Abortion ‘not only allowed but necessary’ under our religious law

Rabbi Sharon Mars serves as the senior rabbi of Temple Israel. Rabbi Rick Kellner serves as the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah.

As rabbis, we are invited into joyful and vulnerable moments in our congregants’ lives.

We celebrate the birth of children, and we mourn with those who have lost a pregnancy.

All faith leaders must be ready to nurture the psychological and spiritual vulnerability of pregnant individuals who are faced with the possibility of terminating a pregnancy.

As Americans, we are descendants of those who came to this country because the First Amendment sheltered them from religious persecution. As Jews, we are grateful that our founding fathers saw the need to separate church and state.

With the First Amendment guaranteeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof,” we as American rabbis expect that our rights will be guaranteed not only in our prayer spaces, but also how we apply our Jewish values to life’s critical decisions.

Rabbi Sharon Mars serves as the senior rabbi of Temple Israel, Columbus.

As rabbis, we strive to lead and live in covenantal relationship with the Divine and are therefore dedicated to protecting Jewish law’s foremost concern when it comes to the prospect of abortion: to uphold and take steps to protect the life and liberties of the pregnant person who is in danger.

The conversation around abortion and the status of the fetus begins with Exodus 21:22-23, which Jews understand to mean that the status of the mother and the status of the fetus are different.

A fetus is not yet considered a life while in the womb.

Maimonides, a medieval Jewish legal thinker, who was both a rabbi and a physician, determined that in cases where the mother’s life is threatened, abortion is not only allowed but necessary.

In cases such as pregnancy incurred by rape or incest, pregnancy containing fetal abnormalities, ectopic pregnancy, and so on, Jewish law recognizes the need for abortion in order to preserve the life of the mother.

In these cases, the woman’s health — both physical and mental — is considered tantamount, even as the well-being of the fetus in utero is of extreme concern.

Jewish law insists that life begins at birth, not at conception. It recognizes both a fetus and a pregnant person as having worth and value, but at no point does a fetus ever have more value than the pregnant person carrying that pregnancy.

I am worried for my daughters and for the right of all women to have control over their own bodies. I am worried about the future of our democracy and the ways this decision, should it come to fruition, will set us even further back as a country.

I am worried for the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, which will not function as it was intended in a world where drafts of potential decisions are leaked to the public. And I am worried because this potential decision is yet another example of blatant hypocrisy and the inability of too many to be truthful even to their innermost parts.

Rabbi Hillel Skolnik is senior rabbi at Congregation Tifereth Israel on the East Side.

To quote two such posts: “If it was about babies, we’d have excellent and free universal maternal care. You wouldn’t be charged a cent to give birth, no matter how complicated your delivery was” and “’Pro-Life’ would be 20 Sandy Hook Students starting High School.’”

I make no claims of perfection, and each of us leads lives of inconsistency. I know that, and I own it for myself.

What I do know to be consistently true is that Jewish tradition places priority on the life of the mother over the life of fetus and that in a world that is concerned about mental health, we cannot discount the potential psychological pain and anguish that might be suffered by a pregnant woman.

I know, to my innermost and outermost parts, that it is not for me to decide for someone else what the right decision is for them with regard to their body.

I seriously doubt that Brandeis will ever change its emblem, but what we can change is how we act both as individuals and as a community. May this be a time that we each consider how we represent our truths and values.

God instructs us in the book of Leviticus to be holy because God is holy. We are more than capable of being holy and showing truth even to our innermost and outermost parts.

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