Hundreds of missiles fired into Israel, killing four. A school shooting in Colorado taking the life of a child. Another week filled with violence that undermines the sanctity of life.
The sanctity of life, it’s something that Governor Brian Kemp legally defined in his state of Georgia this week when he signed HB 481 into law, banning abortion in his state once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. In doing so, he, and the majority of Georgia’s legislators, made it clear that the sanctity of life begins as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Judaism takes quite a different position on when the sanctity of life begins. While our tradition is certainly not in any way “pro-abortion” and sees pregnancy as something extremely sacred, Judaism teaches us that the sanctity of life begins when an infant’s head has emerged from the birth canal.
The Jewish position on when the sanctity of life begins is just one of many positions on this sensitive topic embraced by Americans. By legislatively defining when the sanctity of life begins, as Georgia did this week and as Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have already done, the stage has been set for a legal battle that might very well lead to the Supreme Court and a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
This week, as this stage has been set, our children were once again shot at in a school. We Jews once again focused on security in our synagogues. Supporters of Israel had to call out US Congresswomen for statements that belittle the loss of innocent Israeli lives and the need for Israel to protect her citizens from terrorists. And many Americans had to call out our President for failing to condemn the suggestion of an attendee at a political rally that we shoot people who try to enter our country illegally.
As it appears that we’re preparing, once again, to engage in a national battle over when the sanctity of life begins, we’re failing to protect the sanctity of lives that have already begun. Until we can do this, until we can end the violence and hatred that wreaks havoc in our society on a regular basis, until our leaders can stand in opposition to those who seek the demise of innocent lives in our own country and across the globe, we’re in no position to begin fighting over when life begins. To engage in this fight while failing to ensure the safety of those already born into this world is an exercise in absurdity. If we can’t protect the sanctity of life of those already born, we’re in no position to define when the sanctity of life begins.
Every morning, Judaism tells us to give thanks for the sanctity of life. Our tradition encourages us to begin each day by saying a prayer that we call Modeh Ani, a prayer that expresses our gratitude for the gift of life, for a new day to make a difference in this world. As we begin Shabbat, let’s commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to honor the sanctity of life by giving thanks for our own life and doing everything in our power to ensure the sanctity of life of every soul that wakes up and begins a new day.