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It’s Time to Talk About Religion
Rabbi Jessica Kirschner | Associate Rabbi, Temple Sinai, Washington, DC
In the Jewish religious tradition, we understand that God spoke the world into being; and that as God’s partners in the ongoing creation of the world, that we build up and tear down the universe itself with the power of our words. This teaching is one of the many reasons I feel so strongly that it’s time for RCRC’s new campaign: “It’s Time to Talk”.
It is time to use our words, our lived experiences, and our religious values to open a respectful conversation about sexuality, pregnancy, and parenting.
It’s time for real women to have real conversations with the people they trust: their spouses and partners, their doctors, their friends, and their clergy about the difficult choices we face as human beings with the holy and complicated capacity to give birth and raise the next generation.
It’s time to tell the truth: that most people of faith in this country, like the majority of Americans overall, want families and individuals to have access to contraception, sexuality education, and reproductive health care, including abortion.
It’s time to complicate our understanding of what “religion” and “religious people” have to say about these issues. There is no monolithic religious opinion about contraception, abortion, or sex education. There are many religious opinions, and many religious people, and for far too long, the many have been shouted down by strident voices who leave no space for nuance, difference, or conversation.
And it’s time for religious communities—our churches, synagogues, mosques and shrines—to engage people of our faiths, of all faiths, of no faith in the deep wisdom our traditions bring to the difficult questions of leading good and holy lives in the areas of human health, sexuality, and justice.
To talk about these issues openly and honestly—that is life-affirming, God-affirming, and human-dignity-affirming. And that is the heart of what all religion is about. And so it’s time, it’s past time, to talk.
Judaism starts from the proposition that all people are created betselem Elohim, in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-7), and with that Divine spark, women are perfectly capable of making moral decisions about our own bodies. Although an unborn fetus is precious and is to be protected as a potential human being, Judaism views the life and health of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. The great physician and scholar Maimonides stated, “If a woman is in hard labor…her life takes precedence over [the fetus'] life.” The Mishna forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and, if her life is threatened, she is allowed no other option but abortion (1). And many scholars assert that if the mental health, sanity or self-esteem of the woman (e.g., in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the woman is permitted to terminate the pregnancy (2). It is due to the intrinsic Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed under some circumstances as both a moral and correct decision (3).
These teachings are only the tip of the iceberg about what Judaism has to say to the challenges of living a holy life as an integrated whole of body, mind, emotions, and will. If these teachings don’t sound like the usual “religious” opinions, good! Real religious conversation about anything important, and especially is rich and complicated. RCRC is right—it’s time for a different kind of religious conversation about sexuality and reproductive justice. It’s time to talk.
(1) Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6
(2) “Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice,” page 240
(3) From The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, www.rac.org