A Jewish Response to Recent Events in the US and Israel

Posted on July 21, 2022

Dear Members of the TBAY Community:

This past Shabbat, the 17th of Tammuz, we began the Three Weeks, the mourning period for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Our sages teach us that this destruction was caused by baseless hatred amongst the Jewish people. Unfortunately, we are again seeing hatred grow in our world.

Much has happened in the US and Israel in the past few weeks. We have experienced repeated gun violence in places that should feel – and should be – safe. The Supreme Court rescinded a woman’s Constitutionally-protected right to abortion, resulting in the immediate denial of abortion as health care in many states, even in situations in which the procedure is medically required to save the life of the mother. The Supreme Court ruled that a high school coach has the right to pray at the 50-yard line of a football field, even if doing so would coerce his students into praying with him regardless of their own religious beliefs and practices. And in Israel, ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews attacked people and prayer books at a Conservative/Masorti B’nei Mitzvah service at Robinson’s Arch, the egalitarian section of the Kotel (Western Wall).

As you know, in our increasingly polarized country and world, these have become political hot buttons. They have been used to push extreme narratives on both sides of the aisle. However, I believe these issues are not political for the Jewish community, but issues of human rights, human dignity and religious freedom. They are issues of Torah and of Talmud. While I generally stay away from political subjects on the Bima, these are too important in the context of Jewish law and tradition to leave unaddressed.

Over the next few weeks, in my Shabbat evening Divrei Torah, I will be discussing these issues and how we can make sense of them in the context of our Jewish understanding of the world: Torah, Talmud and Jewish law. In our increasingly polarized and political world, our texts and traditions provide light, direction and insight into the complexities of these issues. They can help us navigate and determine how to respond, both as individuals and as a synagogue community.

I will be speaking about abortion access this Kabbalat Shabbat. I hope you will join us on this and future Shabbat evenings for these perspectives, but if you are not able to come and wish to hear or read my perspective, I will post both the video and a PDF of the text of each. I already spoke about gun violence in our country after the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. You can access that D’Var Torah in video and PDF format on my blog at: http://tbaynj.org/index.php?src=blog&category=rubinblog&submenu=RabbiRubinsBlog&srctype=detail&blogid=216 .

I have also curated some resources for you on these issues and they are below.

As always, I am happy to talk with you as you grapple with these issues and consider your own positions, the actions you may wish to take, and the implications of these issues for your life and the lives of your loved ones.

May we each find, speak and act as we are compelled to do. And may we work to be a part of the changes we wish to see in our world.

— Rabbi Rubin : )


Gun Violence and Gun Control

Sadly, the Rabbinical Assembly has issued three statements calling for an end to gun violence in our country in the space of a month. You can view them here: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/gun-violence-resources. This website has a number of other resources, including prayers for healing, resources on responses to traumatic events, and four resolutions of the Rabbinical Assembly on gun control. In addition, if you wish to read more, I recommend you read anthology, Those Who Can Protest, edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor for Rabbis Against Gun Violence. The book contains powerful writings from rabbis across the denominational spectrum and includes my D’Var Torah on the halachic problem of thoughts and prayers without action. It is available on Amazon at https://www.tinyurl.com/AllWhoCanProtest.


Abortion, Reproductive Freedom and Jewish Law

The Rabbinical Assembly has issued a statement about the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and you can read it at: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/conservative-rabbis-strongly-condemn-us-supreme-court-decision-overturn-abortion-rights. The Rabbinical Assembly has a website with a variety of resources, including responsa (halachic rulings) and resolutions of the Rabbinical Assembly on abortion access as it relates to Jewish law. You can find it here: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/resources-reproductive-freedom .

In addition, several organizations have planned an online yom iyyun (day of learning) for August 2-3 that will also have some in-person sessions in New York. “Real Torah / Real Life: Abortion, Beyond Law” will be presented by Hadar in partnership with SVIVAH, HerTorah, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, and the JTS Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice. If you are interested in studying the halakhah, aggadah, midrash, and ritual around the complexities of abortion experiences and choices, you can register at https://info.hadar.org/abortion-beyond-law . Please join me: I plan to attend in person, but would welcome seeing you online, too.


Public Prayer, Religious Freedom and Separation of Church and State

The Anti-Defamation League’s Civil Rights Committee issued a statement about the Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and you can read it here: https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/adl-condemns-supreme-court-decision-undermining-separation-church-and-state. You can also read the statement from the National Council of Jewish Women here: https://www.ncjw.org/news/kennedy-v-bremerton-decision-is-a-dangerous-blow-to-religion-state-separation/ In addition, Guila Franklin Siegel of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington articulated the challenges Jewish students face with public prayer in schools. You can read her article here: https://forward.com/opinion/508498/coach-kennedy-being-allowed-to-pray-at-the-50-yard-line-is-not-good-for-jews/ .


Attacks on Egalitarian Worship at the Kotel

There are multiple responses you may wish to read on this latest act of violence. Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, on behalf of the USCJ and URJ, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid requesting that he both ensure safe access to Kotel and implement the Western Wall compromise, an agreement that would give non-Orthodox representation and official status in managing the site. You can read the letter here: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/2022-07/lapidkotelletter-july-2022-final-version-letterhead-002.pdf. You can read the Jewish Agency’s call for increased security at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-agency-approves-boosting-security-at-western-wall-after-despicable-protest. You can learn more about Women of the Wall on their website here: https://womenofthewall.org.il/. You can also watch the livestream of their month Rosh Chodesh services (and see the harassment they experience) on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenofthewall.