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On the Supreme Court, Religion, & Kindness

Rabbi Sidney Helbraun

June 29, 2022

In its recent ruling on abortion, the Supreme Court based its decision on a particularistic, religious view; the belief that human life begins at the moment of conception, and that the life in the womb takes precedence over the life of the one who carries it.

This decision stands in sharp contrast to Jewish law which teaches that during the early stages of pregnancy, the cells dividing in the womb do not attain the status of a human being. Indeed, up to 40 days into a pregnancy, our tradition views the presence in the womb as mere water. And as a pregnancy continues, we prioritize the life and health of the mother over that of the fetus. 

While there is ample room for theological debate on when life begins, the Supreme Court slammed the door shut on conversation, and erred in believing that theological questions could best be resolved by the courts, legislators, or popular opinion. Not only will their decision lead to pain, heartache, and death, it will also lead to disrespect towards both the law and religion.

Rather than viewing abortion as a legal issue, the court would have been wise to see it as a situation in which there is no ‘right’ answer, in which every decision comes with some kind of cost. It is a situation rightly defined as tragic. 

It is foolhardy to believe that there is a ‘correct’ way to deal with tragic situations. Instead, we should recognize that these are times when a person needs to be able to weigh their options and decide for themselves which painful choice they will make. When a society steps in and legislates one answer to every different situation, it only serves to increase the tragedy.

In times of tragedy religion has a role to play. It is not coercing others to follow our one true path. Instead, it is responding to moments of tragedy with kindness and compassion, with an open heart and a loving spirit, with an understanding that life can be painful, and a promise that we will not add to that pain, but are here to help those who are struggling through times of trial.

This summer the Supreme Court turned religion into a hammer of coercion. It’s action is an affront to those facing tragic situations, and to our cherished religious ideals and values.

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyar 5784