For decades, the Christian religious right’s opposition to abortion has dominated the debate about reproductive rights in the United States. Activists have spent years pushing states and the federal government toward more restrictive policies; These efforts culminated in the Supreme Court resolution Revoke the constitutionally protected right to abortion.
But Christians aren’t the only people with firm religious beliefs regarding reproductive rights. Judaism not only teaches that abortion is permitted, but compels the leaders of Jewish religions To fight for reproductive rightsSays Rabbi Danya Rothenbergauthor, researcher based in National Council of Jewish Womenand creator Rabbis for Rebroa national network of Jewish clergy working to support reproductive rights in their communities and at the national level.
The argument made by Rothenberg and other rabbis has important implications for law. If Judaism knows that abortions are necessary, then laws that deny the right to abortion violate the religious freedoms of the Jewish people to have it. In Florida, there is only one rabbi, Barry Silver who plays Fa D’or in Palm Beach County State sued to block new 15-week abortion ban from entry into force, arguing that the proposed rule restricts religious freedom and amounts to “theocratic tyranny”. (The judge announced that he would. Temporarily banned The new law, a day before it went into effect, in response to a separate lawsuit.) In Israel, officials announced new policies Aiming to facilitate access to abortion Following the decision of the Supreme Court.
Vox spoke with Ruttenberg about what Judaism teaches about abortion, and the role Jewish leaders will play in the next phase of the fight for abortion rights.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What does Judaism say about abortion?
Abortion is permitted in Judaism, and when the life of a pregnant woman is at stake, it is required. Judaism’s approach to abortion finds its basis in the Book of Exodus. There is a case where two people quarrel, and one person knocks a pregnant woman and causes a miscarriage. And it says very clearly: If it was just an abortion, then the one who caused the harm must pay financial fines as compensation, and if the pregnant woman dies, it is treated as manslaughter. So we see right away that in the Book of Exodus it is very clear that the fetus and the pregnant have a different condition, and causing a miscarriage is not treated as manslaughter. The fetus does not have the same status as the human being born. It is treated as potential life, not real life.
There are two phrases in the Talmud, codified around 500 AD, that say that the fetus during the first forty days of pregnancy is “merely water” and has no legal status at all, which by the way is the same in Islam. During the first forty days, the fetus has a zero state, and since then the fetus is considered part of the body of a pregnant woman – “like its mother’s thigh”. The fetus is an extension of the pregnant woman until his birth. It’s like that old slogan “My Body, My Choice”: It’s literally her body! This is my intuitive logic and it resonates with Ro And the Casey Determine that abortion is permitted until it becomes viable. There is a certain logic to all of that.
I can cite millions of texts over the centuries. We see language that says emotional pain is just as dangerous as physical pain in making decisions about an abortion. We see dignity and suffering as legitimate reasons for having an abortion.
Judaism has repeatedly said that the life, health and safety of the pregnant woman are of paramount importance. Her rights come first.
What do these new restrictions taking place in states across the country mean for Jews who want to have an abortion?
This is a violation of our First Amendment rights. It is certainly a violation of practicing religion freely because it is not only true that my religion allows me to have an abortion anytime it is needed, but also that sometimes I find myself having to have an abortion in order to save my life. The range of situations in which Judaism says, “Yes, the time has come, you need to take care of yourself” is wider than that of the state in places where abortion is prohibited.
There is also a file Establishment condition An issue, because the state makes decisions about when life begins based on a very specific Christian interpretation of what that means, but as I mentioned, Judaism has a very different way of thinking about what a fetus is and how we understand what life is, and how abortion fits into that. The state favors one religious philosophy and perpetuates it as politics and imposes it on atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and everyone else, when we are supposed to be a state for all.
Are there other elements of Jewish tradition that compel you to advocate for reproductive rights?
yes. In the Exodus story, we have the Israelites leaving Egypt and commanding the founding of a new community. They’re like, OK, we’re starting from scratch, this is what a just society would look like. There are all kinds of structures that they are made for economic justice. What the Torah repeats over and over again is the concern for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. It’s the old intersection. The Torah knows that there are people who will be uniquely vulnerable to poverty because of gender, marriage, or parental status.
Not only do we have to create structures that are beneficial for everyone, but also to maintain a focus on making sure that the people most affected are centered and cared for, and that their needs are at the heart of our work to achieve justice. For me, working for abortion justice is realizing that the people most affected by the ban are the people who suffer financially; are black, aboriginal, and people of color; Do young people often try to do this under parental supervision; They are trans men and some non-binary people; They are immigrants, they are disabled people, they are the people in rural communities. We always have to keep our focus on the people who are most affected.
In American Conversation we like to talk about rights – what rights do I deserve? In Judaism we talk about responsibilities and duties. What should I do? I feel compelled to do this work.
What role did Jewish religious leaders play in helping people secure access to abortion in the previous era Ro?
Before Rothere was a network called Clergy counseling serviceIt was a network of Protestant rabbis and ministers working to help people get abortion care. This business seemed like a number of different things depending on where the people were and what the need was. It is very normal for rabbis to be part of the activity at that time. Rabbis for Rebro They pledged to preach, teach, speak and agitate for abortion justice. It is very important that we fight for abortion justice not despite our Judaism, but because of it.
There is a rabbi in Florida suing the state, arguing that the state 15-week ban proposal Access to abortion is a violation of religious freedom. What do you think about that, and should we expect other lawsuits like this to emerge?
The National Council of Jewish Women is watching the issue closely, with great interest, and agrees that the abortion ban is a violation of religious freedom.
Is there anything in this moment that gives you hope?
I believe in us. What can I say? I know that strength doesn’t break easily, I’m not naive.
But I’m a student of history, and I know that when enough people get together and say “no,” powerful things can happen. The way out of this very narrow place, it would be difficult, long and painful, and it would not be without a fight. We just have to be willing to show up and be patient. And it kept coming up even if we didn’t see results today or tomorrow. It takes time and we have to keep working.
The Jewish community is here for this. We show. And I’m really proud of us.