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How many times have you seen the leaders of religions distorting the tenets of a religion to serve a political cause? Of course, they would never say their claims are political, but in the case of abortion, one Jewish community in Florida has decided that they can misrepresent Judaism to serve a greater cause: women’s rights and abortion. (I guess G-d’s laws don’t figure into a “greater cause.”) When I see any religious leaders choosing to meet a woke agenda, I am deeply disappointed and saddened to see the abuse of their positions of power, and the rabbi of L’Dor Va-Dor is no exception.
So what do we know about this congregation and Florida law:
A synagogue in Florida filed a lawsuit this week to challenge the state over a new law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks. Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach claims the new law, which has been signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and is set to take effect on July 1, violates the religious freedom rights of Jews.
The lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Leon County Circuit Court, claims that the act ‘prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.’
The lawsuit also argues that religious minorities in Florida will be harmed and that the law will threaten Jews ‘by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.’
The explanation of “violating privacy rights” is nothing new in the discussion of abortion, but I have no idea which other religions are being imposed upon Jews.
You probably realize, however, that this congregation doesn’t fit neatly into any kind of recognized division of Judaism:
Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, which doesn’t belong to any denomination, defines itself as ‘an all-inclusive, universal, and rational approach to Judaism’ and ‘honors tradition, respects science, and celebrates spirituality.’
This mishmash of a description seems to be an effort to cover the “woke agenda,” but I have no idea which traditions they are referring to.
It is important to state that Judaism does not ban abortion, but allows it in extreme cases:
Therefore, traditional Jewish law holds that the preborn child has a right to life just as strong as the mother’s ― except when he or she poses an imminent danger to her life. The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of America, Rabbi Marvin S. Antelman, clearly stated the position of Jewish law on abortion when he said:
All major religions have their parochial and their universal aspects, and the problem of abortion is not a parochial one. It is of universal morality, and it is neither a Catholic problem, nor a Jewish problem, nor a Protestant problem. It involves the killing of a human being, an act forbidden by universal commandment.
Needless to say, committing abortion is a profoundly serious action.
But I want to return to Rabbi Barry and his Boca Raton/Boynton Beach congregation, and their misguided and distorted interpretation of Jewish law. We benefit from understanding the observance of halacha or Jewish law and its relationship to opting for abortion to understand the problem.
The issue is whether Jews can selectively choose to observe Jewish law and still have credibility in demanding that they expect others to do the same. For example, I can choose to observe the Jewish laws of keeping kosher, but if I choose not to work on the Sabbath, is it a legitimate demand or expectation for my employer to accept my decision? From my perspective, it is not.
The reason the selective observance of Jewish law is an issue is described in some detail here. This statement, however, gets to the crux of the matter:
This background brings us to the precise claims put forward by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor. The complaint is somewhat jumbled, but buried in the pleading is a religious claim: Jewish women have some sort of religious obligation to obtain an abortion if the pregnancy threatens their health. This argument is premised on halacha, which, again, Reform Jews tend not to view as binding. So here is the crux of this post: if virtually every other facet of halacha is not binding on members of this congregation, how could it be that this one teaching on abortion is binding–so binding, that a state’s prohibition of that teaching actually substantially burdens the free exercise of religion?
The confusion of the synagogue’s claims gets even worse:
Stated differently, if a person’s religious beliefs view halacha as non-binding–that is, the person is not required to take a certain action to comply with the halacha–it is difficult to claim that a government prohibition of that action is itself a substantial burden of religion. And if a person treats 99.9% of halacha as non-binding–including far more deeply-rooted rules governing Kosher slaughter and sabbath observance–yet deems as binding the interpretation of halacha that affects abortion, I think the person’s sincerity can be challenged. To be precise, this person may sincerely believe that her religion allows–and perhaps even encourages–an abortion in such cases, but does not sincerely believe that religion compels this action such that the prohibition substantially burdens her exercise.
Professor Sherry Kolb brought even more clarity to the discussion:
If one wanted to have a chance of prevailing on a “religious abortion” claim, one would have to assert that one’s religion requires one to have an abortion rather than that it merely allows one to have one. If one’s religion requires an abortion, then the state law that prohibits abortion would plainly interfere with one’s ability to practice one’s religion. But when would anyone’s religion require an abortion?
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Apparently, Rabbi Barry Silver thinks that his woke agenda and that of his congregants legitimizes his manipulation of Jewish law. Unfortunately, his actions can influence the perceptions of Jews and non-Jews regarding Judaism and its many communities. I’m also saddened to know that Jewish leaders are not the only ones who choose to distort their religions in order to meet their political agendas.
Whenever possible, we need to protest these illegitimate claims and speak the truth. I anticipate that as some states determine their approach to prohibiting or legalizing abortion, some religious leaders will weigh in.
Count on it.Published in