Spiritual Response to Roe v. Wade
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
On this Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, our thoughts begin to shift towards the Three Weeks, a period of mourning and solemnity that annually occurs in response to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This period has also become a time to mourn what is broken in our own lives and world, yearning for tikkun. Just as we know that we move from the narrowness of the Three Weeks into the expanse of Elul and the fall holidays, we know we will return, again and again to these low places year after year. We never stay in one place for too long, however. The Three Weeks are such a heavy time, but they are then followed by Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort, based on the words in the famous haftorah. Comfort, comfort, oh my people, says Hashem.
The spiritual wisdom in our calendar has been on my heart since learning of the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade...
I often find myself taking refuge in the spirals in our calendar, the circular way in which it has no beginning, no end, the year goes around and around, and we move, like always, through the same emotional and spiritual terrain. What happens when all of that comes crashing down, feeling utterly hollow? What do we do when we learn of the decision and have nothing other than sheer outrage, hopelessness and despair? What do we do knowing there is no comfort, there is no redemption, there is no going back?
For the first few days after learning of the decision, though I knew it was coming, I felt like all of the years I had spent in spiritual practice had, like my constitutional right to bodily autonomy, evaporated before me. What could I say, what can anyone say? Eichah? How? Who are we, how did we get here?
Every year, I think to myself how wonderful it would be if Tisha b’Av, the 25-hour fast that concludes the Three Weeks had no relevance. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a world in which Tisha b’Av was an old relic from a more regressive time? Baruch Hashem we are now in a more progressive time! Oy, if only.
We Jews were made for these times. We know in our bones that resilience is our inheritance and that our people have been through horrible times. We can lean on their wisdom, the wisdom that has been lovingly and painstakingly passed down to us. We also know that ours is a tradition that demands that we act, that we work for the welfare of the places in which we dwell, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us. We are further reminded, famously in the Ethics of the Ancestors that it is not our job to finish the work, but neither are we permitted to desist from doing so.
In our movement and broader political spaces, I sense a tendency towards hopelessness, often in a knee-jerk fashion. Our Mussar tradition encourages us not only to root ourselves authentically in our soul curriculum so we can do the internal work that allows us to show up well externally, but we are also enjoined to seek truth, emet wherever we might find it. Truth grows from the ground. It is within us all. Yet, as my students often ask, and rightly so, what value does truth have if we cannot even agree on what truth is?
I have come to earnestly believe that to seek the truth is a two-fold process. The first step is to recognize the truth of the reality we are living in. Those of us in the United States now find ourselves in a country where there is no longer a single law regarding abortion access, and where the federal constitutional mandate has been stripped away, causing untold harm. We also live in a country in which the Supreme Court reflects a theocracy, tearing down the sacred wall between religion and government in favor of an exclusivist, radical, extremist Christian nationalistic vision. We must do everything we can to fight back against this, not in spite of our spiritual practices but precisely because of them. To be civically engaged is a Jewish value, not in any way juxtaposed to spiritual commitments. This cannot be overstated. To manifest the vision of love and justice we seek, we must never stop acting for justice in small and large ways, using every means at our disposal and encouraging everyone in our circle to follow suit.
We must also make sacred space for the container of grief, anger, outrage, betrayal and hurt we are feeling. Those are valid feelings, and they will be with us for a long time. The second stage of seeking truth is to proclaim the truth in our bones not merely through our words, but through our deeds. What sort of country and world do we want to take refuge in? Do we want to continue down this awful path of fear, hatred and exclusivism? Or, rooted in our own strength, do we work every day for a better world, a world of truth, love, justice, and thriving for all? When we seek to impose our values and to control others, as we are experiencing now, Mussar practice reminds us that this is steeped in the small mind, the ego mind. It’s entirely fear-based. And we know this not only because the court is so unpopular as to no longer be seen as legitimate by many of us, but also because the court went to extraordinarily unsuccessful lengths to hide this theocratic trend. In a certain sense, it is clarifying, and helpful in our seeking of truth, to know plainly who and what we are facing. All pretense is removed. It is important to say here also that for many of us, that pretense was removed a long, long time ago. We are now at a moment in our history when an even greater number of our fellow citizens are experiencing that ripping away.
As practitioners, it is our sacred responsibility to, as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov reminds us, never give into despair. I know that’s a lot easier said than done. But we cannot move forward and work with everything we have if we do not practice the daily discipline of hope. May we go forward with strength, with resolve and with courage. Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek.
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman is a sought after speaker, spiritual leader and educator. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018, she is, as far as she is aware, the first blind woman in the world to enter the rabbinate. She provides consulting to individuals and organizations across the Jewish community on a variety of matters pertinent to disability access and inclusion. She has taught in numerous synagogues and other organizations across North America. She was named to the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 for her innovative leadership concerning inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. In 2017, she delivered an ELI Talk entitled We All Were At Sinai: The Transformative Power of Inclusive Torah. She has trained and continues to teach with the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, is a SVARA fellow and a participant in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program.