A brief disclaimer: I will not argue with pro-birthers in my comment section. If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.
Abortion rights in the United States have been under attack for years. On June 24 of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of federal abortion rights.
A couple of weeks earlier, a Florida synagogue sued the state of Florida on the basis that a new Florida 15-week abortion ban violates Jewish religious freedom.
The Florida synagogue is correct: according to Halacha (Jewish law), if pregnancy puts the person's health (including mental health) at risk, abortion is not only recommended, but in many cases, mandatory. Jews do not believe life starts at conception, and according to the Jewish principle of pikuach nefesh, the life of the pregnant person must come first.
Following the Supreme Court decision, a popular Jewish influencer (who only seems to invoke their Jewishness when politically convenient) with over one million followers made a post stating that the new law violates their religious freedom. Celebrities, influencers, and so much of social media enthusiastically shared their post.
So what’s the problem?
DO YOU ACTUALLY CARE?
I personally am very proud of the Jewish stance on abortion, as well as the Florida synagogue’s lawsuit. The problem is that most of the non-Jewish world seems to only care about “Jewish religious freedom” when it suits them politically.
Here’s the thing: Jews cannot freely practice Judaism if we are dead, in fear of our lives, isolated, ostracised, and more. We also cannot freely practice Judaism when our very peoplehood and identity are constantly under attack.
So please ask yourself the following:
Do you speak up when Jews are the most disproportionately targeted minority in hate crimes in the United States? Do you speak up when Orthodox Jews are under attack in their very own streets? Do you speak up when Jewish businesses, kindergartens, synagogues, summer camps, and other institutions are targeted in the name of social justice? Do you speak up when half of Jewish American college students feel the need to hide their Jewish identity? Do you speak up when the left has fully rewritten our history because it challenges their views on race, identity, colonialism, and more? Do you speak up when the left chants to “globalise the Intifada,” a horrific and traumatic event that resulted in the death of over 1000 mostly civilian, mostly Jewish individuals, including an infant less than a day old? Do you speak up when ancient Jewish sacred sites are destroyed (e.g. Joseph’s Tomb was set on fire in the West Bank in April)? Do you listen when the Jewish community explains to you that more often than not, your so-called “anti-Zionism” is just thinly-veiled antisemitism? Do you support Jewish autonomy?
Or do you tokenise Jews only when we serve you?
IF WE ARE DEAD
Jews cannot exercise our religious freedom if we are dead or in fear for our lives. Unfortunately this fear is hardly hypothetical or based solely on intergenerational trauma. It’s a visceral, real fear.
Jews form 2% of the American population, and yet 60% of religiously-motivated hate crimes target Jews. Around 10% of all hate crimes target Jews. In case it’s not obvious, these numbers are extremely, extremely disproportionate to our population. Last year alone, American Jews were targeted in 2,717 hate crimes — and that’s just based on the hate crimes that were reported.
It’s important to highlight the following: while Jews are one of the two primary targets of white supremacy, most antisemitic hate crimes do not come at the hands of white supremacists. Many come at the hands of the left and at the hands of individuals that deem themselves social justice activists. It’s also important to note that antisemitic hate crimes skyrocket whenever tensions flare in Israel-Palestine. For instance, during the last Israel-Gaza war in May of 2021, antisemitic hate crimes rose by 34%.
If you care about “Jewish religious freedom” and are on the political left, the way that you talk about Jews — and about Israel — matters.
(No one is saying you can’t criticize Israel. We are saying that the language you use can put the Jewish community at risk).
IF WE MUST CHANGE…
Judaism is the ethnic and tribal religion of the Jewish People. Like other tribal religions and spiritual frameworks, Judaism is deeply rooted in reverence for the land from which ancestors (verifiably) come from: the Land of Israel. Reverence for the Land of Israel is inextricable from Judaism (this absolutely doesn’t mean we revere the state).
The first prayer Jews say in the morning starts like this: “Hear O Israel.” We pray facing Jerusalem. Every year during Passover, we state, “next year in Jerusalem.” The Hebrew calendar follows the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. Our religious holidays either mark events in our history (most in the Land of Israel) or celebrate the agriculture of the Land of Israel. Israel is mentioned over 2,500 times in the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”); Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times.
If you demand that we sever the Land of Israel from Judaism, you are very much infringing on our religious freedom. If you demand that we change Judaism, you again are very much better infringing on our religious freedom.
This includes asking us to rewrite our history. Judaism is the ethnic religion of a tribe, a nation, and a people. Our collective history very much matters in Judaism.
IF YOU DON’T LISTEN…
We are the experts on our own experience. We know far better than anyone else what puts us — and our religious freedom — at risk.
After 3000 years of antisemitism, Jews very much recognise the sort of rhetoric that endangers us. When you think you know better than we do, you are choosing to continue putting us at risk. If we are in danger, so is our religious freedom.
Antisemitism is sneaky and notoriously hard to catch. It moves through conspiracy theories and euphemisms. Most people are painfully uneducated when it comes to antisemitism, Jewish history, and Jewish identity. Not only that, but antisemitic bias is prevalent and encoded into our institutions and societies. You probably don’t notice it, but we do.
When we tell you ostracising Jews from left-wing and progressive movements hurts us, listen to us. When we tell you targeting “Zionist” institutions hurts us, listen to us. When we tell you using antisemitic language to criticise Israel hurts us, listen to us. When we tell you your language is dangerous, listen to us.
When we tell you something is antisemitic, listen to us. And if you don’t, then you don’t actually care about our religious freedom.
Please note: listening to us means listening to the Jewish community as a whole, not only to the few Jews that already validate your opinions and worldviews.
IF WE LIVE IN FEAR…
Half of American Jewish college students report feeling the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus.
In January of this year, an Islamist* antisemite held a Texas synagogue hostage for 11 hours. Initially, law enforcement absurdly claimed antisemitism was not a factor, and the left responded by worrying more about the potential Islamophobia in response to the attack than about the antisemitism that actually caused the attack. In 2018, a white supremacist massacred 11 people in a synagogue mass shooting. The left responded by talking about gun control (which I certainly support!) and almost entirely left antisemitism out of the equation. In 2018, a white supremacist with a barrage of antisemitic social media posts killed 17 students at a high school in Florida, a high school with a disproportionately high Jewish population. Only Jewish media mentioned the antisemitic motives behind the mass shooting. In 2017, white nationalists marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us!” Virtually only Jewish media reported on the key word here: “Jews.” These are just some examples.
In January, 1,500 American synagogue leaders met with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas because they feared for the safety of their congregations. Whether you think meeting with Homeland Security is the right move or not, the message is clear: Jews are not safe in our own houses of prayer. We are not safe in our community centers, in our kosher markets, in our summer camps, or in our schools.
If you actually care about Jewish religious freedom, you should make sure that, above all, we are safe to practice our religion. Instead, it seems that the left is intent on ignoring deadly antisemitism, even when it’s staring them right in the face.
*Islamism is *not* the same thing as Islam and Islamophobia won’t be tolerated in the comments. See my post ISLAMISM AND ANTISEMITISM for more.
IF WE ARE OSTRACIZED…
For millennia, Jews have been ostracized. Often, this has happened under the veil of euphemisms for “Jews.” It never ends well.
For many centuries in Europe — and also in parts of Southwest Asia and North Africa — Jews were confined to living in ghettos, separate from the rest of society. In Nazi Germany, Jewish businesses were marked, turned into targets. In the Soviet Union, “Zionists” (read: all Jews, whether they identified as Zionist or not) were ostracized from public life, employment, universities, and more. In 1969, Iraq hung Jews under bogus accusations of “Zionism.” Up until the 1970s, Jews in the United States were subject to university quotas and systemic housing discrimination.
In recent years, the situation for Jews in the United States has pretty clearly deteriorated, particularly as we have been ostracized from the left and progressive movements. In 2017, the Chicago Dyke March banned Jewish pride flags, claiming they made people “feel unsafe.” In 2019, the DC Dyke March followed suit. Last month, BDS Boston created the “mapping project,” targeting over 400 Jewish institutions, synagogues, schools, kindergartens, summer camps, disability centers, and more, essentially putting a target on the Jewish community’s back. Numerous universities have called to ban “Zionists” from campus, something that is eerily reminiscent of the antisemitic campaigns of the Soviet Union. At various universities, BDS “activists” have put up fake eviction notices on the dorm room doors of Jewish students. The list goes on and on.
How are Jews supposed to exercise our religious freedom if our symbols (i.e. flags) are banned? How are we supposed to exercise religious freedom if targets are constantly placed on our backs? How are we supposed to exercise our religious freedom if we can’t even exist in peace?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Jewish religious freedom is not limited to the Jewish view on abortion. First and foremost, Jewish religious freedom means that Jews should be safe to practice our religion, culture, and traditions. Jewish religious freedom means that we should be able to practice Judaism without having to amend it to satisfy your political leanings or geopolitical understanding.
If you truly support Jewish religious freedom, then it’s important to apply a holistic approach. Our right to religious freedom shouldn’t be weaponized only when it’s convenient for you. We do not exist to serve you.
Listen to the Jewish community as a whole, not just to the Jews that validate your already existing views. Educate yourself on antisemitic conspiracies and tropes and the sneaky ways antisemitism shows up. Educate yourself on the type of rhetoric that endangers Jews. Call out antisemitism where you see it, *especially* on your side of the political aisle and among your friends and family. Learn about the history of the Jewish People, the history of antisemitism, and the history of systemic and institutionalized antisemitism in the United States (some places to start: the Spanish Inquisition in New Mexico, General Grant’s expulsion of Jews in 1862, the US Immigration Act of 1924, the SS St. Louis, the Évian Conference, the Auschwitz bombing debate, Displaced Persons camps, McCarthyism, antisemitic university quotas, and more).
To reiterate: if you only bring up Jewish religious freedom in the context of abortion rights but never protect Jewish religious freedom otherwise, then you don’t actually care about our religious freedom at all. Stop tokenizing us.
For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Patreon.