June 12, 2024
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June 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Our generation is more torn on social issues than ever before. Gender, gun control, free speech, and now abortion. Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans have never been further apart on these core matters.

To me, the real choice though is not whether we lean left or right on these issues—whether we wish to protect or uproot Roe v. Wade—but ultimately, what is the basis for the opinions we have? What informs our attitude to these value-laden questions? The political party to which we belong? The ideology our professors taught us in college? Or maybe it’s the strong opinions held by our parents or our favorite podcast influencers?

Since these questions all touch on ethics and some on metaphysical issues, i.e., when does life begin or what are the fundamental differences between the makeup of men and women, shouldn’t a system of ethics and values be consulted? This is, of course, where our Judaism comes in. The Torah, upon which all Jewish tradition is based, is not to be consulted simply on ritual matters—Shabbat, prayer, circumcision etc., but also on gender issues or what status a fetus in utero possesses.

Judaism’s stance on these important questions is by no means clear. Our religious tradition often contains many opinions and does not always offer black and white answers to these matters—but in the end, it most certainly has what to say. Our generation would do well to consult the most tried and true body of spiritual literature for guidance on these and other moral issues.

This is precisely why we at MJE (Manhattan Jewish Experience) have chosen to dedicate this year’s all-night Shavuot program to delving into the Torah’s unique perspective on abortion and gender issues. In light of the current tumult on Roe v. Wade, I will address the much-misunderstood Torah perspective (really multiples perspectives) on abortion, and our scholar-in residence, Rabbi David Forman (founder of Aleph Beta) will focus on gender issues.

I am not advocating that we ignore what everyone around us is saying on these important questions. As the Jewish sages famously teach: “Who is a wise man? Someone who learns from all people.” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:1) At the same time, for we Jews not to be educated as to what our own tradition has to say about these core issues is a missed opportunity, to say the least.

Shavuot after all celebrates that moment in history when God bestowed upon us His greatest gift: values and ethics—tools for living our best lives. Shouldn’t we, at least, know what they are?


Rabbi Mark N. Wildes is the founder/director of Manhattan Jewish Experience. https://www.jewishexperience.org

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