“Reproductive rights are a Conservative Jewish value” so say 100 rabbis meeting in St. Louis

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Nearly 100 Conservative rabbis gathered in the shadow of the St. Louis County Government Center on Wednesday, Nov. 9 to support women’s reproductive rights. The clergy took time out from the final day of the Rabbinical Assembly conference, which was held at the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis. The event was held to speak on behalf of women in a state where abortion is prohibited, according to conference chair Rabbi Noah Arnow from Kol Rinah.

“There are lots of things that as a movement we debate about and disagree about,” Arnow said. “But when it comes to reproductive rights, I think we’re pretty clear that this is a Jewish value, a Conservative Jewish value. Not only do we have something to say, but also the need to be heard, and especially if we’re going to be in a place that has limited reproductive rights significantly.”

Leading off the gathering was Rabbi Harold Kravitz, president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Rabbi Harold Kravitz
Rabbinical Assembly Women’s Reproductive Rights Event

“We want to express our concern for the severe restrictions on reproductive rights that have been enacted. Our assembly has consistently advocated for safe and legal abortion,” said Kravitz, senior rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn.

Also speaking on behalf of reproductive rights was Amy Kuo Hammerman, state policy advocacy chair for the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis.

“I am a longtime abortion activist and a proud Jewish woman,” Hammerman said. “Abortion is illegal in Missouri. It is medically, psychologically, and spiritually dangerous. It infringes upon our religious liberty—please pray for us.”

During the event, Rabbi Pamela Barmash provided context related to abortion rights and Jewish values.

“In the United States, the pendulum has swung for restriction on abortion, to abortion rights, and back to restrictions,” said Barmash, professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew at Washington University. “We in the Jewish community have remained steadfast to our ethical and religious principles. Jewish tradition values life above almost all else. Rabbis across the denominations have upheld and do uphold a lenient attitude toward abortion when the mother’s life is threatened, or if a pregnancy has occurred because of rape or when the child will suffer death soon after birth.”

Jewish law permits abortion to be done both surgically and through medication, Barmash said. “In a multicultural society, we seek a way to follow our traditions and nuanced views on abortion. In a multicultural society, the point of view of multiple religions must be respected and those who are pregnant must have the right to follow their own conscience and religious traditions without restricting the rights of others to follow their conscience and religious traditions.”

Also speaking at the event was Rabbi Aaron Brusso, secretary of the Rabbinical Assembly, who addressed the danger of judging others without understanding their circumstances.

Rabbi Aaron Brusso at Assembly Women’s Reproductive Rights

“Fetal anomalies, obstetric emergencies, the life and physical health of the mother, the mental health of the mother—despite the impression some of us may have, it is critical to note that these are perilous decisions,” said Brusso, senior rabbi at Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, N. Y. “It comes with heartbreak, it comes with lost dreams. We trust women to take responsibility for their own lives. These situations are painful enough on their own without substituting our judgment for theirs. We trust women to take moral responsibility over their own bodies.”