Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… Gang violence

Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… Gang violence

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

by Rabbi Ariel AbelTorah-For-Today-300x206

Last month the latest of 50 gang attacks in just 16 months hit my home town of Salford.

The shooting was a case of mistaken identity and landed a mother and her son in hospital, critically ill. So, what does the Torah have to say on the subject of gang warfare?

The first gang reported in the Torah is the Sodomite attack on the house of Lot.

The men of Sodom threatened the angels who had taken shelter in his home. They told Lot that he should expel them from his home so that “they could know him”.

There are commentators who suggest that they referred to the knowing in the Biblical sense. Hence the word “sodomy” originates in this story.

The gang, with intentions to rape the men, were struck with blindness by Lot’s heavenly guests.

God proceeds with his decree to destroy the city, in spite of Abraham’s prayers to save the entire region from death by volcanic eruption.

The next gang attack in the Torah was a blood honour killing by the sons of Jacob of the people of Shechem.

Reacting to the rape of their sister Dinah, Simeon and Levi took advantage of the will of the city to accept circumcision and ran rampage through the city as they recovered, killing all male citizens.

Jacob so objected to their actions that he cursed their anger and swore to divide them among the other tribes. It so happens that it is only Simeon and Levi who were not awarded any contiguous land at the conquest of Joshua.

A definitive, judicial response to gang crime is described in the book of judges.

A group of Benjamin tribesmen in the town of Gibeah raped the concubine of a Levite man until she died from her wounds. The Levite, indignant at the lawlessness of these men, cut the body of his spouse into pieces and sent one to the other tribes of Israel with a demand that they act against this unspeakable crime.

As a result, a confederate army mobilised and crushed an opposing army of Benjaminites, thus decimating the tribe.

As a result of this conflict, the tribe of Benjamin was in danger of extinction. Society as a whole is morally responsible for the criminal culture that gives rise to gangs.

The police alone cannot be expected to control the situation: communities are needed to cooperate, although always in a lawful manner.

• Rabbi Ariel Abel is fundraising for Tmimei Lev, a special needs school in Manchester

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