The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles serves the Jewish community based on the core value of Klal Yisrael, Jewish peoplehood. The Federation strives every day to care for Jews in need and celebrates the diversity of beliefs and practices in our community.
Dobbs vs. Jackson, the recent Supreme Court decision, is one of the most consequential decisions in decades. It will transform the landscape of reproductive health and religious liberties in America. This decision has stirred strong emotions in our community, leaving many fearful for their future.
At the core of our Jewish community is the knowledge that we mean something to each other. Conversation is at the heart of Jewish life. We study, discuss, and use our passion to engage with each other. The Jewish community has many voices on the subject of abortion. It is a halachic issue that spans thousands of years and pages of tradition. We have asked the rabbinic voices of this generation to share their thoughts with the wider community. Below you will find the unedited comments of some of our Los Angeles rabbinic community. We thank these thoughtful leaders for their words of reflection and inspiration.
Shlach L’cha tells the story of the scouts that Moses sent out to see the land of milk and honey that God promised them. But more than the land, they were scouting the future. Were the years ahead really flowing with milk and honey, or did challenges and uncertainty await?
The scouts reported back that the land did flow with milk and honey – just look at this single bunch of grapes so large it had to be carried on a frame between two scouts! Yet Canaanites of great stature and strength occupied the land and the scouts thought it impossible for the Israelites to settle there. They describe the promised land as a land that devours those that dwell there. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary tells us that “this phrase alludes to the results of frequent warfare, which ravaged Canaan.” In other words, the human politics made the holy land inhospitable, destructive, and even deadly. The scouts’ pessimism permeated the Israelite camp. They wept hysterically at the report: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt!” At the end of the scout story, God sends the Israelites into the wilderness for their lack of faith, away from the promised land via the Sea of Reeds – the very sea that they crossed to escape slavery in Egypt and gain their freedom. They moved backward, away from their future destination, and were forced to regroup in an uncertain, dangerous land.
We too are reentering the wilderness in our country as millions of people lose access to life-saving and live-affirming reproductive care. This grave injustice will intensify inequality and disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in our society. With the fall of Roe v. Wade, we have every right to mirror the devastation of the Israelites and to lose faith in our leaders. Our future — a future with bodily autonomy and religious freedom for ourselves, our partners, and our children — was just stripped away from us. For some, we now understand on a new level the effects of inhospitable, destructive, and deadly politics. For others, they’ve been dealing with these dehumanizing attacks for their entire lives. Responding with anguish and weeping like the Israelites is understandable, perhaps even necessary. But I pray that we also find the strength to remember the scout who first offered optimism in the face of dismay.
As the other scouts reported on the insurmountable odds of conquering the promised land, Caleb told the Israelites, “We shall surely overcome it.” This grounded optimism leads the Torah to describe Caleb as having a ruach acheret, a different type of spirit. He saw the obstacles but did not allow them to obstruct his clear vision of what the future could — and ultimately would — hold. Though we have returned to the wilderness in despair, may we never forget where we are headed. May our vision for religious freedom, respect for others, and bodily autonomy be regained in our days through the work of our hand. May we remember our duty to raise our voice against injustice, organize for change, and support generously those in need. And may we always remember the power of community to heal, uplift, and seek a better tomorrow.
“Be fruitful and multiply.”
From the earliest words of the Torah, our tradition understands reproduction as a sacred act. All of us who have been — or yearn to be — parents know that it is a process imbued with joy, holiness, and anxiety. We have, many of us, sat in waiting rooms; we have received good news and devastating news, we have walked away with ultrasound pictures to add to baby books, and we have faced decisions we never thought we would need to make.
For thousands of years, however, our tradition has understood that the decision was ours to make, in conversation with our healthcare providers. While there are gradations and nuance, Jewish law is overwhelmingly clear on abortion: It is permitted in most cases; it is required in some. Jewish legal experts have—and will—disagree on when and why abortion is permitted, but our texts are explicit in saying that we prioritize a person’s life—including their physical and mental well-being—over a potential life.
Today, through its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned almost 50 years of reproductive justice, reversing the precedent set in 1973 by Roe v. Wade and triggering laws that will effectively ban legal abortion altogether in more than 20 states. Many of these laws will ban abortions performed after six weeks even in cases of rape or incest. These changes will affect tens of millions of people around the country who may have to cross state lines to seek reproductive health care, if they are even able to do so. Moreover, lack of access to reproductive care will predominantly affect Black and brown women and families, and those who already struggle economically. Make no mistake: Some of those affected will be Jewish women, who are not only losing their access to reproductive care, but also their freedom to make choices consistent with their religious values.
Today was a devastating blow to anyone who believes in the right to choose; it is also a devastating blow to those of us who live in this country as a religious minority, and who suddenly find the teachings of our tradition and the counsel of our clergy to be at odds with our nation’s highest court.
Both our own Reform Movement as well as our Conservative colleagues have been outspoken about supporting women’s rights and reproductive justice even before 1973. This issue is core to our deeply held principles of equality and personal autonomy.
As painful as this moment is, we know that our task is not to give in to despair but rather to raise our voices and take action. We invite you to join us for a gathering of the broader Jewish community this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Leo Baeck Temple to mourn, grieve, express our outrage, pray, learn, and be together. And in the coming weeks and months, we will offer our communities opportunities to learn more and get involved. As your clergy and as a community, we will continue to work to ensure that our religious freedom as Jews — in schools, in the public square, and in health care settings —will not be denied.
We know that, for many of you, this decision is personal. Know that we, your clergy, are here for you and your family as you walk through these moments and these decisions. We hope you will reach out to us as and when you need to. As we head into Shabbat, we wish you Shabbat peace — and Shabbat hope.
Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback
Cantor Emma Lutz
Rabbi David Woznica
Rabbi Ron Stern
Rabbi Sari Laufer
Rabbi Josh Knobel
Rabbi Eli Herscher
Dear TBH Community,
The decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is weighing heavily on our hearts and minds. For 50 years people in the United States have had the constitutionally protected right to abortion access and today those rights are stripped away. While many of us felt this day was coming, it doesn’t make it any easier to bear. We knew today would feel like the end of progress, and yet we cannot give up.
In our Torah portion this week, Shelach Lecha, twelve scouts come back after investigating the beautiful land that is flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land. Ten of the scouts report back with fear and with worry. They state: “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:33). In that very moment, the scouts saw the current inhabitants as literal giants, and themselves as nothing but little grasshoppers…. even smaller than a person. They thought the task at hand was too enormous, and the Israelite people way too small in mind and body to tackle it. Friends, we are not powerless, we are not grasshoppers. The scouts’ limit in size was in their mindset. It is not beyond us to recognize that the task at hand is large as it was for our ancestors. But, we are not powerless unless we choose to be.
Why should we fight back like giants?
- Reproductive freedom is a Jewish value. Yes, Judaism values life and believes in reproduction is a mitzvah. It is also fact that Jewish law requires abortion in the cases where a pregnant person’s life is at stake. And allows for abortion to be an option. This ruling prohibits Jews from practicing their religion without government interference.
- As many as 36 million people — more than half of women of reproductive age (18-49) in the United States — could soon lose abortion access putting their lives and futures at grave risk.
- Abortion is a human right and a significant component to individual freedom and self determination. And, abortion bans have a serious disproportionate impact primarily on low-income individuals, people of color, and young people. The financial toll, physical impact and career issues will fall solely on the shoulders of women.
- Preserving life is important to Judaism, and we know that abortion related deaths are rare in places where abortion is legal, accessible, and performed by skilled practitioners. History has shown us that abortion bans do not stop individuals from seeking and having abortions; they do however stop safe abortions.
- Abortions in many states will likely end with criminal penalties to those seeking, assisting, or performing them.
- And sadly, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade will likely further potential rulings that will limit access to contraception and perhaps overturn important LGBTQ+ protections and rights.
Today, we are hearing and acknowledging that many in our community are upset and asking specifically about what we can do about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade. Here are a few opportunities and more will be shared in the days to come.
- Be with one another this evening as we celebrate Shabbat. 5:30pm Pre-neg, 6:30pm services.
- Gather together as we share a Havdalah ritual for losing abortion access. You can join us virtually on facebook.com/TBHLA or in person at Valley Village Park (5000 Westpark Dr, North Hollywood, CA). We will gather at 8:00pm Saturday evening.
- Join with the larger Jewish community as Temple Beth Hillel co-sponsors a vigil being held on Sunday, June 26 late afternoon/early evening. We are still in the midst of shaping the vigil as details develop check TBH’s Facebook page in the next two days.
- Make a donation that helps preserve access to reproductive care. You may have your own non-profit organization, and we encourage you to provide support there. However as people are asking us here are a few to research and consider:
- Educate yourself by reading about Judaism and Abortion Access.
We know that members of our community each have their own personal feelings about abortion, access to abortion, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ matters. We value each person’s opinion and their right to have and express them.
Praying for Shabbat to bring some peace and joy,
Rabbis Sarah Hronsky and Keara Stein
Dear members of community,
I am upset with the recent decision of the Supreme Court overturning Roe verses Wade. I know that there are many different voices in our community regarding the issue of abortion. I would like to share mine. While I do not agree in any measure that abortion should be used as a form of birth control, i believe this ruling goes beyond that. A woman’s right to her body is a fundamental part of Judaism. Let us look at the marriage ceremony for two examples. The Ketubah is a document specifying a women’s rights in case of divorce. Her wedding ring further ensures her own ‘wealth. The Supreme Court ruling goes against woman’s rights of self worth, the value to choose the life of her body
As a former Public School history teacher, who taught the Declaration of Independence, I see this ruling as a fundamental violation of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The ruling is clearly a violation of a woman’s Civil Rights.
Rabbi Mark H. Sobel
Temple Beth Emet of Burbank
When I read this morning’s news, I felt shocked. I knew that it was coming but I did not allow myself to believe that Roe versus Wade would in fact be overturned. I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt disempowered.
But I did not feel afraid. Maybe somewhat afraid about what may come next. But not personally afraid about the impact of today’s decision. There are reasons that I did not feel afraid including (1) I live in California. And (2) I have the community and the resources to ensure that I and my daughters, will have access to all of the health care that should come with having a body. A woman’s body.
I did not feel the way Laura, whose story appeared in this week’s New Yorker, did. Laura lives in Dallas. She fell in love at the age of 13 with a tenth grader, became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. It turned out to be early enough in the pregnancy that an abortion would not have been against Texas’ recent law, SB 8. However, every local clinic that offered abortions was books solid for the next several weeks. So by the time Laura could go in for an appointment it would have been illegal. The same was true of clinics in Oklahoma and Arkansas. They finally scheduled an appointment in New Mexico. The family drove seven hundred miles to get there. The cost of that trip was so burdensome that they could not afford a babysitter for Laura’s two younger sisters. So along they came, ages 8 and 4, asking questions about why their sister had to go to the doctor. And why so far away.
Laura’s father had himself become a parent in high school. He wanted to have his children but he was profoundly aware of all that he had missed in his adolescence. He wanted his daughter to fully experience her precious teenage years.
You should read the story. It is very compelling. For now, I will simply highlight that Laura occupied herself in the waiting room by watching TikTok. She got a note from the doctor explaining why she would miss a day of middle school. With a supportive father and access to a clinic (burdensome as it was) Laura was one of the lucky ones.
In this week’s parsha, Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the land of Israel. Ten of them come back afraid. “The people who inhabit the country are powerful,” they say. “The cities are fortified and very large. The people are stronger than we are. We saw giants there. We looked like grasshoppers… to them.”
But two spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back and say, in effect, “We’re going to be OK. Don’t be afraid. We can handle this.”
This story is read as a one of faith versus fear. Optimish versus pessimism. Are we going to trust God or are we going stir up anxiety in the masses? Caleb and Joshua are the heroes. The other ten spies are weak in their resolve. They erode our society and threaten our future.
But I understood this story differently this morning. Whether or not we react to news with fear might not be a matter of our inner mettle. It might not have anything to do with how we feel about God or our willingness to turn to faith and trust. It might everything to do with the circumstances into which are born. It might have everything to do with whether we are 50 or 15. And with whether we come from Texas or California.
Here’s what I wish Joshua and Caleb and Moses would have said, “We are feeling strong right now. And confident. And need to — we need to — get to a better place. And you’re feeling scared. And that’s understandable. So we’ve got you. There are giants, yes. But we are going to stand up to those giants. We look like grasshoppers in their eyes. They have big strong fortified cities. In our case, they’re going to hijack the supreme court. They’re going to take a minority extremist opinion and write it into law. They’re going to claim the moral high ground and say that “Roe was egregiously wrong from start.” They’re going to threaten the very democratic foundation of this country.
They’re going to do all of that. And we are not backing down. We’ve got you. We will support abortion providers. We will find ways for you to travel from one state to another. We will send volunteers and activists and money and we will see this through.
And there’s one other thing that they are going to do. They will tell us that they own the religious voice. That they speak for God. But we know that’s not true. We know that liberal Jews, liberal Christians, liberal Muslims, progressive folks of all faiths and traditions — we know that we have a religious voice too. A powerful voice. That believes in the sanctity of life. And the dignity of every single human being to have agency over our own bodies.
There are so many ways to get involved. You’ll hear from us but for now here are two:
You can make a donation right now to the National Council for Jewish Women’s Fund for Abortion Access.
And on Sunday, you can join us at 5:30 PM and Leo Baeck Temple. Also there will be Temple Isaiah, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Temple Beth Hillel, Kehillat Israel, Congregation Kol Ami, Temple Judea. We will Praying, singing, organizing, speaking, listening, raising our collective voices. We’re going to say to all those who are afraid today, “We’ve got you. We’re on your side. We’re not going anywhere.”
Join us on Sunday and for the rest of our lives. Until we’ve won this fight.
Judaism, despite its patriarchal history, and with its non-dogmatic celebration of diverse voices, has always given more respect to women than have its contemporaneous cultures. And not despite but because of Judaism’s reverence for life, the mother’s health and life have universally been prioritized over a fetus’s. A fetus is at early stages, “like water” and at later stages akin to her limb. Only once over half of the baby’s body has emerged from the womb does it take the status of a person. And it’s not about “a women’s right to choice,” though of course to modern progressive Jews like myself that is indescribably important. It’s about our collective responsibility to care for the mental and physical health of the mother. Thus I am not overstating in asserting that state banning of abortion is an infringement upon religious rights, practices and religious liberty for our people. It will therefore fall upon American Jewry to lead the battle for the right to choose. It’s already happening in South Florida. Let the litigation begin! And do not despair.
Jewish law is much more nuanced on abortion than either the Catholic position or Roe v. Wade. The Catholic view classifies a fertilized embryo as a full human being, but that mistakes the potential for the actual, for we have ample evidence that somewhere between 75 to 80 percent of fertilized eggs in women’s bodies miscarry, most in the first month of pregnancy, often before the woman knows that she is pregnant. The Talmud, based on Exodus 21:22-25 and undoubtedly on the miscarriages that the Rabbis witnessed, classifies the developing embryo as “simply liquid” during the first forty days of pregnancy and “like the thigh of its mother” from then until birth. It is only when the head or, in a breech birth, the major part of the fetus’ body emerges that it becomes a full human being. Consequently, feticide is not the same as homicide in Jewish law. At the same time, the embryo and, later, the fetus is a developing human being, and we do have a duty to procreate, an obligation that is especially important to remember in this era when Jews are facing a major demographic crisis. So abortion is required when the life or physical or mental health of the woman is at stake and permitted, according to many but not all rabbis, when there is an elevated risk to the woman over that of normal pregnancy or when the fetus will suffer from a lethal or devastating disease, but by and large Jewish law would prohibit abortion when done for other reasons. In that way, Jewish law is less permissive than Roe v. Wade is.
Jewish law, though, however interpreted, should not be the basis of American law, and neither should the stance of any other religion. This goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who asserted that when Americans overwhelmingly agree on a moral issue (e.g., prohibitions of murder, theft, and rape and positive duties to pay taxes and educate your children), the state may enforce that moral stance as law, but when Americans disagree about a moral issue, the government should leave it to each citizen to determine what is proper. Abortion clearly fits into the latter category. So the new Supreme Court decision that enables states to prohibit abortion altogether or substantially restrict it violates Jefferson’s wise balance of how people of multiple faiths and none can live together amicably and productively. As such, it is bad for mutual respect among Americans and American unity. It is also a major blow to the individual liberty that is one important source of American identity and pride. It additionally violates freedom of religion, for in many states abortion will be prohibited in cases in which Jewish law and the stances of many other religious and secular groups, would require it or permit it. It effectively establishes the Catholic view of the fetus in violation of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. For all these reasons, it is a very bad decision.
For more on a Jewish view of abortion and other related issues, see my book, Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics.
The legal battle over reproductive freedom is significant on its own, and grows in importance because it is the front line expression of a struggle over what kind of nation we want the United States to be. Will America be a nation where some people hold the power and impose it on others, where one religious viewpoint forces its theological claims on everyone else. Or will we birth an America that is truly a place where all are created equal, everyone endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Today, abortion has become the focal point for that encompassing struggle. But the battle is bigger than abortion alone.
Religion & Abortion
My first affirmation is the extraordinary consensus among Jews across ideologies, denominations, and organizations that abortion is not murder, that Jewish law permits abortion for a variety of medical, physical, and even mental conditions. You can see that consensus at play here. If “religious freedom” is to be more than a mask for fundamentalist Christian domination, then know that Jewish wisdom — like the Torah itself — affirms the permissibility of abortion, some rabbis with more caveats and some with less.
There may be consensus across Judaism, yet in a democracy, scriptural quotations and religious doctrine are not really relevant. Sure, they can convey wisdom and inspire the faithful. Should they choose to do so, it is each person’s right to seek guidance and insight from their own faith (or from anywhere else they can find it). But democracies run on reasoned conversation, on evidence, on convincing and being convinced. The teachings of a religion can inspire the people. But public debate lives in the open air of logic, fact, persuasion, and policy outcome. In that way, the teachings of Judaism (as of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or any other conviction) are irrelevant unless and until they can be translated into logic, fact, or persuasion.
Policy and law around abortion cannot be the imposition of any particular doctrine or doctrines. How we argue must itself emerge from a common commitment to fact-based truth (which no one can monopolize), to reason (which is accessible across cultures), and to measuring outcomes.
Law & Democracy
Judaism in its earliest period was a raucous confederation, a society of minimal government intrusion, voluntary leadership that reflected the consensus of Israelite society. Before monarchy, in our formative years, we modeled democracy (long before the Greeks!). Our traditions, and our self-interest, both coalesce around strengthening democracy, human dignity, and liberty.
There is a recurrent impulse throughout American history to expand the circle of human dignity, freedom, and personal liberty. But there has also been a strong despotic reaction, in which privileged groups justify their disproportional power at the expense of marginalized people (Native Americans, People of Color, women, Jews) in which those same self-interested groups impose their own power and perspective, treating their views are the only civilized options.
Self interest cloaks itself in the rhetoric of natural law and moral virtue. Slavery was established and maintained in this way, as was the assault and extermination of Native Americans, buttressing the assertion of White supremacy along the way. Men wrote laws that banned women from owning property, testifying in court, (even attending meetings without their husbands’ consent). As much as the history of this country is one of expanding the circle of rights and freedom to embrace ever growing circles of diverse people, it has also been a battle by some to exclude, to impose, to oppress.
The core of democracy is the principle that all people are created equal, that all people have equal right to self-expression and self-determination, that there must be one law for the citizen and the alien, that it is the business of society to care for the marginalized, the poor, the weak (the Torah speaks of the widow and the orphan). We may differ about how to best achieve those goals, but about the goals themselves, no lover of democracy can dissent.
Abortion rights is one of the front lines of this perennial battle. Can women (especially poor women, women of color) make decisions about their own bodies, or will men step in to legislate their bodies and to force them to give birth. The Forced Birth Movement (they are NOT pro-life!) is one contemporary assault on the heart of democracy. Some want to coerce others to risk their lives, give birth and raise these children (that are often unintended, often the result of rape, incest, assault). Those same groups often oppose healthcare for these mothers and children, oppose programs to feed them or make their schools safe. By and large, those same people oppose paying the poor a living wage or making sure they and their children have access to affordable housing. They often oppose legislation to provide clean air and water so those children can grow healthy. Such a moment is not pro-life. But it is forcing mothers to give birth.
We must stand up, publicly, against this latest assault against women and their humanity. On these points, the richness of Jewish tradition insists on the equal dignity of all people reflecting God’s image, its insistence that God’s compassion and mercy start with the poor and the needy, with its mandate that there is one standard of justice for all, embodied in law. Those convictions dovetail with the brilliant experiment that is democracy: people have the capacity to be self-governing; people can make their own decisions and all society will be better for it. As a society, we all benefit when we unleash the capacity of everyone to thrive and to make their own decisions.
Choose life, my friends. Not in a constricted narrow way that is really a descent back into despotism by the few. Instead, let us walk into a sunlight that enlightens us all: centering and empowering everyone so we can determine our own lives, freely chosen, and can share our distinctive contributions for the benefit of us all.
Rabbi Dr Bradley Shavit Artson (www.bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is Vice President of American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He is also dean of the Zacharias Frankel College in Potsdam, Germany, ordaining Conservative rabbis for Europe.
 Numbers 13:30
We are about to say a prayer. For our beautiful and our broken country. Sometimes the brokenness overwhelms. Not only in the content of our laws and statutes. But in their context. I know that today so many in this room, and watching remotely, and around the community and the country feel broken-hearted. Demoralized. Disempowered. Terrified. Chiefly, and most painfully, about yesterday’s news emerging from the Supreme Court. And what it means for women in this country going forward. And, let’s be honest, what it means mostly for women who are poor and who lack resources, as those are the ones whose rights have been most constrained.
As I empathize with that pain and fear, I linger on a broader terribleness in our midst. The horrifically divided way in which our nation stumbles forward. The awful inevitability that no matter who is elected President in 2.5 years, ½ half of the country will consider it messianic, and the other crushingly tragic. The awful inevitability–representing just how much it is the case that we really are no longer One Nation, whether “under God” or not–that nearly every significant Supreme Court decision that will emerge in the next months or years or decades will lead to spasmodic eruptions of elation on the one side, and lament and rending of garments on the other.
For how long can such a country remain a country, no matter how many beautiful but ultimately anodyne prayers for it are said in sanctuaries such as ours?
Today is a reminder to us all, and I mean to us all, about the vulnerability of powerlessness. We Jews know that vulnerability all too well, and it is existential. And while there are, of course, many women in government, in power and in this congregation who may cheer yesterday’s announcement, an overwhelming majority of the women I know and love and respect feel more vulnerable and powerless in their lives today than ever before.
We all ought to meditate on what is at stake when we are subject to the laws and limitations of powerful people who do not share our understanding of liberty and freedom. And that meditation ought to ignite us to action, using the most powerful civic weapon to exist in modern society: the vote. If, for you, yesterday’s shock has morphed into today’s anger it should transmute into tomorrow’s determination, and translate into your future vote expressing your ultimate power as a man, a woman, an American.
There is much to say about this topic from a Jewish perspective. It may surprise many of you for me to say that I firmly believe that nearly none of that Jewish material is actually germane to a national conversation on the issue. Just as we rightly bristle when evangelical Christians aim to direct national law and policy based on their interpretation of Scripture, neither should the Supreme Court take into account nor worry about this or any rabbi’s halakhic discourses, as if what a Rabbi in Babylonia in the 4th century thought should impact American federal law.
But, it is worth sharing, to this congregation, succinctly and clearly, that the broadest interpretation of Jewish law supports the notion of abortion in many situations, including many situations that will now be forbidden in many states in the Union. And it is worth stating that when the draft was leaked, the national organizations representing the Reform, Conservative and mainstream Orthodox movements separately, somewhat differently, but also unanimously came out against the notion that Roe V. Wade should be overturned. That is not a small thing, even if it remains the case that I am not sure that the RA’s opinion on this, for instance, ought to matter in areas of American jurisprudence.
Jews may not all agree on when and in what circumstances the Jewish permissabilty of abortion should be invoked. But an overwhelming majority of non-Haredi Jewish Americans are and will remain against the roll-back of an American right that had been, seemingly firmly, in place for nearly half a century. That is no small thing.
And so we come to this prayer for our country with some trepidation for the state of our country. WIth empathy to all those, women and men, who feel upturned, rejected, frightened, furious and defeated today. And we pray that the power of prayer itself reveals itself, through celestial and cosmic pathways beyond our ken, and as a goad to action, personal responsibility and a reinvestment in civic life.
I want to say that I, and my fellow clergy at TBA, are available to talk, to listen and to hold whatever range of emotions you may have today and moving forward. Please do not hesitate to reach out.
And I want to say that the Torah always speaks to us, and to the moments we live through. Today, in the narrative of the scouts sent to assess the land, we read a story of the future of a nation. And a story of division. We were reminded that members of the same community can peer into a land simultaneously, with some of them seeing monstrosities, and others beauty. We read the verses that expressed fear and trepidation, and we were reminded that our God pushes us past those emotions towards hope, even when it seems lost, and towards creating the future, the land and the nation we deserve and need.
Like the scouts gazing into ארץ כנען, wondering how and if it could become the promised land, ארץ ישראל, we ask ourselves. What are we looking at? Is it bleak? Or is it within our reach? Will we be cowed by the giants who present themselves at the border? Or will we go and inherit, with grit and with travail and with a sense of rectitude, the nation that is ours?
May we all be up to that sacred, civic obligation.
Dear CPT Community,
Friday was a watershed day for our country. Regardless of our personal feelings about abortion, until Friday, how we chose to deal with the particulars of a given situation, was exactly that, our personal choice. In many parts of the country, our ability to choose an abortion, has been taken away.
The Supreme Court has issued its opinion and it is important to understand that their position is based on non-Jewish religious ideas of when life begins. Our tradition teaches that “Abortion care is health care. We stand with generations of Jewish scholars who state clearly and unequivocally that abortion access is a Jewish value. We recognize that this ruling will place the greatest burden on those of us who are most vulnerable. We also stand with the generations of activists who fought for women’s rights, and we mourn the loss of their work as the rights they fought for are revoked today. The Torah, the Mishnah, and the Talmud – Judaism’s most sacred and authoritative texts – do not view a fetus as a soul until it is born. Rather, a fetus is considered part of the parent’s body until delivery. Indeed, the word for soul – neshama – also means breath, because Judaism teaches that life begins not at conception or with a heartbeat but with the first breath. Therefore, forcing someone to carry a pregnancy that they do not want or that endangers their life is a violation of Jewish law because it prioritizes a fetus over the living adult who is pregnant. This must be understood as a violation of the United States Constitution which guarantees our freedom to practice our religion and also our freedom from the dictates of other religions (Women’s Rabbinic Network).” Our Jewish understanding of when life begins is now in contradiction to the law of the land when it comes to abortion.
And it is not only in the abortion arena that free choice is under assault. Soon we may see efforts to reverse gay marriage and limit access to contraception. Having sex for pleasure and not only for procreation is a Jewish value. When we choose to start a family is our own business. Who we love and with whom we choose to spend our lives is our own business.
In these difficult times, one can raise their hands in exasperation and think “what can I do, I am only one person.” But the stakes are too high to sit back. If we sit back and do not raise our voices to our elected officials to protect the rights we still have, if we do not use our votes to elect candidates that express our values, our marriages, and our right to practice family planning, may also be taken away.
At our July 2nd Shabbat morning Torah Study, we’ll spend some time examining sources and Jewish ideas on these topics. I hope you can join us. You can register here.
Here are some resources to learn more:
- After Roe — Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
- Abortion and Reproductive Justice: A Jewish Perspective — The RAC (Religious Action Center of the Reform movement)
- Conservative Rabbis Strongly Condemn U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Overturn Abortion Rights — Rabbinical Assembly
- American Jews ‘outraged’ over Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade overturn — The Jerusalem Post
Shavua tov, a good week,
Rabbi Jamie Hyams
This is absolutely devastating. Shocking, no. Surprising, no. But that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking for us, and for millions of folks around the country.
There aren’t sufficient words to acknowledge the harm from the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization today. One person forced to be pregnant is one person too many and as many as 36 million people — more than half of women of reproductive age (18-49) in the United States — could soon lose abortion access. This is a moral failing.
The Torah is clear on this issue. Abortion is not only permitted in Judaism, but in some cases required when the life of the pregnant person is at stake. Our Jewish communities have for centuries affirmed the power of human choice. We know all too well the horrors of losing agency; the powerlessness in one’s future being determined by an external decision, by force, or by circumstance.
As Jews, as Isaians, as human beings, will not stand idly by.
Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, writes:
“Pregnant individuals are capable of making ethical decisions based on their own beliefs and medical best interest without government officials imposing their personal religious views on others. We will not be silent as the Court tries to turn back the clock fifty years.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, writes:
“This decision is wrong, full stop. It gives the green light to abortion bans that will eliminate or severely restrict access in nearly half of U.S. states and threatens other fundamental rights, including access to contraception and the LGBTQ+ rights affirmed by Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges. Efforts to restrict abortion access also undermine the religious freedom of people who, as in the Jewish tradition, uphold abortion care as a medically necessary and righteous procedure.”
Yolanda Savage-Narva, Assistant Vice President of Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes:
“[This decision] disproportionately impacts those already facing discriminatory obstacles to health care and other human rights including Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, undocumented people, and low-income people—people in our Reform Jewish community and outside the Movement. We must come together to take sustained action to support those whose human dignity and fundamental rights are and will be violated and stripped away. As Jews, we are commanded to do so.”
As a rabbi, sometimes it feels like my whole job is helping people hold grief. Being with a lot of grieving people over the years has taught me some useful lessons. One that comes up, again and again, is that just because you know someone is dying — doesn’t make it any easier when they die. It is possible to anticipate grief for weeks or months or years and still find oneself reeling when the impossible inevitable happens.
We knew today was coming.
We knew it when the draft decision leaked. We knew it as we watched nominee after nominee wink and smile and lie to Congress about their feelings on precedent. We knew it when we wept during Unetane Tokef the day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Erev Rosh Hashanah. We knew it when we watched in helpless rage as they blocked Merrick Garland for no reason besides that they could. We knew this inevitable impossible was coming and it still feels like a shock.
This is a moment for grief and rage at the audacity of six people (and their craven political enablers) stripping away the freedom of bodily integrity from hundreds of millions of women. It’s a profoundly painful day.
But unlike with the death of an individual, the death of an idea is never permanent. The thirst for liberty is unquenchable and the will of the people on this issue is clear. We will find our way back. We will shelter and protect vulnerable women and those who provide them healthcare. We won’t give up. So let’s mourn, and then let’s organize. Let’s make this the darkness that comes before the dawn.