A while ago, a doctor who I was sitting with (who was not my regular doctor) was looking at my medical records and said, “So I see you have had three births and an abortion.” I looked at her stunned. An abortion? Me? Never! I was so insulted. So hurt. How could she think I would ever do such a thing? Well, if you’re an English speaker in Israel and know this already, you are laughing at me. Now I know: doctors translate the Hebrew word for “miscarriage” to “abortion” when speaking in English. This story repeated a few more times and every single time I would get my defenses ready, and then remember that that’s not what they meant. What’s interesting to me, in reflection, was why I reacted like that. Why was I so upset to be “accused” of having had an abortion?
I’ll get back to that question.
First, I want to address the following problem. Those of us who grew up religious (and I’ve been an Orthodox Jew for a whopping 36 years) are brought up to think and believe “things” on a certain path. Hence, the terminology of someone who chooses to not be religious: “He/she went off the derech,” which means they went off the path. For the sake of keeping things simple, let’s say that the path, that belief system, is based on the Torah, which is truth, G-d’s word and is black and white.
Then, as you grow up, you start to realize how many different flavors and colors there are of Orthodoxy, and Judaism, and you realize that things are much more nuanced than you had thought.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said women should only wear a sheitel (wig) and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says women should only wear scarves, and they are both right. How could that be? Why is it that when you ask one rabbi a question, you’ll get one answer, and the next rabbi will give you the opposite answer? (Hence, “rabbi-shopping.”) Why is it that there is Sefardic vs. Ashkenazic halacha, 70 faces of the Torah, Hillel v. Shammai? I mean, if Torah is one truth, why do millions of men spend every day over a Gemara or halacha arguing about its conclusions and bottom lines?
Over the years, I have come to realize there is truth, and then there is my truth. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a believer. I believe the Torah was given to us by God in the format of text and oral scripture, and I believe the Torah is God’s word which makes it true. However, I think it is still important to think about your own truth in your heart and not deny your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, etc. that are formed based on humanity, your intuition of right v. wrong, and, maybe most importantly, the times we are living in. If you identify as an Orthodox Jew, does that mean you must follow beliefs of the “the law” and deny your feelings and opinions? Are they diametrically opposed?
I have been open about the fact that I can’t and won’t condemn or oppose the gay community, as an Orthodox Jew. I hear the struggle of the Orthodox man or woman who wants to come out… I feel for those individuals deeply. It’s (nearly) impossible to have one foot in each world and stand on two solid feet. Let’s face it: most active gay Jews are not Orthodox, even if they once were. (Or they are pretending to be on the outside to keep their reputation or their family’s reputation, but that is another story). But the frum community does not swing open their hands and embrace their gay children. Because if they did, oy vey, they are not abiding by the law, the truth, the Torah. Doesn’t the Torah say no to gay relationships? (I’m not getting into the halachic differences between men and women right now.) So these parents are faced with a very hard decision. They love their kid but believe in Torah, they want to support their child’s choices and their right to happiness, but they are forced to believe in a system of unadulterated truth. Where does that leave them?
I feel the same way as many others do about abortion. Torah says no. Law says no. Truth says no. But my truth says it’s nuanced. I’m shocked and utterly destroyed over what has happened in America. I’m crying for the teens who were just exploring. I’m sobbing for the cases of incest. I’m mourning over the women who have been raped. I’m thinking about the mentally ill, special needs women, and impoverished, underprivileged women.
I watched the president’s statement and I was so relieved to hear his words. Then I listened to Ben Shapiro’s reaction, knowing what to expect, but I was still truly shocked. I don’t always agree with Ben, but he is brilliant and when he fights for something he believes in, it’s not just politics; he really is fighting for that truth, that God-spoken word we are referring to. He chooses to wear a kippa because he’s telling the world, I am a representative of the Torah, and God says no to gays and no to abortion. So…does that make him more religious than I am? Holier than I am? More right-wing than I am? More radically conservative than I am? Or just crazier than I thought?
If you feel confused as an Orthodox Jew feeling happy for your lesbian friend who found happiness in her life, or absolutely tormented about this overruling of Roe vs Wade, you’re not alone.
So why was I so hurt when those doctors thought I had an abortion? Because the religious girl inside me was taught to believe that abortion is bad, that it’s murder, and against our beliefs. And that was the gut reaction that came out. But after explaining to the doctors that they meant to say “miscarriage” and that “abortion” was the wrong word, I felt shame that I had the reaction that I did.
Let’s be clear about something. Why do I say this is all nuanced? Because I don’t believe in mid-late term abortion. (Abortion right after finding out you’re pregnant is different than four or five or six months later. That’s just reality.) And I don’t understand how a woman could feel a baby kicking, hear a heartbeat, then go through with the violent procedure. I also don’t believe in abortion because of a mother finding out her child is special needs… but that’s a sensitive topic I suppose. I can’t imagine the world without people like my sister in it. But wasted life? Abortion with no good reason? I get it: it’s “wrong.” But that’s looking at the topic in a vacuum.
Because, at the same time, I also do believe strongly that men can’t turn the clocks back to 1927 and say women don’t have the rights over their own bodies. I certainly believe there are many cases where abortion is critical and necessary. And I am truly scared of the repercussions of this decision. Illegal, dangerous, not medically supervised abortions will cause deaths. Women will commit suicide. Women will hurt themselves to get rid of their unborn babies. For every potentially unborn child that will now be born because of this decision, I think two women will die from being forced to make unhealthy, unsafe and dangerous decisions. I believe the Torah values life, so that is a point to think about when considering a fetus vs a grown woman in regards to statistics.
I don’t feel hypocritical, two-faced or that I am contradicting myself. The Torah is truth. And then there is my heart’s truth. It’s certainly confusing — but not opposites. The two could live in peace. The truth I feel in my heart, or the truth you feel in your heart, should never be buried by the beliefs we are told we have to believe in order to label ourselves as Orthodox Jewish people.