Steven Bayar

Driving into the divide

Crossing into Texas on the interstate over the summer, I saw a huge billboard with the picture of five ethnically diverse babies. Under the picture is written in bold large letters, “Thank you Texas!” There is no subtlety in the message.

The division in our country has only intensified and escalated post the overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court. Each side has demonized the other, portraying those who disagree as evil.

I am a staunch supporter of the rights of women to control their own bodies, and that billboard scared me. Have I left the liberal Northeast and arrived at the epicenter of all I don’t believe in? Or have I been looking at the issue through incomplete lenses?

One fact was sure: both sides believe they are right — but why? Like a dousing of cold water, it made me think about the issue in a way I had never before.

Have we failed to see that while there are extremists who wish to control women and are threatened by the possibility of women gaining power over them, there are also many for whom this stance is a theological imperative?

One of the (if not THE) main purposes of living in specific Christian denominations is to be “saved” by a belief in Jesus as the Christ. Each soul born is given the choice (called “witnessing”) to accept the savior in order to acquire the hereafter.

The reason abortion is considered murder by some is because the soul enters the fetus, which has the potential of life. If the fetus is aborted, then the soul cannot be saved and, depending on how fundamental the Christian belief, can be consigned to hell.

One standard criticism of this attitude is that while there is great concern over the birth of children, these same people do not seem to care about how children live: abusive families, disease … or even the phrase, “they care about their birth but not the safety of the playground.”

But these critiques miss the point. Those who are against abortion are concerned about the potential of saving the soul — not the body. Their concern is with entrance to heaven, not life on earth. Yet those who are pro-choice never take this into consideration.

So, what is the definition of insanity? Using the same argument over and over again expecting it will be effective, when the criticism fails to not only address the issue, but fails to speak to it entirely.

I cannot in any way support anything that takes these rights away from a woman. For me, it is wrong to even consider it. But then again, I don’t think the purpose of life is to gain heaven. We are concerned with our actions on earth.

So each side can stay secure in its self-righteous judgment of the other — without any real attempt of communication or understanding, from where may come enlightenment and possible solutions.

But is this something too late to hope for?

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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