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The Culture Wars Are Back Again – OpEd

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A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that more than six in 10 Americans (61%) now have little or no confidence in the Supreme Court after its decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade — a near-total reversal from the 70% of voters who expressed at least some confidence in the court right before conservative justices gained a 6-3 majority with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020.

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A more recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted in May 2022 — immediately after Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on Roe first leaked — found that the court’s standing was already slipping with conservatives in control.

And when asked to choose from a list of emotions describing their reaction to the end of Roe v. Wade, far more Americans say they are “disgusted” (34%), “outraged” (30%) or “sad” (31%) than say they are “happy” (16%), “grateful” (16%) or “thrilled” (11%). When combined, nearly twice as many Americans place themselves in the first category (46%) than in the second (24%).

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, 52% of registered voters say they want Congress to pass “a law that keeps abortion as legal and accessible nationwide as it has been under Roe”; just 35% of voters oppose such a law.

Even more voters (64%) oppose “passing a law that bans abortion nationwide” . Less than a quarter (23%) favor such a ban — including only half of those who say abortion itself should be illegal in most or all cases.

The anti-abortion cause has been embraced by many religious Christian groups, including the Catholic, Morman, and Evangelical churches. However, most American Jews strongly support legalized abortion: A 2015 Pew Research Forum survey found that 83 percent of American Jews, more than any other religious group, say abortion “should be legal in all/most cases.”

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Jewish law does not share the belief common among abortion opponents that life begins at conception, nor does it legally consider the fetus to be a full person deserving of protections equal those accorded to human beings. In Jewish law, a fetus attains the status of a full person only at birth.

Sources in the Talmud indicate that prior to 40 days of gestation, the fetus has an even more limited legal status, with one rabbi (Yevamot 69b) even asserting that prior to 40 days the fetus is like “mere water.”

Elsewhere, the Talmud indicates that the ancient rabbis regarded a fetus as part of its mother throughout the pregnancy, dependent fully on her for its life — a view that echoes the position that women should be free to make decisions concerning their own bodies.

The Jewish long-standing tradition of embracing divergent opinions, makes a Jew who feels personally against abortion more able to see that someone else might legitimately understand the world in a different way, and to value that perspective.

This, attitude would favor upholding Roe v. Wade and allowing each individual, or each religious community, make the decisions that make the most moral sense for them.

What a religious community understands as “truth” allows for much more complexity, many more grey areas. This may stand in stark contrast to those who understand abortion in clear terms of right and wrong, God’s truth verses terrible sin.

Most Jews think abortion access is a matter of religious freedom. Jews are permitted to terminate a pregnancy—and, when our lives are at stake, we may be obligated by Jewish law to do so. A government intervention would prevent the free exercise of these religious tenets constitutes an infringement of our First Amendment rights.

As Rabbi Fred Guttman states: It is my understanding that Catholic Doctrine would maintain
that in the event of having to make a choice of saving the life of the unborn fetus or the mother, the fetus would be preferred, based on the assumption that the mother had been baptized and the fetus had not been baptized.    

In Jewish law, the opposite would be true. The primacy of the life of the mother would be maintained by Jewish law. In such a situation, the ban on abortion would be a direct assault on the doctrine of the Separation of Church and State, at least as far as the US Jewish community is concerned. 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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