With Rabbi Ariel Abel

A tragic news story that hit the headlines recently involved a five-year-old boy who accidentally killed his sister – with his own gun. Torah For TodayAccording to news reports, the parents were unrepentant about allowing their son to hold on to a gun. What does the Torah say about this?

During the medieval period, an Ashkenazi rabbi, a certain Rabbi Kalonymus used to take his students out each Friday afternoon to teach them Qesheth – a form of fighting mentioned in the biblical book of Samuel. In modern day Israel, Qesheth has been revived by the Yemenite Jewish grandmaster of the ancient warrior’s discipline, Mori Yehoshua Avner Sofer. Qesheth translates as “bow”, but refers more to body posture, the agility required to arch in poses which maintain control and balance at all times while fighting and disarming the opponent. Modern Qesheth involves the disarming of guns in hand-tohand combat, a very useful skill for fighting in guerrilla territory. The main weapon used is a sword.

Also, to this day, there is a custom to shoot bows and arrows on Lag BaOmer, re-enacting a historic defiance of the Roman occupation which devastated Judea in the second century CE. Apart from fighting, hunting is another reason to be armed. But should such a young child be allowed to handle any sort of weapon? The Hebrew word for “knife” is sakin, related to the word sakana, meaning “danger”. The inherent danger in equipment requiring care and dexterity in handling such equipment, which can cause significant harm, precludes children who are not yet reliable and proficient from doing so. A knife for cutting vegetables is less of a problem, although still requires guidance.

But the fatal consequence of a gun or rifle shooting in error means that it should either be used under supervision or only after proper training and above an age of individual responsibility. One indicator for this is the fact that below the age of 13, a minor cannot slaughter and produce kosher meat as the dexterity required to control a knife cannot be presumed possible. Our rabbis refer to any real and present danger to the public as a “pit in the public domain”.

The wielding of a gun or any dangerous implement by a child who has not yet fully developed maturity physically,
emotionally and psychologically is a death trap. The same would apply to an unlicensed driver of a car or an untrained operator of any dangerous equipment.