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Rabbi's Week in Review - 1/23/2023

01/23/2023 04:07:10 PM


A lawsuit was filed this past week against the State of Missouri by 13 Missouri clergy/faith leaders. The lawsuit seeks to declare that Missouri’s abortion ban is an unconstitutional establishment of a single religious point of view.  

I am one of those 13 faith leaders, five of whom are rabbis (40 percent of the group). Included in that group are Maharat Rori Picker Neiss and Rabbis Susan Talve, James Bennett and Andrea Goldstein. Besides me, the other clergy plaintiff is Rev. Holly McKissick. Many of you may remember Rev. McKissick’s beautiful sermon delivered to us at Congregation Kol Ami on Rosh Hashanah morning.

The attorneys representing us as plaintiffs are with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Women’s Law Center, as well as private attorneys. In addition to the attorneys, organizations such as the National Council of Jewish Women have also been active in fighting for reproductive rights.

I am honored to be standing with these extraordinary leaders who work to seek a more compassionate and just world every day. For me, this is about (1) not allowing any government to impose its religious beliefs in a way that denies our religious beliefs, and (2) that women’s health and lives are at risk under Missouri’s abortion ban. (Full disclosure: I have been active on this issue as a board member of Planned Parenthood Great Plains long before the lawsuit was brought to my attention.)

Jewish law teaches that abortion is permitted in the first 40 days after conception for any reason or no reason at all. This teaches us that, for Jews, life does not begin at conception. After 40 days, the health of the mother and those carrying an embryo always take priority over the embryo. Different rabbis may have a differing sense for how much of a health risk needs to be present, but all agree that a mother is fully human and an embryo is not. I define health risks broadly, including psychological/emotional health and the risk to that health caused by issues such as economic inability to support raising a child. Ultimately, I take my cues from the person actually carrying the embryo and their physician.

This is not to say my view, the belief driven by Halakhah, should be everyone’s view. That is not the point of the lawsuit. The point is that Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Legislature should not be forcing their religious views on me and my congregants.  

The reality that Missouri’s abortion ban, in many ways, ties the hands of health providers in often dire health emergencies is another motivating factor for me to join as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, of the sanctity of human life, requires us to do all we can to protect the health of women. As mentioned, it is the health of the mother that always takes priority over the embryo she carries.

As Jews, we have always been driven by our struggle for religious freedom, to be who we are without recrimination. This fight continues as we see a rise in anti-Semitism, and in the way a minority of political leaders seeks to impose a very narrow view of white Christian nationalism on all Americans. This lawsuit is part of that fight for our religious freedom as Jews, for all people of faith, and for people of no faith at all.

Thu, February 29 2024 20 Adar I 5784