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"Rabbis & Abortion" by Rabbi Joey

I’m a religious Jew. I pray in the morning, routinely study the text of the Bible in the original Hebrew. In fact, not only do I read it, I weigh the thoughts it has inspired in powerful teachers over the centuries. In the case of Judaism, readers have always enlarged the written word, made it take flight, yes, but in so many ways, rooted it in real-life contexts.

The reality is that one in four women will have an abortion at some time in their lives. And the reality is that five men (and one quite like-minded woman rushed into office by some who have given the word unprecedented, well, a new life) wish to preempt the arduous personal decisions of this quarter of our nation. And, by trammeling those who identify as women, at a distinct disadvantage for having uteruses or biological complexities unknown to cisgender men, the highest court of the land offers up a picture of salvation that the founders, for all their vices, would enjoy.

Or so these justices say, despite the fact that more than half of this country doesn’t go along with the case they are making. Nor does Jewish law.

As rabbis, we have qualms with this interpretive gloss. We feel deeply the disruption in the second chapter of Genesis, where, in accord with the mystical book The Zohar’s rendering, “the river flowing from Eden watered the garden” moves us forward too. In that dreamlike scene, women’s desire and enfranchisement are forever connected with dreams of new beginnings.

We delve into the Talmud, one part colloquy, one part spirited donnybrook. The Talmud barks at pompous overreach, peers into the heart-wrenching stories of people living their lives. Seen through a Jewish prism, the misery of a fourteen-year old raped by her stepfather — or a twenty-two-year old who had plans to start her own business and was careful about birth control and still became pregnant, would shine light on the cards stacked against them. They cry out for a clearer reasoning, for compassion, for a woman’s right to make her own choices in privacy.

The rabbis would say: What do you say for her? Does your fatuous opinion still apply? Is she not God’s creature? And Jewish authorities respect that a mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing, in fact, takes priority to the life of a fetus. Within the last century, the Tzitz Eliezer wrote that, in the case of a pregnant woman, that “suffering and emotional pain in great measure are greater and more painful than physical pain.” And the eminent Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein noted that “issues such as kevod ha-beriyot (dignity of persons), shalom bayit (domestic peace) and tza’ar (pain), which all carry significant halakhic weight in other contexts, should be considered in making these decisions.”

In our imaginations, Eden is a garden that should be cultivated, after all. And, if the draft of a Supreme Court opinion that circulated the other night is to believed, it’s the equivalent of spraying with Roundup.

Some of us can remember all too well what it was like before 1973. I can recall the trips out of state to clinicians who were questionable, or whose payments were high — high enough that it led to myriads of unsafe procedures for women who could ill-afford them. Trips made in darkness. I know the toll this exacted on our society, and realize that every family in America would be affected by this rolling back of jurisprudential wisdom. And I am morally outraged that, in the name of religion, a few are claiming a monopoly that is heartless and anything but sacred.

Published on "Medium" by Joey Wolf, Rabbi Emeritus of Havurah Shalom

Sun, January 29 2023 7 Shevat 5783