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“Seismic Shift,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 13, 2022 | 12 Iyyar 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. This week I share my d’var Torah I offered last week at Qabbalat Shabbat which focused on abortion.

You can listen to it as a podcast here.

The headline screaming across the morning paper summarized a reaction most of us have been feeling:

“Draft Abortion Ruling Signals Seismic Political Shift”

It was the word, seismic, that immediately caught my attention. Hasn’t it felt as if the world is quaking right beneath our feet? As if the continual shapeshifting Covid variants have not rocked our lives enough. Or that we will reach one million Americans lost to this virus. Add to that disease, the narcissism of a despot like Putin, who believes he can roll into another country, into Ukraine, murder its citizens, lie about his intentions, and ignore the consequences, leaving lives ruined and a massive flow of millions of refugees seeking safety elsewhere overwhelms any calculation of what it means to be human. We still have the memory in our own country of the insurrection and a continual attempt to ignore the results of the Presidential election. The numbers don’t lie even though some people do.

Where does this leave us as we shake in our shoes and watch the ground crack? For the climate crisis is upon us and we may lose our earth on which to quake as well.

So breathe!

Right now, and this week came the news from the leak of a draft document from the Supreme Court, the very governmental entity that is supposed to represent equanimity removed from partisan alliances. As Justice Sotomayor has already inquired in a recent case challenging abortion, “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

The contents of the leaked decision are already well known. The landmark decision of the right to an abortion, rooted in American law for the past 50 years, is precariously perched on the edge of its existence.

How do we gain stability when we feel so off balance?

First, with our Torah portion. Right in the center of Leviticus in the middle of the Torah comes the Holiness Code. It is not about the sacred nature of life or when life actually begins rather its focus is on the sacred nature of how we live life and regard one another. Said in another way, it is about pro-living, not pro-life. Judaism’s vision of humanity speaks to the holy task of our behavior toward one another.

Then, how do we think about the complex issues surrounding and involving abortion?

  1. Abortion is not JUST a women’s issue. Yes, abortions involve a birth giver’s body and I don’t need to remind you that a sperm and an egg make a pregnancy. Fifty plus years ago, women had to rise up to protect our bodies. Women had to march for the Equal Rights Amendment. Women had to deal with childcare. Maternity leave was regarded as vacation time. It didn’t mean that men were not supportive. Many were, but the zeitgeist of the time placed the onus on women to fight for our rights. The book, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan may have aptly described the darkness women felt, but it was her next book that struck me as pivotal. Called the Second Stage, it spoke of the necessity of all people, to work for equal rights and access for everyone. The strength would come from working together to create a powerful force for change. That is holy.
  2. This leaked document is real. We must take its destructive intention seriously. It is magical thinking to wait until the official decision comes out in a month or so. We are paying close attention. The women in Texas who have been forced into pregnancy because they can’t get an abortion, have to sneak out of state through the dead of night under subterfuge to get an abortion are already risking their lives. The moment is heightened to hear their suffering and the potential for so many more. This decision disproportionately harms those already facing barriers to quality health care, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, people in rural areas, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and low-income people. Every time we act with an awareness of the pain and distress of another person, we bring in holiness.
  3. If the decision to protect the privacy of a woman’s right to choose is at stake, then what else could be taken away? Democracy is supposed to protect those rights. Whom and what are they coming for next? The draft document states specially it is referring to abortion but the Supreme Court has breached our trust. Fifty-five men wrote the constitution in 1787. Those guys didn’t include abortion. It wasn’t their concern. Many behaviors were not explicitly covered in the constitution: interracial marriage, contraception, gay marriage. None are protected by the original constitution. Does this mean these rights are already at risk, too? We have made much progress in recognizing God’s holiness in each person with laws to protect and uphold. Why give that up?
  4. What about the lives of babies born as a result of forced pregnancies caused by no abortion? Do these children matter? Do the lives of those who carried them carry any significance? Leviticus 19:16 teaches not to be complicit in doing harm to your fellow person. It they are at risk, we all are. Pro-life should be about being proactive toward the lives they will lead. What systems and safety nets are increased and enhanced to protect and to support them?  Otherwise, those who don’t have access to abortion or those born into challenging circumstances are forced into economic and social hardship. How is it possible to care so passionately about an embryo and not a living, breathing child?
  5. Language matters: If abortion is not allowed then the alternative is a forced pregnancy.

Let’s start asking, “Are you in favor of forced pregnancy?” It is not as one newly appointed Supreme Court justice offered a matter of just carrying the pregnancy to term for adoption. A person whether 14 or 40 years old, raped and impregnated by a man she is related to or not is still rape. Why would any of us, regardless of gender, obligate her to stay pregnant? We are all responsible to protect any pregnant person. Forced pregnancy affects us all. The late Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York and devoted Catholic was quoted as saying, “if you are against abortion, then don’t have one.” He believed that the right to decide is an individual one and should not be controlled by the government. That is the language that matters.

It is said that the very central verse of the Torah is Leviticus 19:18. Love your neighbor as yourself. Seven verses earlier, the holiness code instructs us: You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.

This week as we study these ideas, I regard the Supreme Court as stealing the privacy from every person as it has to do with their body. I also feel that there has been deceit and false claims by the Justices when they spoke under oath that Roe is the law of the land. How quickly they have shown that they did not speak truthfully. The Holiness code encompasses many ideas. It includes the same ideas as the 10 commandments and adds many more. At its core is Leviticus 19:18. Love your neighbor as yourself. Our perception of the needs of others is matched by how we regard ourselves. If we value shelter, protection, privacy, nourishment, and a meaningful life, how could we not want to guarantee it for others? How could those basic desires be robbed from others? The central idea of holy living is wholly caring for others.

Today, I want to remember that we can stand strong and be galvanized to take part in this historic moment. We must have hope. We can establish stability and ensure into the future the right to decide how we live, whom to love, how we deal with the zone of privacy that belongs to us and the God given ability to make sure we take care of one another with the holiness each person deserves.

If you want to be part of the work of securing reproductive rights, you can leave your name on this form.

Shabbat Shalom and Thanks! We are in this together.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

  • We join together at 6:00 p.m., onsite and online for Qabbalat Shabbat with Mira Sucharov for our 2022 Rose Feinberg Memorial Lecture titled “The Conflict in Israel/Palestine: Is There Room for Dialogue? Join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website.
  • Riverway gathers onsite at 7:00 p.m. for a schmooze and nosh. Services begin at 7:30 p.m. To participate online, register here. To participate onsite, register here.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively,
  • access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat at Home will begin at 10:00 a.m. Register to join us on Zoom.
  • We say good-bye to Shabbat with Havdalah at 8:00 p.m.  Join on Zoom, or Facebook Live, or stream on our website.
  • Ukraine Forward is an emergency response initiative established to supply life-saving resources to the people in Ukraine. You can help by bringing items listed here to Temple Israel on the following days, connected with some gatherings happening at the temple:
    • May 19, TILLI, Last Day of Spring Semester
    • May 22, Last of Religious School
    • June 5, Shavuot Evening Concert
    • June 9, TI’s Annual Gathering
    • June 10, Riverway’s Pride Shabbat

Shabbat Shalom!