Reproductive Justice: A Jewish Value

Reproductive Justice: A Jewish Value

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

The Alito Letter, or whatever it will be called in the future, set off a fury of reactions. Some are encouraged by the direction it portends, and others are dismayed and outraged by its ominous implications. My Reform Rabbinic colleagues elsewhere are reacting in important ways and in some confusing ways, I admit. Why are colleagues preparing to walk off their pulpits in protest? Why are some apologizing for and mourning the inadequacy of collective efforts and dismissing the possibility of atonement for these “sins”? In the midst of a religious and social crisis, the time for “putting on sackcloth and ashes” has not arrived. There’s always advocacy work to do, a midterm election to vote in, and education to provide. This is a call for action to advocate for women’s healthcare, for personal privacy, and for Jewish religious freedom.

At Congregation Beth Israel, a vibrant and profound Reform congregation, we adhere to the longstanding decisions and perspectives on abortion, which come down to us from centuries of considered interpretation and mindful compassion for women, children, and families. That’s why abortion rights and reproductive justice are both terms we need to understand properly. “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” are not the only terms that define the issues, and they’re the worst ways to describe what’s at stake. As Reform Jews, we are always for life and well-being, but our Judaism — across the Jewish denominations — has been clear and compassionate about the value of a mother’s life, the context of the fetus within thoughtful and religious decision-making, and the ethical and moral environment that we need to preserve for individuals to clarify with their respective rabbis. If the “religious right” want religion to inform abortion, then, in my opinion, let individuals know reproductive justice and seek their own faith leaders for counsel and spiritual direction. To read Reform Responsa on the subject, click here and search for “abortion” or any keyword to find subjects to research:

As your rabbi, I have had personal and confidential conversations with individuals and couples about reproductive choices. Such conversations are difficult, tearful, and hopeful. Out of every conversation that I recall, couples, and especially women, felt heard, emotionally supported, and spiritually validated. If the “Alito Letter” leads to the outcome it portends, it will prevent me and every rabbi from having conversations with Jewish individuals about abortion and related issues. Only reproductive justice with a focus on women’s right to choose can faith leaders play a role in lifting up what we all consider essential, namely, women’s healthcare and the right to choose. “No” and “Never” are extreme words that reflect zealotry in a moment when thoughtful consideration should be given to women whose reasons for abortion are varied and whose ultimate choices rest in their hearts and souls.

Our work is before us: to advocate, to educate, and to vote. These are the elements of our democratic society, and these are still our rights. Don’t despair. Don’t give up.

  • Congregation Beth Israel has been preparing for and will announce a forum on Reproductive Justice. We will lead with Torah education and responsa on abortion, and we will share the stories that have led our Reform movement to advocate for reproductive justice for the sake of women’s healthcare, individual privacy, and a woman’s right to choose.
  • National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) will cosponsor the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, May 17. It is open to all, and you can sign up here.

Ecclesiastes wrote, “A season is set for everything, a time for experience under heaven…a time for tearing down and a time for building up; a time for silence and a time for speaking up.” This is a time for building up and for making our voices heard!


Reproductive Justice: A Jewish Value 3