Another school shooting, this time in Michigan. Too many murders in cities and towns across our country.  So much violence undermining the sanctity of life.

The sanctity of life, it’s something that the Supreme Court explored earlier this week as it heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. It appears that the majority of the justices will uphold this law, redefining when life begins and setting the stage for our country to redefine how we as a nation understand the “sanctity of life.”  

Judaism takes quite a different position on the sanctity of life, specifically when life begins. While our tradition is certainly not in any way “pro-abortion” and sees pregnancy as something extremely sacred, Judaism teaches us that life begins when an infant’s head has emerged from the birth canal.

The Jewish position on when life begins is just one of many positions on this sensitive topic embraced by Americans. With the legislative defining of when life begins, as has been done in Mississippi and other states, coupled with the involvement of the Supreme Court, we might be witnessing the beginning of a divisive legal battle that could overturn Roe v. Wade, making it possible for all states to ban abortions to preserve the “sanctity of life.”

This week, as the Supreme Court wrestled with abortion, more of our children were once again killed in one of our schools. Innocent people were killed across the country. And the pandemic continues with Americans divided over whether or not a mask is a violation of personal freedoms or a way to protect the sanctity of life.  

As it appears that we’re preparing, once again, to engage in a national battle over when life begins, we’re failing to protect the sacred 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, 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, as we continue to kindle the lights of Chanukah, 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.

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