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A Message From Your Clergy: The Jewish Lens on Abortion Rights

May 12, 2022 | Messages From Leadership | Repairing the World

This email was sent to the congregation on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

Dear Central Family,

We read the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion re: Roe v. Wade with deep concern last week. While the anti-abortion position is often framed as a religious imperative to preserve life, that interpretation is incomplete to the point of inaccurate, especially when it comes to Jewish tradition.  

First, Judaism compels us to stand for all life, including and chiefly the life and health of a pregnant woman.  Second, our tradition does not posit that life begins at conception. A fetus is considered “potential life” and treated with great significance, but not given higher status than the pregnant person. If the fetus endangers a woman’s life physically or through mental anguish, Jewish law views the fetus as a rodef, an endangerment ‘in pursuit’ of the pregnant person. Federal and state laws that ban abortions even in the case of physical threat to a pregnant person are an explicit violation of Jewish law and our principal value of pikuach nefesh—saving a life. This is not only the position of Reform Judaism, but of traditional Jewish law (halacha) throughout the centuries and across denominations, as reflected by the Orthodox Union statement last week.

Historically, we know that abortion bans do not stop abortions; they only stop safe abortions. And we have already seen the disproportionate harm done by abortion bans on people of color, young people, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and the uninsured.   

Even as Jewish law would unequivocally sanction abortion when a fetus imperils the life of a pregnant person, we would never coerce someone of another faith to abort because of our values and religious law, nor would we seek to enshrine our Jewish law as the law of the land. But we also cannot countenance the co-opting of God’s name to claim "religion” opposes abortion.  

We do not for a moment discount or minimize the complex and varied personal feelings that our congregants may hold about abortion. But as a Clergy team, it is incumbent upon us to offer the Jewish understanding of life and personal agency.  

As always, we value discussion and wish to provide meaningful opportunities to share, connect, and question. If you are interested in learning more about reproductive rights through the Jewish lens, we invite you to join us and the Central community for two upcoming programs:  

  • Learn what Jewish tradition and text have to say about abortion in a virtual one-session class with Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, from 7:30–8:30 pm. Central members, Neighbors, 20s–30s, and students of the Center for Exploring Judaism should check their email for the registration link.
  • Join Rabbi Ari Lorge for a conversation with Supreme Court journalist Dahlia Lithwick. Lithwick brings both an expertise in Supreme Court reporting and a strong personal Jewish sensibility, and we look forward to hearing her perspective. Details and date forthcoming. 

Finally, you may wish to attend the The Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

A world that is consistent with the Jewish love of life is a world that protects the health, autonomy, liberty, and dignity of all people. That is the world we seek to create together. 

Your Central Synagogue Clergy  

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