son of a parishioner was killed in a shooting at a local doughnut shop in August.

All guns turned in are sent to the Anne Arundel police to be melted down.

Now, it's the synagogue's turn, Rabbi Klensin said.

"People don't need assault weapons or police killer bullets," he said. "There's no legitimate reason for having such things. It's time we all wake up and do something."

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