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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

May 6, 2022

Parashat Kedoshim 5782: Scream It Out - You Are Holy

As you may have heard in my interview with GBH News earlier this week, I considered stepping onto our bima this evening and screaming for about ten and half minutes, or the length of a typical Friday night d’var Torah. With the unexpected leak of the very expected news that the Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, we may be feeling angry. I know I am. We might be tired - we have been here before. We may be frustrated. We might be worried, or scared.For those who are less familiar with the issue, or its current implications, here’s what Roe v. Wade being overturned means for America:

  • Overturning Roe means 26 states could swiftly move to ban abortion–including 13 states with laws that could immediately go into effect. That means in half the country, people would no longer have power over their own bodies and their own lives.
  • 36 million people could soon lose abortion access.
  • 58% of women ages 13–44 live in a state hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights.
  • 24% of U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45. (Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute)

Now, I’m not going to get up and scream, as good as that might feel in the moment, as much as I might want to after reading all of that out loud, because I value your ears, and because screaming is not the most powerful way for us to use our voices.

Instead, we look to our text and our tradition. And we look to our past activism, and the potential we have, as Reform Jews, to continue to bring the world toward justice in the future.

Many of you have become familiar with some of the key Jewish texts supporting access to reproductive rights. Access to abortion is a Jewish value and is essential health care. From the Torah to the Talmud to Maimonides, there is profound support within our tradition for the right to an abortion. I am moved by a line from the Talmud I shared with you earlier this year “P’shitah - gufah hi!” - It’s simple, it’s her body! It is the body of the woman, of any person who can become pregnant, to make their own decisions.

This Talmudic phrase is a reflection of our deepest held values, which we also see in this week’s Torah portion. This week, we read parashat K’doshim, from Leviticus, the very heart, the center of our Torah. Our Holiness Code. It’s a set of guidelines about how we behave and act toward each other, how we treat each other ethically, with respect. It’s who we are and how we are in the world.The very first line of K’doshim states “You [each and every person, all of you], shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:1)God is holy, so we are holy. Not God is holy, so some of us are holier than others. Not God is holy, so some of us can be holier than thou! Not God is holy, so some people can take away the autonomy, the agency for others to make decisions for their own bodies. “P’shitah - gufah hi!” It’s simple. It’s her body, it’s their body, because you are holy and I am holy and everyone is holy, because each of us is a reflection of God’s holiness.

These are our values. And as we have before, we can raise our voices and say them out loud. Our Reform Movement leadership has issued a strong statement condemning the implications of the leaked decision. Rabbi Marla Feldman, president of the Women of Reform Judaism, expressed it clearly: “As Reform Jews, we will not stand idly by as our rights are taken away. We stand firm in our commitment to the fight for a just and compassionate world, where everyone is free to make decisions about their future no matter who they are or where they live.” (Reform Movement Leaders Decry Supreme Court’s Apparent Plan to End Abortion Rights, May 3, 2022)As we found in our own statewide organizing work around the ROE Act here in Massachusetts, the Jewish community overwhelmingly agrees with the need to protect abortion access. Polls show that 80-90 percent of Jewish Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. (Pew Research Center)So here’s what we know:
Abortion is still legal in the United States today.

Thanks to the crucial work of many of you in our community, and Reform Jews and progressive people of faith throughout our state, reproductive rights and access are enshrined in Massachusetts state law. That’s what we did with the ROE Act Campaign. Our work is all the more significant this week.
We raised our voices so that the religious conversation around abortion was not dominated by one perspective.
And we raised our voices then, as we do now, so that those who are in need of care and support, in challenging times, facing the toughest decisions possible, know that I am safe person to talk to, as a clergy person. Know that we are a safe community, one that will help people through these difficult moments.

And here’s what we can do:
In Washington, D.C. on May 17, the National Council of Jewish Women, whose rabbinic advisory board I’m proud to serve on, is holding a Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. If you’re able to travel there, I’d encourage you to attend.

We can urge the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the House in September. Similar to our work on the ROE Act to protect abortion access on a state level, this would do so federally, whatever happens with Roe on the Supreme Court level. The Religious Action Center has an action alert you can fill out to contact your elected officials directly. Even if they are in favor, it is important for them to hear from us!

We will learn in the coming weeks and months the implications of being a state that is safe for people seeking abortions and reproductive health care, especially if they live in a state where it is not. People of faith will be taking a lead role in this - this is not only a legislative or political challenge, there may be actions for us to take.
We can proudly get involved with RAC MA, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Our launch is on June 12 and remaining engaged in statewide and federal social justice organizing is the key way we can continue to raise our voices and make them heard. You’ll be hearing more from us about joining at that event, to take place in Newton MA, and how to get involved.

So, I didn’t get up and scream tonight. But I hope, I know, that this was more productive and ultimately more effective. We have power to make a difference and to make change. We can use our voices to work for a better world, even when the challenges feel great, insurmountable. Our voices are loudest and strongest when we use them together, and there are so many ways we can do that. Shabbat shalom.


Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784