Shout out today to my grandson Max, the world’s most amazing, brilliant and beautiful grand child, who celebrates his first complete orbit around the sun later this afternoon. I just wish some of that sun would shine down on us today!
Before I take a dive into the murky and deep end of the political pool, let’s continue with some more good news. I am pleased to announce, and you heard it here first on the JNR, that Mensches With Wrenches had our first customer! For those not fully informed, myself and Steve Holtzman recently launched a community service here in the Sharon area that provides handy man services to elderly folks in exchange for a small donation to a local temple or church, or in the case of our first client, a small batch of chicken matzah ball soup! Here is a link to our recently launched, and award winning website Mensches With Wrenches. So, if any of you JNR locals know of anyone in our target demographic that might need some help, spread the word!
What a crazy week! Some refer to it as the week of the womb, while others have warned to buckle up your IUDs, as we are definitely in for a crazy roller coaster ride. For over 50 years, Roe has been the law of the land, but stare decisis be damned, the right for a woman to chose is about to be unchosen by a Supremely conservative court whose pending opinion in the best case will make getting an abortion difficult for low income women, and in the worst case, lead to a slippery slope of crazy ass red state legislation. For those right wingers who think the libs are exaggerating these claims, 11 states are already proposing there won’t even be exemptions for rape and incest. A bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature would allow prosecutors to charge those having abortions with homicide, and a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a measure that would let private citizens sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident get an out-of-state abortion. Under a Texas law passed last year, people in other states sending abortion pills through the mail to Texas residents could be extradited to face felony charges, though the authorities in liberal states are unlikely to cooperate. And women are being warned to delete their period tracking apps as they could be used against them by red state crazy prosecutors. Crazy? Not according to Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy. “There appears to be a real danger that if anti-abortion laws are passed in the US, menstrual cycle tracking app data could potentially be exploited to place women under surveillance and single them out if they become pregnant and are later suspected of terminating their pregnancy.”
If you thought this country was already hopelessly divided, and if this opinion ends up as currently written, things will only get worse. I am already envisioning protesters and crazies on both sides amassing at state borders. My closing thought is actually a quote from Gavin Newsom, “If men could get pregnant, this wouldn’t even be a conversation”.
You are all, by this time, wondering about the Jewish angle to this issue? Well, wonder no more. Here is a quick summary of where Jewish law stands on the issue of abortion. While a majority of non-orthodox, 4 in 5 according to Pew, support a woman’s right to abortion, not surprisingly, there is not much legal source material to go on here. And interpretations will vary depending on denomination, and even then, depends on who you ask. But, in general, there appears to be agreement on the edges, that it should be done as a last resort, and, to protect the life and health of the mother if she is in imminent danger.
Jewish legal opinion begins with a verse in Exodus 21 that institutes a financial penalty against a man who injured a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry. As Rashi, the 11th-century commentator notes, that the consequence is only monetary indicates the Torah’s view that a murder has not been committed. Modern scholars extrapolate from Rashi that abortion is at worst not a capital crime.
But in the core, opinions and legal interpretations vary. For the sake of brevity, let me over-simplify it the best I can:
- Conservatives – The Rabbinical Assembly — the international organization of Conservative rabbis — codified in 1983 a ruling that a fetus does not have legal status as a human until it is born. In the case of a Tay-Sachs child, abortion would be permitted “not out of mercy for the baby, but out of compassion for the mother.” In its seven-page decision, however, the RA made clear that abortion was anathema to Jewish concepts of the sanctity of life. Abortions to ensure the mother’s quality of life, it said, were impermissible.
- Reforms – On the other end of the Non-orthodox spectrum, the Reform movement, which holds that a woman’s bodily autonomy is a matter of “kavod ha’briyot,” the Jewish principle of respect for life, has been advocating for reproductive rights for decades.Inveighing against a George W. Bush administration ban on late-term abortions, Rabbi David Ellenson, a national leader of the Reform movement and chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in 2003 that “Jewish religious tradition surely accords the fetus status as potential life. However, Judaism does not regard the status attached to the fetus as potential life as morally equivalent to the condition enjoyed by the mother as actual life.”
- Orthodox – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading American halachic authority of the late 20th century, said that the monetary punishment did not necessarily prove that killing an unborn child was not murder — in other words, that the seriousness of a crime could not be derived from its punishment. In his view, abortion would be prohibited even with the knowledge that the child would be born with a life expectancy of just a few years. In spite of the prevailing opinion within Haredi Orthodoxy that abortion is only permitted in the case of immediate risk to the mother, an umbrella Haredi organization has weighed in against abortion bans. “Blanket bans on abortion, to be sure, would deprive Jewish women of the ability to act responsibly in cases where abortion is halachically required,” wrote Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel wrote in 2019. “And so, what Orthodox groups like Agudath Israel of America, for which I work, have long promoted is the regulation of abortion through laws that generally prohibit the unjustifiable killing of fetuses while protecting the right to abortion in exceptional cases.”
The week has been hijacked by the abortion issue, and my time is fleeting. But, here are some other Jew News highlights worth knowing about from the week:
- Jews and weed: get the straight dope or the dope straight? A special selection sure to get the attention of certain people named Nathan Hirsh, this article describes a new exhibit at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research dedicated to Jews and cannabis. “Am Yisrael High” displays texts and artifacts tracing the connections — some speculative and most very real — between Jews and weed, and how an often taboo subject and substance has intersected with religion, politics, crime and science. Click here for more.
- Culture vulture: Ridley Road on PBS – “Ridley Road,” a gripping and provocative four-part miniseries debuting on PBS’s “Masterpiece” on Sunday after airing on the BBC last year, is a fictional story set in the very real world of British neo-Nazis in the early 60’s. Sandy and I watched the first episode, and give it two thumbs up! Click here for more.
- Why are Bob Dylans archives in Oklahoma? Good question. Might have something to do with Woody Guthrie, but read here for more.
- Anti-zionism and anti-semitism – An interesting follow up to my piece last week about the uptick in anti-semitic reports. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted “radical left” anti-Israel groups as being the “photo inverse” of the extreme right, in opening remarks at the ADL’s virtual national leadership summit on Sunday. Greenblatt pointed to a rise in anti-Zionism as a root cause for the uptick in antisemitic incidents across the U.S. and Canada. “If you demonize another group enough,” he said, “there are more than a few people out there who will act, who will think it’s OK to slur a classmate during a pick-up basketball game, or spray paint a synagogue, or jump the Haredi man walking down the street in Brooklyn, or – God forbid – do even worse.” Read the story ➤
I am running off to Max’s birthday party, so that’s all I can do for now. But, hey, there is a huge uptick in Covid going on, so let’s continue to be careful out there.