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Denying a Woman’s Reproductive Rights is Profaning God

V’lo tichalelu et shem kodshi. You shall not profane my holy name (Lev. 22:32).

You shall not profane God’s name. And we are left asking ourselves what does it mean to profane God’s name and in turn, to profane God? Essentially to our understanding of all texts is that God created each person made in God’s image. Each person has a divine spark within them. Therefore, when you deny a person their rights, you profane God’s name. When a group of male legislators try to make decisions regarding a woman’s body, they are profaning God’s name. And when they seem to take more of an issue with abortion, then with rape, incest, or sexual assault, they are profaning God’s name.

I’m angry. And I’m tired.

I am tired of people using the term “pro-life” when they are not. I am tired of those who say they are “pro-life” but in actuality, are against a woman having any rights in her life. I am tired of those who claim to be “pro-life” but have no concern for the life of a pregnant woman or the decisions that she makes. Because it is her body. And her choice. When states like Alabama and Missouri were passing laws that criminalized abortion this week, including in cases of rape or incest, and would send a doctor who performed an abortion to prison for longer than the perpetuator who raped that woman, those laws are not “pro-life.” They are quite the opposite. Any such law that is passed, including that which was signed into law this week in Alabama, is not a “pro-life” law and don’t let anyone else suggest otherwise. Because any such law isn’t really a case of banning abortions. What Alabama is attempting to do is ban safe abortions. And thus, putting women’s lives at risk in the process.

I’m tired.

I am tired of those on the religious right claiming that the stances they are taking are based on so-called “Judeo-Christian” values. I’ll let you in on a little secret: there is not such thing as “Judeo-Christian.”  People can take whatever stances they want based on their own right-wing extremism, but don’t bring Judaism into it. For starters, Judaism is a faith that celebrates reproductive rights and reproductive justice. I can quote text, biblical verses, Mishna, and modern halakhic responsa that justify and legitimize a women’s right to choose what she does with her body according to rabbinic tradition and Jewish law.

But the truth is, I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to respond to claims from right-wing Christian extremists that quote a verse that is anti-choice, with the rebuttal of another verse or teaching that is pro-choice. We don’t need a war of quoting scripture – and I say this especially as a rabbi and a person of faith –  because we should not be legislating based on faith. We live in a country that is supposed to govern based on a separation of church and state. Still, it is quite clear in Jewish texts that life does not begin at conception and life begins when a child becomes its own independent being out of the womb. And while Mishnah is clear that an abortion is not only permitted but required if a fetus is causing any harm to the mother, the Conservative Movement clarifies that it is up to each individual – it is a woman’s right – to define that harm for herself, be it physical, emotional, mental, or otherwise. In fact, when Roe v. Wade became law in 1973, l the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement came out with a statement the next year, not only quoting text of our tradition that protects a woman’s right to choose, but opposing any legislation, including a constitutional amendment, on the federal or state level, that would outlaw abortion.

V’lo tichalelu et shem kodshi. You shall not profane my holy name (Lev. 22:32).

In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 86a, the Talmud asks: “What are the circumstances that cause desecration of God’s name? Rav said: For example, in the case of someone like me, a public figure and pious rabbi, if I take meat from the butcher and do not give the butcher money for it immediately, [people are likely to think that I did not mean to pay at all, and thus would be desecrating God’s name.]” Now, if someone was poor, and food insecure, it wouldn’t be seen as a desecration of God if they didn’t pay the butcher right away. But a pious rabbi, it would.

Rav is essentialy saying in this section of the Talmud that if one has a responsibility in a position of authority and uses their position to only help themselves and harm others, ithey are profaning God’s name. When an elected official has a responsibility to protect the rights of their constituents, and he, and in this case I very much mean he, goes out of his way to pass policies and legislation that deny the rights of women, when a group of legislators that are men are getting together to limit the rights of women, when a group of legislators pass policies that deny the rights of anyone, they are profaning God’s name. And that is exactly what the elected officials in Alabama and Missouri did this week.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of too many of us being silent. When you, when I, when we, are silent about one’s human rights, one’s reproductive rights being taken away, then that too is a Chilul Hashem, we are profaning God’s name. Protecting women’s rights is not only a women’s issue and too many people who do not identify as women remain silent. So specifically to all the men out there: SPEAK UP. SPEAK OUT. Or you too are profaning God’s name. The Talmud also teaches that silence is equal to complacency. Let’s stop being silent. Let us make our voices heard. A passed bill or law doesn’t mean that such a law is just. In actuality, such a law is desecrating and profaning God. So we must stand up and fight when women’s rights are being challenged. Because to remain silent, is also a Chillul Hashem.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Here’s a list of organizations to contribute to, that are on the grounding, fighting to support women’s reproductive rights:

Planned Parenthood 

Planned Parenthood Action Fund Planned Parenthood Action Fund 

NARAL: Pro-Choice America

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice 

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