It is amazing to see so many people gathered here tonight for such an important cause.
I am Rabbi Andrea Goldstein and I believe that all women, all girls, all people with a uterus in Missouri, should have access to affordable reproductive health care, contraception and safe & legal abortions.
I believe this not in spite of the fact that I am Jewish and my religion is important to me – but because of it. Access MO is a unique PAC, guided by Jewish values and principles, and I want to take a minute to share just a few of the Jewish values that guide me in my understandings and beliefs regarding the issues of reproductive healthcare and abortion.
First, plainly put, Jewish law allows for abortion. In Judaism, abortion is NOT considered to be murder, because the fetus does not attain the status of personhood until birth. In the Mishnah (Ohalot 7:6) we read that if the life of the mother is in danger while she is pregnant, the pregnancy may (or in some cases, must) be aborted in order to save her life. In Judaism, the life of the woman carrying the pregnancy takes precedence over the potential life she is carrying. In Judaism, life begins at birth, not conception, and the state of Missouri should not be allowed to dictate how I (or anyone) practice my faith (or lack of faith) when it comes to family planning and health care decisions.
But I also want to say that Jewish law regarding abortion is not the only reason I am here tonight. I believe that one of Judaism’s most beautiful teachings, one of its great contributions to all of humanity, is that each one of us, regardless of our race, gender, status, sexual orientation or religion – each of us is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. This teaching calls on us to have, as Rabbi Art Green teaches “boundless respect for each other, to value human difference and individuality and to make a commitment to fair and decent treatment of one another.” If I see you as created in the image of God, then I trust in your ability to discern and decide. I believe that you are able to choose what is right for you and your family. I honor your autonomy and agency over your own body and your own future. A government that attempts to control women’s bodies does not see women as created in the image of God. A government that seeks to abolish our ability to make responsible choices about our own lives is a government that has gone too far.
And finally, regardless of the laws that our state tries to enact, we know that most of us gathered here tonight, through our financial resources and personal connections, will still be able to access abortion services if we or our loved ones find themselves in need. But what about women and girls living in rural Missouri? What about low-income girls and women? Judaism’s core teachings guide us in the creation of societies where care for most vulnerable is primary. Judaism urges us always to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. So we are here tonight, not only on behalf of ourselves and our families and friends and those in the communities we know. We are also here, raising money and raising our voices and getting out the votes on behalf of all Missourians … even the ones who will call us evil … because they might be in need of these services one day as well.
I will conclude tonight with one final thought … and that is that those of us who are part of the Jewish community are just days away from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days of our year. We are entering a time of reflection, a time of taking stock, a time of being honest about our actions and inactions of the past. And here I can only speak for myself and say that, looking back, I knew where things were heading - here in Missouri especially, with the addition of new restrictions and new indignities each and every year. And I voted for who I could vote for, and I donated to organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. And I spent the rest of the time vacillating between feeling helpless on the one hand and deluding myself into thinking that things were somehow going to work out just fine on the other. And it wasn’t enough … and I knew it.
So to Dana and Ellen and Colleen and everyone else who brought Access MO to life – because of you I am entering 5780 feeling, not helpless, but powerful … and deeply, deeply grateful.
Therefore I thought we should conclude in blessing, in gratitude and awe of this amazing moment.
Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shehechiyanu, vikiy’manu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God whose presence is in all of creation, who has kept us and sustained us and brought us to this most amazing time. Amen.