Reproductive Justice is a Jewish Value

February 9, 2024

Growing up in my family’s house and as a product of Reform movement synagogues, summer camps, and youth leadership, an orientation toward and attunement to social justice came baked in. Carving out time to volunteer, contact my representatives, and show up for causes and for my neighbors was just part of what we did, and the inclination to remember strangers, to know the heart of the oppressed, to look out the window and beyond my immediate reality and see the wider world, was second nature. My family and my community raised me to understand that the rising tide raises all boats, that if anyone is suffering, we all suffer, that few are guilty, but all are responsible, and that it will take every one of us, together, to heal the brokenness of the world. 

And while my parents never sat me down for “the talk,” and were neither secretive nor over-sharers when it came to intimacy, their general openness, and establishment early on that I could talk to them about and ask them anything without fear of judgment, assumption or punishment, made talking about sex, contraception, and abortion – among many other sensitive topics – normal, and part of our Jewish and general life. It became increasingly clear how unique this was when my family moved to Texas, to a place where evangelical Christian values were ever-present. At my public school, after-school bible study and prayer before football games were simply a given, and while “sex” was a dirty word, teen pregnancy was common, and saying the word “abortion” was considered a cardinal sin. 

Thankfully, in 9th grade, my synagogue offered a class called “Love and Jewish Values,” aka Jewish sex ed, taught by a young married couple, who offered information and facilitated conversations about sexuality, sexual and gender identity, contraception and abortion, and overall healthy relationships, demonstrating to all of us, and to the whole Temple community, that conversations about sex, gender, and abortion, not only were ok but belonged in Jewish spaces. This is where I learned that the notion of life beginning at conception – an indeterminable moment, even with all of our scientific understanding of the human body – runs counter to the Jewish understanding of life, and thus the Jewish approach to abortion, which has its roots in this weeks’ Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim. Judaism understands that life begins the moment we take our first breath, and that while potential life holds value and is sacred, existing life always takes precedence, laying the foundation not only for permission, but the requirement to save that existing life, that is, to terminate a pregnancy that threatens the life of the pregnant person.

These experiences, in addition to many others in my personal, academic and professional life, led me to pursue deeper learning and involvement in reproductive justice advocacy and sexuality education, and ultimately, to the rabbinate. The opportunity to bring these specific Jewish values – and how they intersect with many, many other values we hold dear – to the forefront of our community’s discourse is just too important, especially today. 

In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the regressive dismantling of protections for reproductive rights across the country, as a proud Jewish woman, soon-to-be-mother, and rabbi, now more than ever I am thrilled that Temple Ohabei Shalom is participating in NCJW’s Repro Shabbat this Friday. Concurrently with communities across the country, as we focus our attention on the parsha that contains the building blocks for the Jewish perspective on reproductive justice, we are excited to share this time with two speakers at services on Friday, who respectively work at a local clinic and for Reproductive Equity Now (formerly NARAL), and will give us both the on-the-ground provider perspective, and the state and federal policy perspective on their work to ensure sustainable and equitable reproductive justice for those in Boston, in Massachusetts and beyond. As you can tell, this is an issue near and dear to my heart, and it is one that touches all of us, and I hope you will join us on Friday evening for this very special and surely powerful gathering.  

Rabbi Jenn Queen