Guns and Jewish Ethics | Deborah Wilfond

The American Problem
with Guns Through
a Jewish Ethical Lens

As a new immigrant to the USA, I am deeply disturbed by the magnitude of gun incidents, in which 100,000 Americans are killed or maimed every year. Coming from Europe, where guns are not a major problem, I wonder why there is not more moral outrage in the States.

Pistol Man
Kai Stachowiak

Context is crucial, whether we’re examining the ideals of the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution or the Torah in deciding what is useful to us today in addressing ethical issues. In the West, our established ways of thinking about ethics are very much based in Greek, Christian and Enlightenment thought, which means Jewish perspectives can introduce alternative modes of exploring current issues, particularly in relation to collective responsibility, the value of human life, resisting oppression, the will towards a more just and peaceful society, compassion and care and the avoidance of harm.

In preparation for the Days of Awe this September, when Jews endeavor to attend to the most important spiritual matters of our lives—our relationships with each other and with the divine—I am advocating for a necessary return to greater collective responsibility. It is both intrinsic to Jewish values and, I argue, to the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

Gun deaths in the US feel all the more tragic because they are largely avoidable. The root of the problem lies in easy access to firearms. There is a direct correlation between ease of access to weapons and the high numbers of gun-related deaths.

Countries with the lowest rates of gun violence have legislation to decrease the number of firearms in circulation.[1] The United States desperately needs such measures but is prevented from instituting them by the gun industry and its supporters in politics and government.

Compared with other high-income countries with populations over 10 million, the US has the highest number of firearm homicides in the world.[2] Already this year, there have been 30,000 gun deaths, of which 1,100 were children.[3] Many tens of thousands more are suffering the physiological and psychological consequences of gun-related injuries.

Anyone would have thought these horrifying statistics would be enough to galvanize a sea-change in American attitudes towards stricter controls. It seems nearly every American I speak with is just as appalled but there is despair and a sense of impotence in the face of the power of the gun lobby.

Deaths by guns are often blamed on those at the margins, on criminals and the mentally ill, and on ineffective security measures. The conversation tends to focus on how to better defend ourselves (often entailing more guns), rather than looking at where the problem originates.

According to many legal and health experts, we should be examining the role of the firearms industry rather than focusing on a criminal justice or mental health angle.[4] Professor Timothy Lytton, an expert on tort law and firearms at Georgia State University says, “The real problem in gun violence we should focus on is the firearm industry’s sales, marketing and distribution practices.”[5]

Just a handful of companies dominate the $19.5 billion firearms market and encourage the glorification of guns as a symbol of supposed empowerment by a culture that is increasingly insecure. Gun purchasing is exponentially on the rise[6] with Americans purchasing more than 20 million guns every year[7] and the industry profits massively each time a mass shooting hits public consciousness. Within hours of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, shares in gun companies were up by as much as 8%.[8]

The industry capitalizes on fearful Americans who lack trust in public institutions to keep them safe[9] and are now navigating mass anxiety generated by social, health and economic pressures.[10] In the last decade, buyers cited security as their primary reason for purchase rather than hunting or recreation.[11]

Fear also fuels the market for services and products aimed to protect us against guns, such as: security guards and trainings, domestic and school security measures, alarm and door locking systems, bullet-proof paraphernalia and more. A Forbes article published in 2018 pointed out that the security industry is worth many times more than the firearms one.[12]  Both industries employ hundreds of thousands of people and contribute billions in tax revenues.

The gun lobby’s reach into politics and government is deep and it is wide. A recent survey by the New York Times shows that 49 of the current 50 Republican Senators have received money from the NRA over the course of their careers, many of them receiving millions of dollars each—up to $13.6 million in the case of Mitt Romney. In 2016, the NRA donated a record $30 million to Trump’s campaign[13] and last year, according to OpenSecrets, five gun lobbying organizations donated almost $16 million to Republican politicians.[14]

The NRA claims to advocate for the rights of ordinary gun owners[15] but, in reality, it is a trade association whose sacred cow is the industry’s profit margins. According to Josh Sugarmann, Executive Director of the Violence Policy Center, “it’s very important to understand the political battle in terms of the interests of the industry and in terms of marketing.”[16]

Bullet Hole Shattering Glass
©2017 Karen M Crosby

Parents of school shooting victims are challenging the industry’s irresponsible marketing practices. They argue gun companies have targeted young, at-risk males with ads such as “Consider Your Man Card Reissued”[17] and that they produce ads resembling video games appealing to young men attracted to thrill-seeking behavior.[18]

In the course of writing this article, algorithms detected that I was researching firearms and a plethora of advertisements for guns started popping up on my screen. It seems purchasing a gun these days is as easy as ordering household items from Amazon.

Since 2004, there has been a proliferation of semi-automatic weapons and other types of firearms that are more deadly and those that are easier to conceal.[19][20] Lytton has compared trends in the market with the type and volume of firearms recovered in crime and has found a clear connection.[21] 

Yet gun companies adopt a willfully blind approach to the supply chain, denying evidence linking the industry to gun deaths, lobbying to remove obstacles to easy purchase and persisting in mass production of ever deadlier weapons.[22] Dealers often engage in practices that facilitate diversion of gun products into the illegal market by selling guns off the books and failing to prevent illegal sales to buyers acting on behalf of others.

Clearly, in American culture today, the pendulum has swung in the direction of extreme individualist defenses of ‘freedoms’ overriding the notion of collective ‘responsibilities.’ Such individualistic thinking and its exploitation by the gun lobby have given rise to a situation of widespread loss of life, injury and moral harm to American society, which flies in the face of Jewish ethics as well as other faith and secular ethics traditions.

The gun lobby presents individual rights and collective responsibilities as if they are mutually exclusive, that a right to have a gun overrules our collective responsibility to ensure gun safety for all. There is also the implied suggestion that the individual right to have guns is Constitutional while a collective right to safety arising from gun control is not. But both perspectives—individual and collective—must be balanced for the common good, an idea in fact enshrined in the Constitution.

Both individualistic and collective priorities can be found in the original spirit and purpose of the Second Amendment, which was to provide for the security and the right of citizens to resist a tyrannical government. The Supreme Court’s recent interpretations of the Second Amendment divorce individual and collective needs so that the debate becomes an either/or discussion—either we look after our own needs or we band together as a society. This was never the intention of the Founding Fathers.[23]

Jewish values seek to look after individual needs through collective responsibility. From a Jewish ethical standpoint, we must take responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. We should try to love our neighbor as our self because it is our moral duty.[24] We must work towards a peaceful and orderly society in which human life is protected.

We have a right to personally defend ourselves,[25] however we must not go out and cause harm to others directly or indirectly. If we cause one life to be lost, it is as if we have destroyed the entire world, and if we save one life, it is as if we have preserved an entire world.[26]

In fact, saving life (pikuach nefesh) supersedes all other obligations, and laws can be overruled or interpreted anew if they incur harm between human beings.[27] Each generation reinterprets Jewish teachings according to context and circumstance. It is not a fixed, didactic system but a discussion with multiple voices and opinions and we can add our own as new issues arise. So too, the American legal system must evolve to serve current needs.[28]

Upon closer inspection, extreme American individualism appears at odds with any genuine concern for the wellbeing of actual individuals. Whilst writing this, I met Dr Michael Wolf, an MD from Tennessee specializing in pediatric critical injuries. He said that one of the saddest parts of his job is treating children with catastrophic gun injuries whose parents originally believed that keeping guns in the home was a good thing but, after their child was hurt, expressed immense regret for not having understood the risks.

Gun-related suffering is widespread in the US but suppressed in the American psyche. When horrific mass shootings occur, short-term outrage arises but soon sinks below consciousness again, whilst gun usage is an intrinsic part of film and video game fantasy. The parents of Dr Wolf’s patients were not fully awake to the real and devastating experiences of other victims’ families who turn out to be just like them. The lack of visibility of the suffering is a major problem—its hiddenness exploited by the gun industry in treating humans as tools for its own ends.

Ancient Jewish texts as well as modern Jewish thinkers speak of the importance of acknowledging the full humanness of others. Philosopher and Holocaust survivor Emmanuel Levinas wrote that responsibility towards each other follows from ‘face-to-face’ encounters. Meaningful social change requires consciousness-raising about people’s suffering.

In many ways, the Torah provided the basis for modern ethics of the social contract.[29] The idea that we must relinquish some aspects of personal autonomy in exchange for the protection of our rights by the governing body is found in the laws accepted by the people at Sinai.

In the Mishna there is a discussion of laws of the social contract between people and their neighbors, and of laws that link a person to the divine. The only path to God is through keeping our ethical obligations towards other human beings.[30]

We are not allowed to put a stumbling block before the blind nor cause another person to transgress, meaning gun manufacturers and dealers are accountable even if indirectly.[31] They must not profit by the blood of others or engage in corporate sponsorship of politicians as to do so is tantamount to bribes and perverting justice.[32]

The Rabbis said we must put safety measures in place so as to avoid potential harm.[33]  In this spirit, legislation could be enacted to force the firearms industry to put monitoring systems in place to prevent firearms from being diverted into illegal markets and to require credit companies to track firearms sales.[34]

Guns are idolized in American culture, yet Jews are warned not to worship idols. The Rabbis considered weapons to be an indignity, a disgrace even.[35]

Public Domain Image

The free rein given to the gun industry flies in the face of our collective responsibility not to stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is shed.[36] Every life is sacred, each one of us being made in the image of the divine. When a person dies, holiness in our world is diminished so we are compelled to act against a system that trivializes human life and results in its wanton destruction.[37] We must act to counter the dehumanization inherent in prioritizing profits at the expense of human life.

Ironically, the tyranny that the Second Amendment was designed to resist appears to have been re-created in new forms. As Jews we are particularly sensitive to oppression and must work to free society of systemic abuses—from political corruption to judicial decisions that are unrepresentative of the views of the majority of Americans. We must speak up about the Supreme Court eroding the powers of local governments to regulate firearms.[38]

Many of us feel overwhelmed at taking on the gun industry but we must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed. We can take heart from progress being made whilst engaging more at both grassroots and policy levels.

The US can learn a lot from successes abroad, such as Australia’s firearms amnesty and corporate manslaughter penalties in various countries. International measures taken against the tobacco industry have been effective at reducing smoking-related deaths and a similar strategy could be applied to firearms with the goal of making guns less socially acceptable.

Supporting campaigns and lawsuits brought by organizations such as Everytown, Brady and Giffords will prompt insurers and financial backers to pressure the industry. Just a few gun manufacturing companies wield enormous power in driving market practices so if one or two are made to act more responsibly, it will reap dramatic benefits.

We can raise consciousness about the risks of guns, teach our children about civic values, democracy and about healthy constructions of strength and masculinity. As individuals we can sign petitions, vote, write to members of Congress and Senators about gun industry practices, and examine our pensions and investments to ensure that we do not hold shares in firearms companies unwittingly.

It is incumbent upon us to pursue justice for our ourselves, our children and the whole of society.[39] We need more transparency about the extent of the interests of the firearms industry and the reach of its power. We need to tackle its economic might through a longterm strategy in governance, law and the financial sector. And we need to vote and choose leaders who represent all of our views.

Rabbi Hillel taught: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”[40]

If each of us takes action, we can face the collective challenge together. In taking action, we support each other as holy reflections of the divine in trying to stem the flow of unnecessary bloodshed of our brothers, sisters and children.

Here are actions you can take to help
rein in guns
and prevent gun violence.

©2022 Deborah Wilfond
All rights reserved

Deborah Wilfond

…grew up in London and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University in Scotland.  After completing legal training at the University of Law, she worked in family law in London for a few years. During this time, Deborah went to Jerusalem on a ten-day trip where she met and fell in love with her husband, who happens to be a Rabbi.  They got married and Deborah moved to Jerusalem. There she worked as a yoga and mindfulness teacher while mothering their three rambunctious children. Since 2020, Deborah has been living in New York. She is currently teaching mindfulness and pursuing graduate Jewish Studies with Spertus Institute.


[1] The Australian National Firearms Agreement restricts the use of firearms by civilians. This legislation has been credited with ending mass shootings and reducing firearm suicides in Australia according to a study published by JAMA. In South Africa, rates of violent deaths decreased after the enactment of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 according to The South African Medical Journal. See

[2] According to

See also statistics on



Also see “There is no credible evidence that most mass shootings are carried out by “deranged individuals with identifiable mental illness.” Scapegoating people with mental illness is an easy evasion of the underlying problem in the US—namely, the unconscionable ease with which rage-filled, alienated young men can acquire weapons of mass killing.”  Dr Ronald W.Pies, MD 8/8/2019





[9] According to Scott Bach, board member of the NRA, on June 27, 2016 in a statement to the Asbury Park Press:  “In an emergency, you’re on your own. Some of us have made the decision to be lawfully armed to own firearms for the purpose of self-protection in the gravest extreme.” He also stated to WKXW-FM on May 9, 2016 that “the [State] government has abandoned its obligation” to protect citizens and provide for their safety in certain jurisdictions in New Jersey.

[10] Americans went on a frenzy of gun purchasing at the height of the pandemic

[11] In 2021, 88% of gun owners reported self-defense as their primary motivation.

Recent increases in purchases of firearms are also a result of the widespread introduction of ‘stand your ground’ laws, permitting people to shoot as a first resort if they perceive a physical threat. These laws have been adopted across more than half of the US after intense lobbying by the NRA (National Rifle Association). They have assisted in normalizing the ownership of firearms for self-defense.



[14]  OpenSecrets is a non-partisan, independent and non-profit research group tracking money in US politics.





[19] quoting NYT


[21] Increased production and retail in a given year equate with larger numbers of gun homicides in subsequent years—the same types of weapons reach illegal circulation within a year or two of being sold ‘legally’.

[22] in the civil action case of National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc v. Leticia James NY AG

[23] District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) which overturned 200 years of jurisprudence in 2008 by a slim majority that interpreted the Second Amendment as an absolute individual right to arms. That decision was, and is, highly controversial, contested by anti-gun activists, lawyers, constitutional scholars and many others. It prioritizes individual rights over collective responsibility. It should have balanced the individual right with the ‘well-regulated militia’ clause, which was supposed to guarantee the safety of all through a well-regulated, collective system. The previous stance agreed by SCOTUS in United States v. Miller 1939 was that “the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia’.”

[24] Leviticus 19:18

[25] Rashi Bereshit 32:3-14

[26] Bavli Sanhedrin 37a

[27] Yoma 84b and 85b

[28] The Second Amendment was adopted at a time when the tyranny of the British monarchy was a recent memory and there were no well-trained, disciplined State-run security forces. It was based on an English law that protected Parliament from a tyrannical crown and was never designed to allow private individuals to arm themselves for personal self-defense. Its convoluted language is confusing and has been exploited by the gun lobby to serve its own vested interests at the expense of ordinary citizens.

[29] see Locke and Rousseau

[30] Yoma 8

[31] Leviticus 19:14 “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am יהוה.”  This is a consequentialist approach; its aim is to avoid a situation resulting in harm.

[32] Exodus 23:2, Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 16:19

[33] Shulkhan Arukh (Joseph Caro 16th C): Choshen Mishpat 427

[34] Rambam: Mishneh Torah: “Murderer and the Preservation of Life” Chap 11 on Deuteronomy 22:8

[35] Exodus 20:4. Also see the Talmudic discussion in Shabbat 63a

[36] Leviticus 19:16

[37] “It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it” Pirkei Avot 2:16

[38] The approach of the current Supreme Court is out of step with democratic principles. Governor Kathy Hochul called the recent decision to overturn a one-hundred year old New York law restricting concealed firearms “reckless” pointing out that it puts the people of New York in greater danger and that the ruling goes directly against the wishes of the majority of New Yorkers. According to a Siena College Research Institute poll in June 2022, 79% of New Yorkers favored upholding the New York law restricting concealed carry

[39] “Justice, justice you shall pursue” Deuteronomy 16:20

[40] in Mishnah Avot 1:14

Take Action on Guns | Deborah Wilfond

Take Action to
Prevent Gun Deaths

The American Problem with Gun Violence through a Jewish Ethical Lens

Support legal, advocacy and campaigning groups.

National organizations such as Everytown,, Giffords, and Jewish organizations such as the Religious Action Center and Rabbis Against Gun Violence do valuable work.

Take financial action

If you contribute to a private pension or investments, make sure your money is not being invested in firearms companies (whether American or importing to the US).  The largest brands are:

  • Smith & Wesson/American Outdoor Brands (trading as SWBI/AOBC)
  • Savage Arms/Vista Outdoor (VSTO
  • SIG Sauer (L&O Holdings)
  • Barrett
  • Sturm Ruger & Co (RGR)
  • Freedom Group (Remington Outdoor)
  • 0.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc
  • Taurus International
  • WM C Anderson Inc
  • Glock Inc
  • Henry RAC Holding Corp
  • JIE Capital Holdings/Enterprises
  • Berretta
  • FNS (FN Herstal)
  • Heckler and Koch

Asset managers and mutual funds sometimes enable customers to screen for stocks they do not wish to invest in. If they do not comply with your wishes, move your investments elsewhere.

Sign petitions, vote, write to your members of Congress and your Senators about gun industry practices, and specifically asking for the following:

  • Repeal the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act
  • Reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), a Supreme Court decision allowing campaign financing that had previously been banned for over a hundred years.  The case has hugely negative implications for democratic processes of free and fair elections
  • New legislation requiring gun manufacturers to meet high security standards:
    • to create networks of dealerships that meet high standards of security, record keeping and cooperation with law enforcement to monitor sales and dealers for risk patterns such as close-in-time repeat sales to the same buyer or sales of multiple guns to one buyerto institute a variety of other gun safety technologies (see ‘smart gun’ technologyto refuse to do business with retailers that frequently sell firearms traced from crimes, require retailersto only be allowed to bring child-proof, theft-proof guns to market andto conduct training aimed at preventing diversion into the illegal market and maintain inventories of firearms and ammunition
  • Regulatory oversight so that gun companies are subject to the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission’s jurisdiction
  • Get full funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and fill its position of Director
  • Credit card companies must be required to use specialized merchant number codes to track suspicious sales of firearms
  • An assault weapons ban
  • Full coordination between federal, state and local agencies in enforcing existing gun laws
  • Stock trade reporting requirements for Supreme Court justices and federal judges and for stricter conflict of interest rules
  • New legislation regulating the marketing of firearms:
    • limiting advertising, promotion or sponsorship – as comprehensive as possiblepreventing the specific marketing of firearms to certain demographics (young, at-risk males)
  • Government must produce extensive public warning ‘advertisements’ across all media and packaging warning of gun-related dangers
  • Get CDC research funding
  • Prevent State pension funds from investing in gun and ammunition manufacturers (as has happened with pension funds of public school teachers in certain States)
  • Further legislation dealing with ‘ghost guns’ (kits to build guns at home that have no serial number and are untraceable) under the Gun Control Act
  • Increase taxes on firearms companies

It is not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.

Pirkei Avot 2:16

Organize locally

  • Community workshops and events hearing the tragic stories of gun victims’ families
  • Increase awareness of the systems of large index funds (such as BlackRock and Vanguard) and mutual funds (such as Fidelity and Capital Group) regarding their investments in gun manufacturing companies
  • Educate about civic responsibility and democratic processes in our schools and communities and press for changes to curriculum in the public school system on these topics
  • Social-emotional discussions in our schools and communities on constructions and understandings of ‘strength’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘male identity’/‘masculinity’
  • Change our discourse to link anti-gun violence campaigning with rights based language (take it away from the pro-gun lobby)

Legal advocacy, research & campaigning

  • Explore more avenues of legal challenges to the gun industry via public nuisance provisions under which dangers to human life or detriments to health are unlawful
  • Examine corporate manslaughter provisions in other countries – could criminal penalties be applied to corporations that indirectly cause mass harm?
  • Examine Australia’s firearms amnesty which allowed the anonymous surrender of illegal or unregistered firearms without fear of prosecution or fines.  Could something like this be replicated in the US?

©2022 Deborah Wilfond
All rights reserved

Midrash | Deborah Wilfond

Author’s Note: One of the oldest anthologies of world literature, the Hebrew Bible reflects the human search for meaning in an uncertain world. Themes such as the struggle to understand our mortality, our social responsibilities towards each other, and how we cope with trauma, infuse these mythic narratives.

Many readers are familiar with the character of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Few are acquainted with the story of his wife, Elisheva, who is only mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible. The story below is a modern example of a literary genre known as midrash, an imaginative elaboration of the original scriptural text. This midrash deals with an episode in the life of Aaron’s family when he assumes a new position of leadership on behalf of the people as the High Priest. The story takes place in the desert, after the people have fled from Egypt, received the Torah, and constructed the portable sanctuary. It is written from Elisheva’s point of view.

Tzav (Command)

Stepping inside the courtyard of the holy place, the curtain flap open in the wind affording a brief glimpse of bronze and golden objects twinkling inside the tent, little lights flickering in the gloom. The brush scrapes the ground as I sweep up the accumulated ashes into a heap and stoke the dying embers, their carnelian glow once more flaring into life.

This coming back, this returning to the refuge of my skin, my hair, my lungs, my heart, my limbs, and my joints. Sensations arise in the space within the sanctuary’s bounds, my breath comes and goes, my body settles in as a part of the sanctuary’s covers, beams, poles and sockets—all part of this sacred, intricate design. During our spinning and sewing and forging and hammering, I had got up to tiptoe around, gazing in wonder at the fine linens of the tapestries and special garments, the smooth contours of the tent structure with its furniture inside and the radiant golds, blues, purples, reds of these creations which seemed to be springing from some other place.

My husband has been chosen to stand at the entrance where life meets death. After all our upheavals: the plagues and portents, the running in terror with just the clothes on our backs, across the sea, desert, mountain, the crossing, surviving, climbing. I suddenly aged, deep lines dug ditches around my mouth and eyes, my hair thin wisps of silver down my back. Heat blazing, heartbeat sprinting, joints creaking and then a blanket of fatigue overtook my bones. I ran out of patience. All these years I have channeled my energy into looking after our children, providing nourishment. And I helped with the birthing of hundreds of babies, looking after the other women of the camp, and reaching for them in turn for support.

Despite everything, Egypt beckons to me in my dreams. The ravaging furnace burning down on us, the shuffling dust of the alleyways and the wooden table where we ate and sang together in secret. They still travel with me. I hear the echoing voices of my parents, the jovial chuckle of my father at some tiny delight, a child showing a magic trick.

In this new desert land of our becoming, our grandchildren are starting to forget the language of our oppressors. Soon the camp and our own ancient language will be all they remember.

Yet in the freedom of the camp, I have become heavy with sadness. Two of our four grown sons have grown distant. Recently Nadav and Avihu began to remove themselves from the camp, offering sacrifices many times a day.  They spend hours discussing minutiae of legal precepts with each other. They no longer sit with me, and they don’t want lovers or families of their own. They would rather be shut away discussing the vessels of the sanctuary. I feel a creeping dread as something stirs within my entrails. I wake often in the early hours.

Where is Aaron, my husband?

There was a terrible incident. He fashioned a golden calf when Moses was gone too long on the mountain. Afterwards our people carried out a mass slaughter. The loss of life, the blood, the agony was unbearable.

We rarely speak of it but when we do, Aaron looks away.

“Why did you do it?”

“I was scared.”

“Of what?”

“The people’s distress and fear.”

“Why were they distressed and afraid?”

“The terrifying silence, the emptiness, the feeling of abandonment. Moses was gone so long, and they needed reminding of the essence of things, the candle within. They needed comforting.”

“So, you tried to comfort them?”

“Yes. I thought the golden calf would lift their spirits, create some holiness. I hoped it would remind the men to be like your nephew, Betzalel, our great architect, who channels divine inspiration into his art. The men would also remember they are made in the image of the divine and would return to the work of our holy community, dedicating themselves to the Great Mystery. So, I tried to fill them up with confidence and good feelings, the food and song of celebration. But it turned out wrong. The filling up was a mistake. I tried to do the work of creation for them. This gift, something separate and apart, was a solid object of cold, dead metal which had no room for holiness inside it. Now thousands of people are dead and it’s all my fault.”

Outrage. We couldn’t hear anything in the cacophony of crying. Deafness descended and panic set in once again, reminding us of Egypt.

Burning House, oil
Ester Karen Aida ©2022

Aaron told me he will always love me but now the air where once there was a singing robin is void of our voices. We have created a masterpiece of muteness, Aaron and I, a duet of noise and silence.

Aaron has to atone and then perhaps we can start anew. He and all our sons have to repent, to stay in the confines of the sanctuary for seven days in quiet solitude. Seven days of returning.  Returning to the space within. They are encouraged to dwell inside and tend to the sanctuary with intention renewed, planting seeds for our future.

And after they left for the sanctuary, the rest of the camp has been full of busy activity, people rushing about getting things ready for the consecration of the priests. A jumble of jars of flour and oil and the bellowing of bulls, shrieks of lambs, jostling in pens outside the precinct.

Aaron left and I was alone. Silence entered our tent. I regretted not going to stay with one of our daughters-in-law and the grandchildren. I watched the migrating birds flying away, the pepper specks disappearing until the vault was empty.

They’ve been gone seven days already.  Last night the sun chose its room and prepared to retreat into bed for the night. Dusk settled and I was open to all of evening, sleep overcoming my eyes, indigo.

Then suddenly in fright, it came to the fore.  Tranquility no longer, no more. The darkness descending, the plummeting chain. I awoke there on the floor mat of my tent, heart pounding.

I had dreamed of grabbing and grasping, many people around me desperate, needing to be filled, imbibing until drunk and vomiting. And the earth, enraged, had swallowed us up and spat us out. And all the while the messengers, the angels danced at the gates of the garden, hot and sweating, with their swiveling swords.

We had fled, down valleys and across streams, where beasts live beyond park and pale, amongst the craggy rocks, lurking treacherously behind desert brush. There in a cave were souls curled up on the ground, slumbering, awaiting their turn like scorched seeds waiting for the rains to come.

And as the dream continued, only half alive, my veins constricting and my breath rattling in half a lung, I heard something. A small voice in the night crying for my attention, a new mother in labour. So I fled faraway to the other side, beyond where the horizon meets the edges of the earth to the outskirts of where women’s memory resides.

While my sisters and daughters talked of rupture and absence, our bodies were joined to our mothers’ bodies and those of our grandmothers. And the stories we told, our tears somehow became forgotten in the pain of childbirth. They rise up sometimes in other dreams, struggling to be heard and seen above the comings and goings, the babies’ cries and the pots and pans. They drop back down underneath the embroidered covers, burrowing.

Now so suddenly and brutally awake, shaking off the sticky cobwebs of dreams, I get up and go outside to a wide-open night sky and a bony moon. The walk is lonely, past thorny bushes black at this time of night, then the sandy earth beneath bare feet. Coming down an undulating slope, there is the glow from the sanctuary.

Someone is looking out, returning my gaze, a movement and a glimmer. Between the flaps of the awnings a presence lingers, peering from her bedroom out into the night. Her eyes open wider, and I see the two onyx stones. And a wind blows through the courtyard of the sanctuary, the curtains momentarily sway, and I see a swell within her, she is with child. New life within her shifts its tiny limbs. There is another ripple of wind, and the linen fabric of the enclosure settles once more under the restful dreaming moon.

The sky is going grey. Aaron and our sons bide their time in the sanctuary precinct, reminding me of my monthly time in the women’s tent. Outside the camp for seven days, bleeding out the beasts of sacrifice, they too are humbled. Seven days finished, echoing the seven of fullness, like the promise of a pregnant belly.

Marigold Picking, pastel
Ester Karen Aida ©2022

So as not to wake anyone, I tiptoe around the courtyard, peeking behind the drapes. There they are, all tucked up in their blankets, my husband, my grown boys. Calm, harmonious rhythms of breathing in, breathing out. Such love for that smooth, bald head, those lines around his crinkled eyes, all those whispering sighs. Here is the abundance of roots deepening down and branches reaching up, sap rising from my tending and protecting.

Turning and looking around, here again is the wondrous architecture of the sanctuary and I wonder about the placement of furniture in this impermanent home.

So too I wonder about the hidden secret place, and I start to wander, to look for it. Ever so quietly, smelling the sweet frankincense and myrrh, I run my hands over the smooth gold of the candelabra. 

Then I see it. The inner curtain. I peek round it and see gazing winged angels, their eyes beholding each other with tenderness and passion.

Suddenly I am transported back to Egypt. I am in my mother’s clay brick house, but she is not there. I touch her robes hanging up to dry, and, parting them, I find something behind that I have never seen before.  A golden door is set in the wall. I open it and an underground tunnel leads me all the way along its twists and turns to a cave with a warm, round, bubbling brook at its centre.

I blink, and once again find myself in the sanctuary, touching the inner curtain. The first threads of sunlight appear on the rosy strips of tapestry and light up the acacia and bronze. I hurry out, quietly, quietly, back to the courtyard and look up at the full array of colors filling the firmament.

I need to get home to the camp, to prepare celebratory cakes and return later for the festive occasion. Soon we will be a family of priests, chosen to serve in the sanctuary and there will be rejoicing and feasting.

Slipping towards the camp now, long nightdress damp and dirtied underfoot, needing a wash. Plans formulate, the mind steadies for lists and busy-ness once more. The daughters-in-law will arrive soon with the children. Cleaning, clearing, chopping, baking, feeding, holding, caring.

The Gate You Only Go Through Once To The Path That Leads Nowhere
Gerald Shepherd ©2022

Before I reach the top of the hill, he calls my name: “Elisheva!”

My name, yes, my name! Elisheva. It means my God’s oath, or my God is seven.

I look back towards the sanctuary.

Aaron is by the entrance, smiling: “Seven days are complete, my love, my bride. I’m about to take my oath of service and we will be reunited again.”

Here he is at the entrance to the sanctuary, waiting for the Divine Indwelling to call to us, to meet us.

And a still, small Voice can now be heard, barely audible above the desert wind.

“How will I see you?”

“We’ve been searching foreign lands our whole lives for signs and wonders.”

And the Voice asks: “How will I hear you?”

“We couldn’t hear each other. We couldn’t hear above the cries of our people enslaved next to the mighty river. We had been deaf, under water.”

And the Voice asks: “How will I touch you?”

“Our skin was like the scales of a fish, floating dead in the Nile.”

And then the Voice tells us: “I’m waiting for you to be more intimate with Me. Return and listen, feel my pulse, sing prayers in my holy space, pour out your heart, wait for me.”

As the blue brightens and the air is turning, lifting me into the morning, I see the bull. Once a calf, now transformed and grown, destined for sanctification on the altar, a transformation into smoke and suet. They will pour out its blood. What a sacrifice, this perfect life to be taken, this valuable possession, so that we may live.

And I turn away from the pungent smell of burning animal brought on the wind. Aaron’s shame disappearing in smoke. The bull diminishing, my heart heavy for the breaking of life but now remembering our wedding; how I had looked at the smashed glass and became conscious of our flaws, the messes we make. Each created thing has its place and time.

Now the bull’s life-force is being released, the germinating seed is cracking open, roots traveling inwards and burying down, down, down and sprouts stretching upwards. My grandchildren come and they cling to me and together we see Aaron re-emerging.

The preparations are finished, the washing, the anointing and here he is, here he is, here is Aaron coming out in his glorious vestments. The excited whispers of the crowd grow as we look on.

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.

And I am a part of it, too, I am there, a part of two, the other ear, thumb and toe anointed in oil.

And I am a part of my sons, too. They emerged from my womb.

My heart listens for the footsteps, the life of the fire dances within and without, awaiting; the back of my neck, the insides of my wrists, my thighs, my palms, my nose, my lips anticipate your taste.

We sing together inside our sanctuary.

Inside you will see and hear and touch, in here, we’ll find part and parcel of Us, you and me, and me and you and this vanishing view.

The scarlets, blues, purples of this garden, these embroidered robes, the golden sunlight engraved on the head-dress, the gemstones, the flowers glittering and glorious and dazzling. The bells and the pomegranates and the vegetation quiver and breathe their aliveness.

You emerge and, my love, I emerge, and the butterfly, my love and I can feel it in our bodies and we can fly.

And the garden sanctuary beckons, its warm earth, delicate rains, vast expanse of air, sun, almond blossoms, and the nothingness and the everything within.

Text ©2022 Deborah Wilfond
All rights reserved

Deborah Wilfond

…grew up in London and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University in Scotland.  After completing legal training at the University of Law, she worked in family law in London for a few years. During this time, Deborah went to Jerusalem on a ten-day trip where she met and fell in love with her husband, who happens to be a Rabbi.  They got married and Deborah moved to Jerusalem. There she worked as a yoga and mindfulness teacher while mothering their three rambunctious children. Since 2020, Deborah has been living in New York. She is currently teaching mindfulness and pursuing graduate Jewish Studies with Spertus Institute.

Purim Shpiel | Michael Dickel

The Jewish Festival, Purim, occurs March 16–17 this year, 2022 (17–18 in Jerusalem). This BeAttitude, from The BeZine, March 2017, is a part midrash and part Purim shpiel, with a bit of exegesis after the poem. If you don’t know what midrash is, see Deborah Wilfond’s Midrash following in this issue for a description and example of modern midrash. A Purim shpiel is a drama-carnival done for the holiday, usually humorous, often satirical, related to The Book of Esther.

Purim Fibonacci

that carnivalesque

masquerade Persian New Year
of the Jewish Calendar rests
Carved wood mask
Nacius Joseph (b. 1939)
Haitian Sculptor
in the arms of Mardi Gras, an
upside down play of masked and
unmasked images dancing
at the party while Purim shpiel
stages a drama: unfolding
parody, satire, commentary—
the whole Megillah. And
who puts on an Esther mask
on the way to the
Beverly Hills Purim Ball, but Hadassah
herself, on her annual pilgrimage
to the festivities of inversions.
Nu, who do you think inspired
the Rabbis to write in the Gemara
that Jews should get so wasted
that they cannot distinguish


between "Blessed" Haman and

"Cursed" Mordechai, if not Vashti?

Vashti, who released herself
from the lustful gaze

of her husband's court,
now wears the death mask of that
same Ahashuerus who banished

his Queen to her freedom.
The Tel Aviv Opera Purim Ball
rejoices in the refractions
of self and story—politics
of the beauty contest

Wood mask
Artist unknown
for the virgin, check or mate.
Revelers cheer an Uncle arrogantly
dressed in mourner's cloth
who entered her in competition,
then stripped her of her mask
to save their people,
while letting his people massacre
others—another masquerade.


And in Tel Aviv and Beverly Hills,

the masked dancers
drink up the casts
and no longer recall

the difference
between good and good,
mask and masque—

so many layers
of truths, peeled
one after another,
as the frenzied forgetting
tears off masks over masks,
Angel of Time, oil painting
©Licka Kerenskaya
layered like ancient rubble
under old cities and their tels,
like history and politics,
like geology and religion,
until what lies beneath
and beneath again
barely glimmers
in the eyes


of the masquerade.

And Hadassah laughs,

dancing freely with Vashti,
two lovers at last

hidden and unhidden
at Tel Aviv and Beverly Hills
Balls—globes of pleasure

circling the world
in three complete lines
forming seventy-two
masks, each one
a part of the whole.
Michael Dickel

Anonymous commentator
Digital art from photographs
©2017 Michael Dickel

The poet dons the mask of commentator, but the poem always wears at least one mask in the presence of the poet, so beware. And, if the poem reveals (a) different mask(s) to you, dear reader, please explore. The poet does not trust that any poem reveals all of its masks at any one time, especially to the poet.

The Jewish holiday of Purim celebrates the tale told in The Book of Esther, a story that, remarkably, does not once mention G-d. Set in Persia, which rules over the Jews at the time, The Scroll of Esther (or Megillah) layers many levels of deceit and masquerade, and the tale turns on itself in many ways.

Book of Esther

The King of Persia, Ahashuerus, banishes his Queen, Vashti, when she refuses to dance in front of his guests. Mordechai urges his niece to enter the beauty contest held to replace the queen, but to hide that she is Jewish (and probably not eligible to be queen of Persia). So she uses her non-Jewish name, Esther, instead of her Jewish name, Hadassah, wins, and becomes Queen Esther.

Meanwhile, Haman, the viceroy to the King, hates Jews and especially Mordechai, who refused to bow before Haman, and who is in the story honored for revealing (through now Queen Esther) a plot against the king. Haman has to lead him through the streets on a horse, Mordechai dressed as a king, Haman’s own idea of how to be honored—which he is asked to tell the king at a party, perhaps a masque (Haman thinks it’s for himself that the King wants to know how to honor a person).

Haman, whose orders are like the King’s own (another mask), plots the hanging of Mordechai and the genocide of the Jews. While the rest of the city celebrates an occasion of state (the defeat of Jerusalem), Mordechai dresses in mourning because of Haman’s plot against his people. However, this is an act of treason during the celebration. He thus shames Esther into unmasking herself to Ahashuerus, who reverses Haman’s murderous order when he learns his wife is a Jew.

Purim mask

Jews celebrate Purim as a day of deliverance from death (and genocide). However, the rescinding of the order came too late to the walled cities, which had to fight to defend themselves (under dispensation of the king). So, the celebration of Purim as a holiday is one day later for the cities that were walled cities at the time of the story (including Jerusalem and Tiberias—this is called Shoshan Purim).The scroll ends with the recounting of Haman’s hanging and the killing of his kin, the death tolls from the battles at the walled cities, an unmasking, perhaps, of another form of genocide—in the name of defense.

The Poem

The date of the holiday itself loosely coincides with Carnival (Mardi Gras) and the Persian New Year. Jews celebrate with Purimshpiel (Yiddish for Purim stories, usually in the form of plays—traditionally, parodies and satires on current events using the story of Esther) and by donning costumes and masks, holding parties (balls), and getting drunk. Yes, the Gemara says that Jews should get drunk enough that they no longer know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, respectively, the male villain and hero of the story of Esther. Perhaps it is to make up for Eden and the whole Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thing. This poem could be read as a sort of Purimshpiel variation.

Donning masks
Digital art from photographs
©2017 Michael Dickel

The donning of masks allows us to hide who we are, but masks also reveal who we are, or an aspect of who we are that is usually hidden. Carnivalesque masquerade allows us to try on aspects of ourselves or display those energies that we normally repress or hide (perhaps in a closet somewhere, with the costume). Drunkenness allows forgetting, but also disinhibition and release. Perhaps we learn of the capacity of good and evil within ourselves, as well as about those other parts of ourselves that would otherwise be “masked” by everyday existence.

So, the poem has Hadassah, the Jewish girl, wearing the mask of her alter ego from the story, Queen Esther. Yet perhaps this is an aspect of her all along? Perhaps we all have hidden “royal” qualities? Esther replaced Vashti, who was banished by King Ahashuerus for refusing to dance (naked) before him and the court. And Queen Vashti, in the poem, wears the mask of the king. He banished her from the court, but to where? Did she stand up for her own self-respect by refusing to succumb to what, centuries later, a feminist film critic would identify as scopophilia, or the male gaze? Was her banishment a freedom? How does gender play through this story, that seems to focus on men, but relies on a woman at its center, perhaps two women, if we look more closely at Vashti?

The poem suggests in its own center that masks unveil as we peel them, but also there is the hint that they reveal at each layer (like the layers of rubble beneath old cities that mound into tels, which hint at the history of the eras of the city; and like the layers of both geology and religion, which are ancient with something hot and molten at the core, like our own psychological being). This move to the psychological enters the mystical, with the masked women, who appear to be King Ahashuerus and Queen Esther now that they wear their masks, dancing together (yet at separate balls, one in Beverly Hills, its own masquerade and center of Hollywood glitz and glamor, and the other in Tel Aviv, the “new city” of Eretz Israel). This is like the Malkhut and Shekhina, or Shabbat (King, or male aspect of G-d) and Bride ( Queen, or feminine aspect of G-d).

Arithmetic or is it geometry?

And then comes the poem’s mysterious end, which references Exodus 14:19-21 the three lines of Torah that, with 72 Hebrew letters each, Kabbalists believe can be permuted into the 72 Names of G-d. The poem suggests that these Names are both masked and masks (that hide or reveal?)—their hiddenness echoes the hiddenness of G-d in the text of Esther, and the ineffability of divinity in all of its guises.

Purim mask

The stanzas follow a sequence of line numbers each, counting the first line of three dots (which wears the mask of the title). The pattern goes (before the title, think of 0): 0 lines (an extra line break marked with … before the sections that follow after the first one), 1 line, 1 line, 2 lines, 3 lines, 5 lines, 8 lines. This pattern repeats three times (for a total of 60 lines), then goes 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, for a total of 72 lines, like that number of Hidden Names.

The sequence of numbers used (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8) is the first part of an infinite series, known as the Fibonacci sequence, that has many interesting relationships in math and nature, including the pattern of sunflower seeds in their flower, unfurling fern heads, and, significant to Jewish mystical allusions, the branching of trees.

The Hebrew word for life, chai, has the numerical value of 18. Twice chai, or double life, is 36. Double that, and…72. That the number of lines in the poem equals 72 probably doesn’t mean much more than that our lives are not singular, but layered with intersections of meanings.

Explore more
The author in costume, Purim 2017
Photo ©2017 Aviva Dekel

Wrestling with Esther: Purim Spiels, Gender, and Political Dissidence by Emily Nepon— a modern Midrash that informs this poem.

Purim and the Masks We Wear by Ari Kahn— a commentary that, while coming from a very different perspective, has some interesting background from traditional Midrash.

The Astounding Achievement, Maybe, of the Man Who Definitely Wasn’t Fibonacci by Dan Friedman— an interesting article about Fibonacci from LA Review of Books, reviewing Keith Devlin’s book that covers his experience researching and writing a book on Fibonacci.

This originally appeared in The BeZine March 2017, and is a lightly edited version of :

Dickel, M. (2013). Drash Meets Mosh: Purim: A Fibonacci Sequence? (Column). Drash Pit . February. Online. Original url: (no longer active). Archived.

©2013 original, 2017 edited version Michael Dickel
All rights reserved