It is important for me to be here to speak to you today, but not only about issues of Reproductive Choice in our country.
I am here representing myself. I am here representing the Union for Reform Judaism, the Reform Jewish Movement in the United States.
I am here as a rabbi who has studied passages from texts that are less than 100 years old and over 3000 years old on this and other issues. I am here because I believe that Judaism concluded a long time ago that there are always hard questions to ask when there are difficulties surrounding an impending birth, especially for the mother. In Judaism, it is the mother’s life and health that are primary until the birthing process begins. That principle guides me in my views and in any counsel I might give to anyone who approaches me.
As a man, there are reproductive choices to be made that are not mine to make. In forming my own viewpoint, I have listened to the voices of women. Several women who are also Reform Rabbis have spoken out over the years about difficult decisions they made in their lives. They were following not only their own conscience but Jewish laws and interpretations they had studied in rabbinic school. In the mid-1980s, one of my female rabbinic colleagues told of watching from a hospital bed as the sitting American president made a speech on television about restricting the choice she had just made to end a pregnancy for a developing child that would not survive the birthing process. After that, she was emboldened to share her story. I cannot imagine having to make such a decision myself.
Based on what I just said, I know that there are many Americans who agree with me, and many who don’t. That is one of the great aspects of our country and our society. Of course, some may choose to disagree through shouting and accusation. Some may assume that any organization to which I belong necessarily agrees with my position and that group should be shunned. Others may believe I should shun an organization that doesn’t totally agree with me. If that were the case, I would have had to leave every congregation which I have served as rabbi, because of differences of opinion among my congregants. That has never happened, though. We stay together, and we get along by getting to know each other’s perspectives and having thoughtful conversations. There are diverse clergy groups and interfaith organizations of which I have been a part that have not taken a position on reproductive choice. Yet, we defend each other’s right to have our own opinion, and we accept that different faith groups come to different conclusions. And we agree that in a nation where we enjoy religious freedom, we need to make room for our various viewpoints and make it possible for people to put those perspectives into practice. Freedom of speech gives us the opportunity to express why we hold our beliefs, and what values have led us to our current position whether religious or secular, whether from knowledge or experience.
Freedom of religion is the basic principle that brings me here to this event. Pure and simple. I cherish a right to be able to tell a Jewish woman who is facing a difficult decision related to a pregnancy who comes to me, “Here is what Judaism would tell you to do in this difficult situation.” The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision made it possible for people to struggle with hard decisions based on the dictates of conscience and faith.
One thing I would add – I believe that everyone here today agrees about how we should care for children who are born into this world. They deserve a roof over their heads – they deserve to be fed well, to be nurtured by loving parents, to have a fair chance at a good education, and to be safe and healthy. Perhaps that is where our dialogue needs to start. I would welcome anyone here today to come to my office to discuss our similarities and differences while we respect each other as fellow citizens. This is the America in which I believe.
P.S. Clarification for local Las Cruces community members (which was delivered in the first paragraph): I must clarify that I am in no way, shape or form representing NM CAFé (Communities in Action and Faith), an organization I serve as board president. NM CAFé had no role whatsoever in this event. Those who have made such a suggestion are totally wrong. The Torah says in the book of Exodus, "Keep far from a false charge." Anyone who has heard this charge should dismiss it as absolutely untrue.