I, like many others, especially in the Jewish community, are reeling from this morning’s decision from the Supreme Court: the 50-year-precendent Roe v. Wade was overturned, eviscerating an established constitutional right and allowing government to exert control of bodily autonomy.
Today is a day filled with sadness and rage. The conservative long-game has won. Donald Trump’s ability to seat three (three!!!) Supreme Court justices is paying dividends. Roe v. Wade was decided in July, 1973. I was born six months later. I have never lived during a time when this fundamental right did not exist. And here we are.
The Jewish view of abortion is well documented. While Judaism, like other faith traditions (like many people, I would assume) is not pro-abortion in the sense that it is desirable, it is permissible. Judaism teaches that life begins at birth, that a fetus is a part of the carrier, and that the health of the parent takes precedence over the life of the potential child. Judaism is both sensitive to the loss and grief that comes with fetal demise, and open when it comes to decision-making about ending a pregnancy.
It has been pointed out and argued that governmental bans, therefore, are a violation of religious liberty in that they enshrine in the law one particular religion’s approach to life without accommodating different religious perspectives. That is certainly the case, and we need to identify the role Christian hegemony in this country (and particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity) has brought us to this moment.
But that is an incomplete story, as we know, as this is also an issue of patriarchy. Of the perpetual project of men to control the lives and bodies of women. (The attack on transgender health care is another expression of the desire to control bodily autonomy.) Our institutions going back millennia–and I include Judaism in this–are created by men for men and thus therefore seek to categorize and control those who are not men. Men throughout the generations have witnessed the tremendous power it is to gestate and create life, and rather than honor those who possess it, sought to limit it.
The decision this morning is just the latest iteration, as a majority of men made a consequential decision that goes against precedent, progress, and popular opinion. A decision that privileges a theoretical reading of a text over the real lived human experience. A decision that favors the possible over the actual. (Ironic too as in the day before, by limiting gun-regulation, the Court expanded the ability to take away life in the name of “self-defense.”)
In the Torah portion this week, Shelach Lecha, Moses sends out spies to scope out the land of Canaan in advance of the settlement of the Israelites. Twelve are chosen–one from each tribe–and they return with the same report: the land is rich and abundant, and the people living there will make it difficult to inhabit. A majority of ten of the spies try to dissuade the people from moving forward over the objections of the minority of two. The people rebel, and are punished by 40 years of wandering in the desert.
The opening words of the portion are explicit: “Shelach lecha ANASHIM, send forth MEN.” While this has been translated as “scouts,” or “spies,” the literal meaning is just that: “men.” And not surprising too as the Torah is a text rooted in patriarchy, with men as the leaders of the tribes, the priesthood, the community institutions as a whole. (Isolated examples like Miriam notwithstanding.)
Shelach Lecha is a portion in which a majority of men make a decision that sets a community back 40 years, just as in today’s Supreme Court decision a majority of men make a decision that sets a community back 50 years.
Judaism does teach, however, that time is not linear but cyclical, and that progress comes not with a straight line but with twists and turns and steps backward and forward. Today is a day of mourning and despair, yes. And it is also a call to action to fight for the rights and autonomy of all.
And that fight, especially for men like myself, is to work to change the cycle. To come back with a different report. To do teshuvah for what has been. To rethink institutions and power. To do things we have never done before.
That is the way to the Promised Land.