This Shabbat follows the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion. In many synagogues this Shabbat is called “Repro Shabbat,” and is observed as a time for education on Jewish views of reproductive rights.
It would be easy in the United States to listen to the debate on abortion rights and think that the religious view of abortion is that life begins at conception, and on that basis to oppose abortions in all cases. This week’s parsha reminds us that Jewish law takes a different view, and that our religion supports reproductive freedom. Our religious liberties, our health, and our rights to privacy are all part of the abortion debate.
Across our community, we may hold differing views on abortion and on matters of reproductive health ranging from sex education to period product equity, and even on the question of when life begins. However, this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, makes clear that under Jewish law, the existing life of the pregnant person is viewed differently than that of the fetus, which is not granted personhood. Exodus 21:22-23 tells us that if the person who is pregnant is murdered, “the penalty shall be life for life.” But “When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined.” Jewish law does not see the loss of a fetus as the loss of a human life.
Since Jewish law permits and, in some cases, even requires abortion to save the life of the parent, a law that limits the right to abortion interferes with our practice of Judaism. This is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and protection of religious freedom. Taken further, when a healthcare provider denies care on the basis of “religious beliefs” – they are violating our religious beliefs and our First Amendment rights.
The Women of Reform Judaism is at the forefront of advocacy for reproductive rights and Jewish values. The North American Vice President (Advocacy) of the Women of Reform Judaism is a member of our Temple, Shoshana Dweck. Feel free to reach out to Shoshana if you are interested in advocacy on this issue. Additionally, Jewish source materials and action opportunities on this issue can be found on the WRJ website.
Rabbi David Wilfond