Rabbi Chernow-Reader speech on reproductive rights

Sep 8, 2022 | Rabbi Jordana Chernow-Reader, Sermons

Thank you for coming out today to show your support for reproductive rights.

I am standing here today as a rabbi, a woman, a mother, a friend, advocating for the rights for women everywhere—here in Indiana and across the country as a whole—to make decide for themselves what they do with their bodies.

Let me be clear, I don’t want to be here. I shouldn’t be here. You don’t want to be here, none of us do, But Jewish tradition commands me to be here. In Deuteronomy 16: 18-19, the Torah requires us to appoint judges who will ‘judge the people with just law’ and states that judges should neither ‘pervert the law’ nor ‘show partiality.’ When judges break this promise as the Supreme Court has done, we must speak up. The Torah shows, again and again, the importance of speaking up about injustice and working towards tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that means healing the world.

Since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, women in this country face a harsh reality. I wish with all of my heart that I didn’t have to be here. I wish we lived in a state and a country that valued women. I wish that our society trusted women, and empowered women to make decisions for themselves about when, where and whether they become mothers. Unfortunately, I’m wishing for a world that could be, not the one that is.

This is especially true here in Indiana, where we know the likely outcome of discussions about abortion in our state assembly.

But I stand here today, to speak up for the rights of all women. I stand here because I will not be silenced. The supreme court does not speak for me. Legislators who proclaim their Christian values and celebrate their religious freedom in trying to limit access to reproductive rights do not speak for me. I’m a proud Jew and my religion requires me to be here because it understands that we can and must do better. 

Bans on abortion and limits on access to reproductive rights are not just an attack on women’s rights. As the National Council of Jewish Women explain, they indulge the beliefs of one religious tradition and in doing so cause great disadvantage of others. The constitution tells us that no one religious group has the right to dictate to others. We should be free to pursue our own right to life, liberty and happiness as we all see fit.

As the NCJW reminds us, Jewish traditions permit abortion. Exodus 21:22-23 makes this clear. In this short story, two men fight and accidentally injure a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry. Here, the Torah states the following: ‘And if men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart and no harm follows, he shall surely be fined’ and continues saying ‘and he shall pay as the judges determine.’ In this case, because miscarriage was the only injury caused, the perpetrators should have to pay a fine.  The Torah also warns that serious injury or the death of the woman would mean that the men’s lives would be forfeit as well. 

 

For more than two thousand years, rabbis have thought that this story means that the two men did not commit murder. This is because life is not seen to have begun until a fetus has been born and taken its first breath. 

In Judaism, life is a precious gift from God.  It is sacred and meant to be appreciated. But it is the person who is already alive who gets priority. Under Jewish law, life begins at birth, when a child takes a first breath. In other words, the rights of the pregnant woman is the priority.

It has been tradition for more than two thousand years that interfering with a patient’s decision-making and limiting their access to medical procedures contradicts the commandment to protect life—the life that is already alive. Today, many rabbis consider abortion an important element of healthcare, decision making and family planning.

In Judaism one the highest values is: pikuach nefesh which means to preserve of a life. The lives I am speaking up to preserve here today is the lives that of women.

Reproductive rights, including access to abortion gives all women the opportunity to decide what is best for their mental health, physical and emotional health and if and when to become mothers. This, not forcing women to continue pregnancies or to repeat the horrors of the back-alley abortions before Roe.  It means protecting the lives of women.   

Already, we are seeing the consequences of overturning Roe. Educated young women, the people we need to contribute to the future of our state, are beginning to move from Indiana to states that value women and offer them choice. Young, healthy women in their 20’s are freezing eggs and getting their tubes tied so they can ensure they have children at a time of their choosing. Parents have begun getting IUD’s for their daughters as young as 15 and the lists goes on and on.

In my decade plus as a rabbi, I have listened as many women have discussed their abortions with me. None came to their decision lightly. But all are clear that their lives were saved because they were able to make decisions for themselves. I have also heard first hand from women who remember an era before Roe and the terror that women experienced during this time

Saving a life—in this case the lives of women—is the highest value in Judaism. This is what we are fighting for today. 

This is what I want for my daughter and all of the daughters of Indiana and our country.

I want trust and protection for women in our state, our country and our world 

We must continue to fight for what is right.

Together we can make our voices heard

Together we can to speak up for women

Together we can vote out lawmakers who don’t value women

Together we can show that Judaism values saving the lives, the lives of women

Together we can repair the world

Together we can create the world we want to live in, the world as it should be

We are starting it                                               

Together, Today

May we be blessed as we do this sacred work of tikkun olam together, today and always.

Amen

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