THE RECENT TRAGEDY in Florida has been a societal wake-up call. While responsible restrictions on guns are reasonable, it seems that we are not dealing with the underlying factors. Let’s be honest; guns don’t kill, people do. And while limiting people’s access may prevent some from using them, it still does not deal with the core issue: What makes a person think he or she has the right to take the life of another?
In Israel, service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is mandatory—three years for men, two years for women—so there is a military presence on every street corner. These soldiers carry guns—even automatic weapons—and Israel has never had an attack like occurred in Parkland. Why does it happen in the U.S. and not in Israel?
I would answer that Israeli education, even in the secular part of the school system, is rooted in Jewish values and teachings. There is a great focus on the sanctity of life and respect for all people. The central principles of Judaism, as enshrined in the Ten Commandments—most importantly, the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not murder”—are an essential part of the educational curriculum.
In the U.S., the focus is on “our rights” and individuality giving each person the authority to define morality as they see fit. Deeper spiritual values are not a primary element of the educational system. Children study mathematics, history and a host of other topics but they do not learn to live up to moral values. Children are told that they have the right to define good and evil, and if a person thinks he or she can rationalize anything, then one can permit themselves to take another life.
The way to combat this is by instilling deeper values in our children and teaching them to recognize that they are accountable to a Higher Spiritual Authority. In the mid-1980s, a system was introduced to impress this spiritual appreciation to American students: A Moment of Silence for quiet meditation at the beginning of the school day. What to think about during this minute or two is left to the students and can be a catalyst for a meaningful conversation with their parents about what they should meditate on. Invariably, many tell their children to contemplate the idea that there is a Divine Being who expects us to live a life of dignity. For parents who choose not to follow religious principles, they can instruct their children to meditate on whatever they choose, including the values of basic human decency and good behavior. This silent meditation avoids entangling state and religion.
Another idea to consider is the type of things our children are watching and the values they are imbibing from them. Movies, TV and video games are filled with, and consequently normalize, violence, even in the cartoons that the youngest of our children enjoy. We must monitor what our kids watch and vote with our feet by turning the dial and ensuring that shows that highlight conflict and violence do not have viewers.
There are no simple solutions. If we are honestly going to prevent attacks in the future, we must take a hard look at the values society is instilling in our children. The Ten Commandments are principles that teach us to respect all human life, and clearly the time has come to emphasize these ideals.
Rabbi Eliezrie is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.