Speak Also as a Jew

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, June 24, 2022 / 25 Sivan 5782

Summary: Earlier today, the clergy team gathered on Zoom to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion with concerned congregants. Today’s Oasis Songs presents the Jewish ramifications of this ruling.

Reading Time: Four minutes

Today has not been a good day. I find myself flooded with feelings of fury, sadness, despair, powerlessness, and righteous agency. I am awash with feeling.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, I feel it necessary to ask something of each of you. Before I do so, let me begin with a philosophical reflection.

Great and enduring social issues of any era animate people because they become stand-ins for even more fundamental questions about our humanity. Wrapped up in any long-standing issue are matters of liberty and protection, of scarcity and abundance, and of love and fear. Oftentimes the rights of a society are pitted against those of an individual. Our identities and our emotions are inextricably bound up in these serious controversies, which is why such debates are rarely laid to rest; rather, periods of an uneasy equilibrium are reached before social pressures disrupt the status quo. I know this to be true and unavoidable, yet it doesn’t make me feel any better about SCOTUS’s decision today. Ever since the draft document was leaked six weeks ago, we have been expecting this, yet the reality of the court’s decision hurts as though it came out of the blue.

Another peculiarity about enduring social issues is that they can be viewed in dozens of ways. Abortion raises issues about a woman’s bodily autonomy and patriarchy. For many of us, that will be the primary lens through which we entertain this issue. Concurrently, abortion also surfaces discussions about protection of the least of us and the vulnerable, absolutist notions of the sanctity of life, theological constructs about when life begins, and the arena in which personal freedoms collide with societal mandates. All of these are simultaneously part of our ongoing national debate. Let me emphasize the word ongoing, for the court’s decision has not resolved America’s struggle; instead, it has merely changed the field on which this debate will be fought and the strategies that will be required in the ongoing battle.

This brings me to the ask.

Back in mid-May in this space, I wrote that “the Torah permits abortion. Period. Full stop. That’s not a political or partisan statement, it’s a fact. This normative reading of the Torah is inscribed in our Jewish legal system. Are there minority opinions against? Of course, but they are the minority.”

As the subject of this landmark ruling is brought up in your conversations in the days, weeks, and months ahead, speak also as a Jew. Whether you personally support or oppose abortion rights, mention that your religion permits abortion. Disagree with Judaism on this topic if you must but include it in your discussions about abortion.

Educate those with whom you speak that Christian beliefs about when life begins have been inserted into the national debate and have restricted Jews from the free exercise of our faith. Inform people that the Christian reading on this topic shows an inherent deafness to how Holy Scripture works and therefore impugns both the Bible and God’s will; let them also know that your rabbi is willing to discuss that in depth with them if they so desire. As an aside, I have Christian friends and clergy who receive this weekly message, whom I dearly love, and whose faith I admire. I don’t suppose they will relish reading the previous sentences, but today, someone needs to speak for the Jews.

We gave the Bible to the world, and to have it misread in such a callous manner is the utmost in bad manners. It also strips away our moral understandings at the very moment when the Christian scourge of antisemitism has been globalized and weaponized by non-Christians, placing Jewish lives in harm’s way again. Well, they don’t get to claim they have laid to rest their historical oppression of Jewish bodies. If your faith is such that you oppose abortion, so be it. But when you violently insert your faith into law in such a manner that it undermines the faith and freedom of others? Structural antisemitism is alive and well. That is also part of the story of the Supreme Court’s decision.

There will be thousands of institutions and millions of people speaking up for women’s reproductive rights, taking action to that effect. That is as it should be, and here at CNS, we will continue to disseminate information about these opportunities in a manner that is respectful of our diversity and our status as a non-profit.

What there won’t be? Millions of people speaking up for our freedom of religion. Millions of people explaining how Christian privilege once again commits violence against the bodies of Jewish women and perpetuates structural antisemitism. You can be one of those who does. Today I am asking you to speak also as a Jew.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

The Supreme Court’s decision today will have far-reaching impacts in our nation. While trying to remain centered (we all deserve a little peace on Shabbat), consider discussing how this hot-button social issue has been part of your own life and when you first began to form an opinion. How have your views changed since then?

Links for Sensible Gun Control: IP-17 and IP-18.

Link for my sermon after Uvalde, Texas.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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