In our country a fight is raging over abortion. Judaism and Christianity have different views on when life begins. For Christians, life begins at the moment of conception. In their theology, this is the moment the soul enters the body. Judaism take a different approach. In our theology, life begins when a baby emerges from its mother womb and takes its first breath. The Hebrew word for breath, Neshima and the Hebrew word for soul, Neshama, are from the same root. In Judaism, breath and soul are intertwined. When we take our first breath we receive our soul. When we exhale our last breath, we release our soul which had been temporarily housed in the Temple of our body.
The controversy over abortion is a theological debate about when human life begins. Different religions hold different views. Science describes how a fetus develops physically. Science cannot measure spiritual development, nor can science determine when one receives their soul. This is the realm of religion and belief.
The First Amendment guarantees a separation of religion from government. It is meant to protect people’s freedom of religion from the tyranny of a particular church and its theology.
Our Torah, written more than 3,000 years ago, permits abortion. The Talmud, the foundation of Jewish law written about 2,000 years ago, permits abortion. The recent abortion bans in this country limit our Jewish religious freedoms to live by our theology. We do not seek to impose our theology upon others. Our First Amendment Rights should protect us from others imposing their theology upon us, as abortion bans do.
This week’s Torah portion contains the source in Jewish law permitting abortion. The Women of Reform Judaism have designated this Friday as “Repro Shabbat,” a time to learn about the Jewish Views of Reproductive Rights. Please join our Shabbat Service on Zoom tonight for a sermon on Judaism and Abortion. We will also honor our Sisterhood which is our local chapter of the national Reform movement’s “Women of Reform Judaism.”
Rabbi David Wilfond