Laurie and Debbie say:
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) ended tonight at sundown. The Jewish High Holy Days continue for another week, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when religious Jews make themselves right with G-d and are written into the Book of Life for another year.
We don’t usually write about Judaism, and we often leave the topic of reproductive justice to others, but the timing of Leanne Gale’s “Jewish History Demands Solidarity with Reproductive Justice Movement” in The Sisterhood section of the Forward got us both to thinking about our own relationships to these issues. (The Forward has been the leading Yiddish newspaper in the United States for well over 100 years, and didn’t even have an English-language edition until 1990, let alone a blog.)
Laurie grew up in a culturally Jewish atheist politically radical family. Debbie grew up with a religious Jewish mother and grandparents, and an atheist father, in a liberal community. Laurie’s passion for justice stems from the values and expectations of the people around her, most of whom were Jews; Debbie’s is somewhat more centered in the actual religious practice and expectations. Both of us were drawn early to the Jewish understanding that you work to make the world a better place not for any reward in this life or the next one, but because it’s right.
Leanne Gale invokes the Jewish obligation to behave justly:
On Yom Kippur, many congregations will read the Leviticus passage that commands, lo ta’amod al dam re’echa, do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. The blood of my history cries out to me; am I to remain silent?
She focuses, in her short article, on the reproductive justice framework:
Developed by women of color in the mid 1990s, the reproductive justice framework expands beyond the “right to choose” and insists on combating the racial, economic, and cultural systems of oppression that intersect to limit reproductive freedom. It is rooted in basic human rights, including the right to full autonomy over our bodies, the right to have or not have children, the right to birth and parent our children with dignity, and the right to live and raise a family in a safe, healthy environment.
She acknowledges, as we both do, our own privilege in this context. What she chooses not to discuss is the ways in which the Jewish passion for justice has in many contexts failed the religion’s own women. (Other failures of the Jewish passion for justice are well known and well reported, and not the subject of this particular blog post.) While all branches of Judaism believe that abortion should be performed if the life of the mother is at stake, Orthodox Judaism stops there, and conservative Judaism while somewhat more lenient, does not acknowledge a woman’s right to choose. Reform Judaism supports women’s choice. And, of course, the more traditional Orthodox and Conservative congregations have many sexist practices. Orthodoz Judaism is well known for making women and men worship in separate spaces, and treating menstruating women as unclean.
Nonetheless, the religion has never made a distinction between men’s and women’s obligations to improve the world. We both find it extremely satisfying to see Gale discussing reproductive justice and structural racism in The Forward; may her article open some eyes and change some minds.