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The overturning of Roe vs Wade: A message to my daughters

Tammuz 5782 | July 2022

For almost a week, I tried to write this blog. While writing usually comes easily to me, I could not think of anything meaningful to say that was not obvious, trite, judgmental or angry. Finally, a colleague turned to me and suggested that I simply write the message that I wish to impart to daughters. So, this post is for my four daughters and my hundreds of students. They are living in a world that is fracturing in the wake of the pandemic, the upheaval of government and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. This is further exacerbated by a secular world in which it is unclear from where the voices of reason and morality are meant to emerge. Though we look to our Jewish sources for direction, we cannot ignore the complexity of challenges your generation faces nor the lack of uniformity when seeking answers. Most significantly, we are living at a time where every authority structure, religious and secular, has come under suspicion, unfortunately, with due cause and thus, even those who once represented a bedrock of truth cannot be automatically relied upon.

You probably know that I feel that the life of an unborn child, from the moment of conception has sanctity to it. I believe it reflects the partnership between husband, wife and God as each one contributes something of essence to the foetus as its cells multiply and its body slowly unfurls over nine months. For that reason, every precaution is taken to ensure the safety and health of a pregnancy. Shabbat can be violated and non-kosher food can be consumed. Even in the quest for fertility, pre-conception, allowances are made for Shabbat and leniencies permitted in the laws of nidda. We are not a “naturalist” religion believing that only what God allows naturally to occur is legitimate. Rather, we are a religion that passionately endorses the use of medicine, science and technology in almost every aspect of our lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the full integration of cutting-edge fertility technology into halakha that allows infertile couples to bring healthy children into the world.

And yet, Judaism equally values the life of the mother and recognizes the complex symbiotic relationship of mother and unborn child throughout the pregnancy. Up until birth, the mother’s life takes precedence. Abortion is neither permitted nor prohibited. It very much depends on the given situation. Throughout the centuries, there have always been rabbinic authorities willing to consider not only the physical risks to the mother’s health but also the emotional stress the pregnancy could put on the mother as a factor in permitting abortion.

Overturning Roe vs Wade has created endless conversations around the Jewish approach with many applauding its nuance but what I want you to know is that America’s very binary attitude is antithetical to halakhic rulings and Jewish interpretation. We are neither pro-life nor, pro-choice. Most importantly, we do not take agency away from women. The woman’s voice, her sense of self, risks to her body or mental health are considerable when asking a halakhic question. Explaining the situation to a rabbinic authority plays an enormous role in the decision-making process, recognizing both the sacredness of the fetus, the agency of the mother and ideally, the compassion and erudition of the authority being consulted. Ideally, the justification framework is meant to invest the decision- making process with gravitas. However, I do not want to ignore the shame and secrecy that veils this topic in real time among religious women who have chosen to undergo abortions both with, and at times without, rabbinic permission. As learned women become more prominent in community leadership, trained to offer pastoral counseling and answer halakhic questions, it can certainly open up safer spaces for women to come and seek counsel.


Regarding my own feelings about Roe vs Wade, I have to admit that it stood as a pillar for me as a feminist, protecting women from the sordid and dangerous world of illegal abortions. After sifting through reflexive feelings of anger and betrayal at the Supreme Court decision, I come to the following conclusion:  If there had been true interest in breaking the binary pro-life, pro-choice paradigms, the government should have worked with the courts to unroll a transitional plan preserving the agency of choice of women by loosely reflecting the Jewish approach with its justification framework, offering compassionate and empathetic counseling, resources and support for women making the decision to abort or keep the pregnancy. Instead, there is only zealotry, extremism and laws that serve to harm rather than protect. My message for you, my daughters and my students, is to become educated in these topics, learn the different voices that have emerged from our Jewish sources, reject the binary, embrace nuance and fight for justice.

Rabbanit Nechama Goldman Barash

is a graduate of Hilkhata, Matan's Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a certified Meshivat Halakha. In addition she is a Yoetzet Halakha, and a graduate of Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute. She has an M.A. in Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. She is a graduate of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halakha program as well as qualifying as a sex educator through Yahel and the Eden Center. She teaches contemporary Halakha and Talmud at Matan and Pardes, as well as teaching in Torah V'Avodah (TVA), a Bnei Akiva gap year program based in Matan. She is an active member of Beit Hillel and participates in interfaith dialogue through Roots, based in Gush Etzion.