Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Abortion: Politics Versus Religion

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss (center) at an abortion rights protest (JTA)
Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. This is particularly true when it comes to religion and the politics of abortion rights.

Last week JTA reported that a group of 5 rabbis is suing the state of Missouri over abortion bans on religious freedom grounds. 4 of those rabbis are heterodox and one is Maharat Rori Picker Neiss.

The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV) is a group of 2000 Orthodox rabbis that are mostly political conservatives. They have expressed outrage at what they called a group of ‘woke’ rabbis that claim that abortion to be a Jewish value. Saying it is a “desecration of God’s name that is simply beyond words.”  

The fact is that I do not believe there is much difference between these rabbis and Maharat Picker Neiss  who - as a Maharat considers herself a duly ordained Orthodox spiritual leader. So that by definition her actual views on what constitutes a Halachicly required abortion  are probably not all that different that those of the CJV. But you would never know that from the way one side is acting; and the other side reacting

That Maharat Picker Neiss has joined pro choice ‘abortion on demand’ forces makes it appear as though she views abortion on demand a Jewish value. But if she is true to her claim of being Orthodox I’m sure she does not. That is pretty much implied by the following:

The lawsuit cites multiple specific instances of religious language used by the bill’s sponsors and supporters. The bill’s lead sponsor, for example, is quoted in the lawsuit as having said, “As a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception and that is built into our legislative findings.”

Jewish tradition does not include the same belief, which is one reason that Jewish activists have been heavily involved in resisting abortion restrictions (said) Picker Neiss, who trained in an Orthodox setting...

I doubt she would say that abortion for purposes of personal convenience or lifestyle choice is a Jewish value. She probably just favors legalized abortion so that when Halacha demands it, it is available. 

What constitutes a serious health issue is subject to interpretation. But basically Halacha demands that abortion be performed when the mother’s health is at stake. Whether it is mental health or physical health. Halacha also states that during the first 40 days after conception a fetus is considered ordinary water.  

I doubt that any of those 2000 CJV rabbis or Maharat Picker Neiss would disagree with that. But you would never know it from the way each side expressed their views.

Therein lies the problem. If Maharat Picker Neiss were placed in a room together with CJV rabbis and they were asked what the Halacha is, they would probably say pretty much the same thing. But placed in the context of politics, you have one side accusing the other of promoting  a Chilul HaShem.

What these two disparate groups are really arguing therefore is politics. Not Halacha. Which is a great way to make enemies when there is actual agreement on the basic Halacha itself.

I therefore part company with both Maharat Picker Neiss and CJV. 

While I oppose any government restriction on abortion - that’s only because when a Jewish woman needs one for any legitimate Halachic reason she should not have to worry about whether or not her needs are in concert with a law that might restrict it in her case. It shouldn’t matter how rare a Halachic abortion is.

But at the same time, it needs to be made clear that abortion on demand for any reason other than health  is not a Jewish value. This is how both sides should express their views on abortion and not imply that the other side is anti Halalcha. Because that in and of itself is a Chilul HaShem.