Six Greater Phoenix rabbis, other clergy highlight Arizona’s ‘draconian’ abortion bans – Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Posted By on October 15, 2022

Rabbi Bonnie Sharfmans voice was soft and restrained as she called together a gathering of interfaith clergy at Desert Horizon Park in Scottsdale on Friday, Oct. 7, at 9:30 a.m. The longer she spoke, however, the louder and more assertive her voice became.

This is an event to call attention to the draconian laws that are happening in Arizona, she began.

As we speak, there are womens lives in danger and there are medical personnel who will not come to practice in the state of Arizona for fear they may be imprisoned for two to five years, she said, with an angry timbre.

The mornings prayer circle, which included six local rabbis representing Reform, Conservative and Orthodox perspectives, was to call attention to the Civil War-era abortion ban, which was put into effect Sept. 23. This ban outlaws all abortions in the state, except when the life of the mother is at risk, which is left to a doctors good faith clinical judgment and has caused much confusion and consternation among doctors, hospitals and pregnant people.

Just hours after the religious leaders met, the Arizona Court of Appeals issued a stay enjoining the 1864 ban temporarily and leaving the 15-week abortion ban in place. The court said the older ban couldnt be enforced until an appeal to the court of a Pima County case runs its course.

Civia Tamarkin, president of National Council of Jewish Women Arizona, was the mornings only official speaker. She asked attendees to consider the emotional, psychological, physical and economic harm that is the likely fallout of abortion restrictions across the country, and more specifically, in Arizona.

After the stay was announced, Tamarkin pointed to the power of prayer.

No one is taking lightly the power of collective prayer from diverse backgrounds crying out for healing and justice.

However, the 15-week ban leaves lives in jeopardy, she said, especially from incomplete miscarriages and pregnancy complications that doctors are too afraid to treat.

Thus, Fridays prayer circle will continue to matter because it highlighted that the legislation is not about choice but about overall health care accessibility.

It was meant to bring interfaith clergy together to pray for an end to the pain, to the suffering and to call for the healing of everyone who is affected this is an issue about humanity, Tamarkin said.

Sharfman, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix and rabbi of Congregation Kehillah in Cave Creek, agreed.

These are matters of the heart, matters of the soul, she said.

Sharfman invited the clergy to form a circle where we always turn, ultimately and asked those who wished to speak to do so.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley expressed fear for anyone who, for whatever reason, needs to terminate a pregnancy. She said she trembles at what they face and offered her support for them and their bodies.

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin of Scottsdales Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) referenced a prayer, the Unetanah Tokef, recited on Yom Kippur, which acknowledges, we dont know what lies ahead for each one of us.

She said its not up to the state of Arizona to decide what pregnant people do with their bodies.

I pray that anyone who has anything to do with making these kinds of decisions will let the power lie in the hands of the people who need to make these choices for themselves.

Rabbi Nitzan Stein Kokin of Beth El Congregation in Phoenix expressed her concern for young people who just discovered love in their life and who are now encountering existential fear of what this might include.

She prayed they would have strength, their parents would be good role models and those in charge would find fair and human legislation on these issues.

Rabbi Cookie Olshein of Temple Emanuel of Tempe reminded everyone that as of Friday, there are 32 days until the general election, when decisions will be made that will impact the community.

She prayed for clergy to have the strength to inspire civic responsibility, to educate people about the laws impact and, especially, to know that it is our obligation to speak for those who have no voices.

Rev. Kate Lehman, the pastor of St. Teresa of vila Ecumenical Catholic Community in Phoenix, shared a very personal story about the birth of her son in 1972, pre-Roe. She shared a room with a woman whose baby had been dead for two months yet remained in her body. At that time, the law stipulated she had to wait until her body forced out the lifeless fetus.

My heart hurt so much for her, she said. What we do to our fellow humans is not understandable. I pray that anyone who thinks they know best would realize there are a million stories.

Rev. Anne Ellsworth, a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona,said all the clergy came from traditions that honor women. She prayed for an end to the misogyny that drives public policy, for equal rights and solidarity.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, also joined the prayer circle but chose not to speak.

He told Jewish News after the event that he wanted only to be a silent ally, supporting in presence.

After the last person spoke, everyone in attendance was invited to read a non-denominational prayer asking for courage, strength and perseverance in the pursuit of justice.

A few non-clergy also came to witness the event.

Tracy Contant, an OB-GYN and CBI congregant, was there to thank the clergy with her presence.

I want to be part of something bigger than myself when I advocate for women every day, she said.

She was accompanied by Jennifer Kirshner, another CBI congregant, who came because more voices are necessary in this battle, she said.

The religious right has kidnapped this pro-life movement and Im thrilled to see the faith community come together its really beautiful.

After the event, Stein Kokin told Jewish News that she hoped to see balanced legislation and pointed out that Jewish law is nuanced on the question of abortion.

Its a case-to-case thing, she said. Its important that we dont just have ancient laws were in the 21st century and the legislature needs to speak to our reality.

She decided to speak about young people because, as a mother of two young girls, young people are particularly on my mind.

The rabbi said she has witnessed the tremendous fear of teenagers who dont know what the future holds something we took for granted.

Sharfman called Arizonas bans an infringement on our religious rights that interferes with religious liberty, something we cannot tolerate.

According to polling, American Jews support abortion rights more than any other religious group. Non-Orthodox Jews have been at the fore of advocacy against the current sweep of abortion legislation. Some Orthodox groups have said they applaud the Dobbs v. Jackson decision while still believing that abortion should be permitted in some cases. Scholars of Jewish law largely agree that it requires abortion when the pregnant persons health is at risk, though there is disagreement about what constitutes such a risk.

Imam Omar Tawil, associate imam and chaplain of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe and Arizona State University, was planning to attend but was called away for a death in his community.

Paul Rockower, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix and Eddie Chavez Calderon, Arizona Jews for Justices campaign director, were also in attendance. JN

This article incorporated material from Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Six Greater Phoenix rabbis, other clergy highlight Arizona's 'draconian' abortion bans - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

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