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How Jews Talk About Abortion (Re-Release)

The following is a transcript of a revisit of Episode 75 of the Identity Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Identity Crisis, a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, and it’s Monday, May 9th, 2022. 

Okay, before we start, a new, quick, important way to help our show and our organization. We’re in the middle of expanding our podcast offerings. In order to do that, we need to know more about you, our listeners, whether you listen to every episode or you just drop in occasionally. In order to do this, we have a short survey, which you can access easily from your phone or your computer to complete the survey. Again, very short, go to Really would help us a lot. Please take a second and fill out the survey today. Again, 

So abortion is back in the news again, in a big way. After the leak last week of a document purporting to be a majority opinion, drafted by Supreme Court Justice Alito that would overturn Roe V Wade and turn over the question of the legality of abortions to states to decide for themselves. 

The news cycle since then has been breathless with anger and speculation about the leak itself, which punctures the famous secrecy of the deliberation process of the US Supreme Court and constitutes another data item in the decline of American political institutions to the proposed legal reasoning itself of Alito’s decision to the resulting implications for not only abortion in this country, but a wide set of other issues that the court may change course on, implications for upcoming elections. And now also to questions about what protest and opposition should look like. It was a seismic moment in America, and it feels like we’re now in a liminal space. 

American political questions like this don’t merely prompt Jewish questions as though we are spectators to the news, figuring out the Jewish angle. They are inherently Jewish questions, especially for all of us Jewish Americans, for whom our Jewishness and our Americanness are intertwined.

It’s an embodied question for some, a rights and obligations question for others, and as part of an unfolding and maybe collapsing political order in this country, a referendum of sorts for this project of American democracy. Six months ago, we did a show with Dr. Michal Raucher of Rutgers on how we should and shouldn’t conduct this abortion debate as Jews, with an eye, not just to the American conversation, but also looking at the case of reproductive rights and reproductive justice, as they are talked about in Israel.

We’re proud of that episode. It’s timely, and we’re bringing it back today as a key framework for thinking about the news cycle. Hope you enjoy it. 

Her research, quoting from the bio, lies at the intersection of Israel studies, Jewish ethics, and the anthropology of women in Judaism. That intersection is exactly in line with the tangled conversations I want to have today.

And she’s the author most recently of Conceiving Agency: Reproductive Authority Among Haredi Women, published in 2020 by Indiana University Press. Best of all, a delightful person, a great conversationalist, Michal, thanks for being on Identity Crisis.

Michal: Thanks for having me, Yehuda, I’m really glad to be having this important conversation with you.

Yehuda: So Michal it, it seems to me that the two initial responses that we tend to see in the Jewish community in response to whenever there’s an abortion debate, which is pretty common, are, one is kind of political organizing, where very prominently Jews as political liberals or progressives, or in reverse, maybe increasingly Jews as evangelicals, conservatives, responding kind of as Americans, politically. And the other response is thought pieces that position, this about a Halakhic debate, a Jewish law debate, is abortion permitted or forbidden. 

Uh, those both to me, feel important in one way or another, and also a little bit lacking. So what’s good or bad about those as the initial responses. And how else should we engage in this debate as a Jewish community?

Michal: I have mixed reactions to these responses as well. On the one hand, I am politically liberal, I’m Jewish. So I’m glad that Jews feel motivated by this issue to go out and protest and make sure that people know that Jews are pro-choice in some way or the other. The problem though, with these kind of knee-jerk liberal reactions to this issue is that it makes it seem like abortion isn’t a complex moral issue, and it actually is a complex moral issue for many people who have abortions and we wouldn’t want to minimize that and make it seem like, oh, it’s easy to be pro-choice. 

That’s kind of one piece, but the other piece that kind of irks me about the way Jews are responding as politically liberal, is that it often makes it seem like we don’t have Jewish religious language for thinking about this issue. Jews are responding as liberals and not as Jews. And it makes it seem like there isn’t religious support for abortion. Now, unfortunately, as you said, the way that Jews end up responding with their religious support is with Halakhic arguments and Halakhic sources that support abortion. And I also am kind of mixed on this one too, because on the one hand, it responds to the idea that religion is anti-abortion and it’s kind of the language that people in the public are often familiar with when it comes to religious language is citing sources.

So for Christians, that’s often biblical sources, for Jews that ends up being rabbinic and halakhic sources. So I get the tendency to use, draw on those sources. The problem is that the Halakhic sources promote what we call a justification framework for thinking about abortion and for this, I must cite my wonderful friend and colleague, Dr. Toddie Peters, who has written extensively about Christian support for the pro-choice movement, Christian support for abortion. And the problem with the justification framework is that it assumes, first of all, that abortion is a moral or a legal wrong except in certain circumstances. 

This kind of thinking is an act of social control. One has to prove they have a good enough reason to have an abortion in order for us to think of it as morally okay. It shames people for exercising their right to reproductive health care. People end up spending a lot of time and energy thinking about the circumstances under whether one can have an acceptable abortion. And the whole conversation is framed as one of judgment. 

There’s no surprise, then, that people feel a great deal of shame about their reproductive choices when we’ve framed it, as you have to justify your decision. And moreover, it suggests the fact that there are some cases where abortion cannot be justified and if abortion can not be justified, then what we’re talking about is forced pregnancy and childbirth.

And that’s really the end of that conversation, if you can’t find a good enough reason, quote, unquote, to have an abortion, then you’re forced to continue the pregnancy. So the halakhic framework, I get the instinct. I really do get it on a deep level, but it’s problematic and I wish we could come up with some Jewish language that is strongly Jewish and not halakhic. 

Yehuda: So just to take your two points, they create a little bit of an obvious tension that I want to kind of get out, which is, on one hand, you want a religious conversation and not purely a political response. When you organize politically around liberalism or progressive values, that sends a certain message that the liberal values or progressive values are not the same as religious values. And we have to unpack how much those religious values, what we really mean, are Christian values in America. 

We want a genuine and authentic religious response, but almost instinctively, the religious response tends to be one of Halakhah. So let’s start to unpack. What are the other types of religious vocabulary, religious values that I think would be more native or authentic to how Jews might construct this conversation that would lend itself to serious thought on abortion that does not operate within what you described as the justification framework?

What are those examples? 

Michal: I often think of the way Jewish, liberal, political mobilization around the immigrant rights movement was often one of coidentification, so it was, we were immigrants too. And that to me felt strongly Jewish, and not halakhic. So one of the things actually, you didn’t mention in your intro as to why Jews should care about this issue is because Jews have abortions.

You know, it should matter to Jews because it is part of reproductive healthcare. Jews reproduce like, like many other people and Jews need abortions and have abortions. And, you know, we’ve seen so many stories out there, recently that, you know, are people coming forward with their abortion stories and talking by the way about the shame that they felt for so many years and the reason why they’ve kept it secret.

But I think co identification needs to be part of the Jewish response to abortion. So that’s number one. But the other kind of framework that I think might be really helpful to us is actually pronatalism and I know that that’s a little surprising. And I, there are so many problems with the pro-natalist rhetoric and so many critiques that I myself have offered in various places.

Uh, uh, I think it’s important for us to remember that pro-natalism does not mean that every fertilized egg becomes a baby. It doesn’t mean that every fertilized egg should become a baby. And it certainly hasn’t meant that every fertilized egg becomes a baby. So I think there are, you know, ways in which the pro-natalist rhetoric can actually inform a Jewish pro-choice response.

Yehuda: Okay. So you’ve opened up a number of threads for us to unpack. I do want to come back to the question of how much of this should be for American Jews, a religious conversation altogether. I know you have a lot to say about other issues as well that relate to this, but let’s stay on this, on this natalism position because American Jews have historically been both pro-natalist and pro-choice.

It’s kind of a weird position, right. Those who would be pro-natalist, I want the most possible babies, would be therefore anti-choice, create all sorts of restrictions on birth control, uh, all sorts of restrictions on ending pregnancies, et cetera.

It, it’s oftentime, I think for many American Jews, a secular position on both fronts, right? Concern about the Jewish future, having enough Jews, not really as a religious argument, and a secular pro-choice position, because that’s a common liberal position. It’s not obvious that those are compatible.

So maybe you can help unpack a little bit the relationship between those two positions, what it means for the critical mass of American Jews and Jewish leaders to be identified with both of these camps. 

Michal: I actually think that the pro-natalist rhetoric in America is religious in a particular way. And this is pronatalism I mean, we can talk about pronatalism in a lot of different contexts, but pronatalism is generally not wanting the most number of babies broadly conceived. It’s actually interested in reproducing a very specific kind of baby.

This we’ve seen in various Jewish contexts in Israel and in America. And whenever the continuity conversation comes up after one of these surveys, you know, the NJPS or the Pew, it’s often because there is a realization or a, some numerical evidence for the fact that Orthodox Jews are reproducing at much higher rates, intermarriage rates are very high and keep growing and therefore there is a decreasing number of involved liberal non-Orthodox Jews. And, so pronatalism is really targeted at a very particular population and intending for that particular population to reproduce. I think that is a particular religious population, um, not a secular population, actually emphatically, not a secular population.

The secular population is part of the problem really. I think also though, one of the things I just want to raise is that pronatalism actually, doesn’t have to be in conflict with a pro-choice attitude. And I’ll just point to some of the qualitative data that’s been gathered on people who have abortions.

They actually talk often when they explain why they have, why they terminated a pregnancy, it’s because they want to have children at a different point in their life or because they’re already taking care of several children. So it’s not that they’re antinatalist in any way, they’re just also making choices about how to create a family.

Yehuda: Right. In the context of the American political debate at present, some sort of parental leave is obviously also a pro-natalist position. And it’s, it’s just utterly bizarre to me that only abortion gets framed in that context of being how one plays out pro-natalist politics, as opposed to all of the other ways in which our society can make it easy and more beneficial.

And it’s interesting that there’s been such little work in the Jewish community from a values and religious values perspective on that issue. On all of the other 25 things that Jewish communities and the larger culture can do to actually promote more Jewish babies. 

Michal: Yeah, the anxiety about continuity and the pronatalism is often presented just as anxiety. The solutions offered could be pro-natalist in ways that are very pro-family. But we never quite get there in the conversation.

Yehuda: Let’s talk a little bit about class, actually, this is a quote from Beverly Harrison’s Our Right to Choose, which is, I know a book that you’ve responded to in your own research. The argument says, “evidence mounts that modern attitudes towards birth control are shaped less and less by religious ideology or traditional culture, than by the total socioeconomic matrix of a given society.”

Okay, so this, this harkens back a little bit in earlier our conversation of how much is this a conversation really for American Jews about religion and for Americans more broadly about religion and traditional values and how much is religion and traditional values, like a trump card that gets pulled out where I can use that to show, what I’m really talking about is religion, but what’s really under the surface is socioeconomics.

So just, can you disentangle those a little bit? Like how do you read that playing out for American Jews? 

Michal: I think actually one of the reasons American Jews end up feeling a little distant from this conversation about SB8 and about pro-choice attitudes and advocacy. I think a lot of American Jews don’t think this is an issue that affects them. For several reasons.

One, they are largely though certainly not entirely in a high enough socioeconomic class that they can afford terminations when they need the service. That’s number one. They’re also overly concentrated in urban liberal political environments where abortion is not under threat. So I think those two issues make it seem as if this isn’t a Jewish related issue or this isn’t an issue that Jews need to care about because it’s not an issue that matters to Jews or will affect Jews in any way.

And the truth is that, you know, wealthy women, even upper-middle-class women in all parts of the country, even in Texas, will find ways to terminate a pregnancy if they need to. Whereas it’s the poor women, it’s women of color, it’s women who are still teenagers, who will have much more trouble accessing abortion services as a result of SB8 and all of these other regulations.

And so that’s absolutely an issue that we’re not fully dealing with in the Jewish community. And one that, you know, I really wish we were.

Yehuda: So one of the more interesting ways as well to look at this issue for Jews, at large and around the world is to also notice the gaps between the way that the abortion debate and the natalism debate is viewed in Israel. The, I guess, the dominant Jewish society, uh, around the world, as opposed to the American experience as a minority within this culture. 

Pronatalism is a state value in Israel. There are also large communities of Jews in Israel, especially ultra-Orthodox Jews who are explicitly and overtly pro-natalist and have been, especially since, since the Holocaust with explicit language of population replenishment. And the state actually is pro-natalist in all sorts of ways.

And yet, there are different and more relaxed rules around abortion in Israel. So paint that picture a little bit, because if we’re struggling around that question for American Jews, what it means to be pro-natalist and pro-choice, the state of Israel seems to be actually kind of ahead of the American Jewish community in this way. 

Michal: Yeah. In some ways. Yeah. So, Israel is pronatalist in many ways. It has a history of being pronatalist since the British mandate period, actually, the yishuv was pronatalist, you know, and the yishuv was actually pro-natalist also for very particular populations. Ben Gurion has this famous speech that he gave just to leadership in the kibbutz movement that was, we need our women to start reproducing more. There was definitely an idea that they needed more Ashkenazi birth rates. 

So, that’s, you know, pre-state period into early statehood. Ben Gurion had created this heroine prize that would award women who gave birth to their 10th child. There are also various pieces of legislation built into the health insurance law and the veteran’s insurance law that are meant to help, especially Jews and specific Jews to reproduce at higher rates. You know, this was tied up in demographic wars and the post-1967 push to increase the population, as they were facing the Palestinian reality and the west bank and in Gaza. 

And then now we see it also with the support for reproductive technologies and Israel actually pays for the use of reproductive technologies like IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis up to the birth of two live children.

So that’s as many cycles as you need, which could be tens of thousands of dollars in the United States, Israel will support individuals. And many of the accommodations for reproductive technologies and the financial support are given to both heterosexual and homosexual couples and single individuals.

So the pronatalism even though it is targeting a very particular population, primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, it is broadly applied and really conceived of very widely. At the same time, Israel, since the 1970s, has had on the books the pregnancy termination law, which officially says abortion is illegal except in the following circumstances. Again, there’s this justification framework, but the circumstances are, you know, a woman’s age, which is constantly altered by the way. If the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. If the fetus might be born with some kind of disability or deformity. If the continuation of the pregnancy might harm her, a woman’s life or her health, and all of these stipulations, if one meets those stipulations, they can have an abortion until really the very end of pregnancy. 

And there are, you know, committees in hospitals where a woman has to go if she wants the abortion paid for by the state to really justify her decision. And if anybody is watching, Shtisel, you know, the first season of Shtisel has Gitty in front of one of those committees saying why she wants to have this abortion. So both of those things are existing at the same time. 

And one of the tensions that’s existed in Israel is this challenge that those with the highest birth rates are also those who require the most financial support from the state.

And this has been a constant negotiation. In the 1960s in when Professor Roberto Becci was thinking about how to increase fertility rates, a huge awareness that they talked about the quality of Israeli children and not just the quantity of Israeli children. And there, they were really talking about what it meant to be responsible parents, meant to be parents who could afford to raise all of their children. 

And so, you know, there was always this tension of how do we increase Jewish birth rates while at the same time, reducing child poverty. And this is attention that Israel still struggles with. You know, and in my own research, what I saw among Hareidi women is that they’re thinking about this too. How do I have more children while at the same time, recognizing the fact that I can’t afford more children. And, you know, demographers have noted that as support from the state has increased to Haredi communities, their fertility rates rise as well. 

And when support decreases, when financial incentives decrease, fertility rates decrease as well. So the financial realities of raising children is intimately connected to those reproductive choices. And so it’s been part of the way people are making decisions about reproduction. And it’s also part of the way, you know, the policy in Israel around abortion and pronatalism has factored in those financial decisions as well.

Yehuda: Right. And needless to say any pro natalist policy in Israel has had very specific, oftentimes overt implications for which types of people we want to be born. Needless to say, for decades, we’ve talked about like, quote unquote, the demographic threat to Israel and the question of Israeli babies and Palestinian babies. 

But even inside Israel itself Haredi populations are more likely to be treated by secular populations as having too many children. There’s all sorts of almost antisemitic language that emerges around. Different implications for Mizrahi Jews. So where of the places where the state of Israel has been overtly pro natalist and where has it been actually less pro natalist and more, almost, hate to say, eugenicist in terms of promoting some babies and not others? 

Michal: Yeah. So Meira Weiss wrote a book several years ago where she really wrote that there’s this combination of both high incidents of ultrasound testing and actually Tzippi Ivri has done research much more recently on this, prenatal testing and this emphasis on creating quality babies, which now means really babies who can fight for the state and the army. So babies really, who are not disabled. 

And the push she, they find in reproductive medicine to terminate pregnancies where any number of disabilities are found and people will point to that abortion law from a long time ago that codified, you know, the idea that abortion for disabilitie was permissible.

And by the way, it didn’t define what kind of disability. So people have interpreted that very, very broadly. Tzippi Ivri to be every talks about the ultrasound as an ultrasound horror show, actually, that the whole idea is to find disabilities, to look so closely that you could find disabilities and that kind of catastrophe is right around the corner.

So, yeah, we see that idea too. And actually in the abortion legislation debate, we see a lot of legislators pushing for what became known as the fifth clause, which ultimately did not get into the law. But this fifth clause that would permit abortion for socioeconomic reasons.

Explicitly really saying we don’t want babies to be born to families that are too large and too poor. And what was fascinating as I read those proceedings was that the religious members of Knesset objected to that fifth provision, not on religious grounds, so to say, it’s not like they were quoting halakhah. I mean, the farthest they went was to say that Israel was worse than Pharaoh, worse than Pharaoh, because they were aborting all babies and not just male babies. 

But you know, the religious MKs said instead, you’re targeting our women and our women are now going to be able to have abortions. And that’s the problem. And of course that was part of the intention of the law. It didn’t get in because of various political turnovers, but that’s another example of just Israel has this pronatalism that is extremely targeted and extremely specific in these ways.

Yehuda: I remember, you mentioned IVF. I remember a few years ago, it’s extraordinary that it didn’t end up at the time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political career, but they had advanced some legislation that said that they were going to allow, I think, seven rounds of IVF that would be paid for by the state, which is already dramatically more than you can get your health insurance in America to pay for.

They were going to limit it to seven rounds. Which would have saved the state X number of dollars. And there was a huge public outcry. And the following day on all of the talk shows, on all of the radio shows in the morning, were families that showed up with the baby born at round eight. 

Right, of like, if you’re going to click, it’s a, it’s such an Israeli story.

It basically died. Like nobody wanted to have that happen. And anecdotally, what people say is it’s a country that simply caters towards parenting and to children and babies in a totally different way, even if, as you’re indicating, you know, that may be the overt culture, but it’s played out differently to different sectors of the society in different ways. 

In, in your research, Michal you talk a lot about Hareidi women’s agency. In fact, that’s the nature of your book, of all of the various pressures that are on specifically Haredi women. You look at like Haredi politicians in the Knesset, that’s your example of Pharaoh, right? I think it was Menachem Porush right. But, but this is a lived issue for individual Haredi women who are oftentimes construed as being the baby makers of the Haredi world. 

But get us a little bit into the mindset of the decision-making and the nexus of questions and, and even the power and agency that Haredi women are navigating as they actually have the most control in this process about what Haredi families look like. 

Michal: So reproduction is absolutely an important value for Haredi women. It is how they see their contribution to Haredi society. And it’s not minimized in any way. I’ts not seen as a less than value. In fact, it’s a value that is seen as vital to the continuation of Haredi life. And in fact, it is vital to the continuation of Haredi life.

It’s also though balanced with the realities in which they live, where Haredi women in Israel generally work. They work at the same rates as their secular counterparts. Their husbands do not work at the same rates as their secular counterparts.

So they’re mostly the breadwinners for the family. And the financial realities of raising these large families is a consideration for them. It’s one of the reasons why they go on birth control, hormonal birth control, often without the approval of rabbinic authorities.

You know, what I develop in the book is they come to see reproduction as something that falls squarely within their realm of authority, because partially because of these cultural and theological understandings of pregnancy as so vital to the community and them as the only ones who can carry this through. Their husbands, can’t carry babies, and their Ravs can’t carry babies, only they can carry the babies.

 So they see themselves as the authorities over it and therefore the financial realities come into play. The fact that they have to work, in other words, even if they could afford it, they still have to go to work. And so they can’t just keep having children.

They’re also very concerned about whether a child born with a disability will affect their ability to raise the children they already have, or to parent more children down the road. So those kinds of considerations are coming in as well. 

Now for women who find themselves pregnant and in a situation where they cannot afford to raise another child, these Haredi women often turn to Agudat Efrat or the Efrat organization. Um, Efrat is the largest anti-abortion organization in Israel. And Efrat actually will say they’re not anti-abortion, and they’re not entirely anti-abortion. This is another one of these kind of like, things that you wouldn’t see in America because of the binary nature of this debate. But Efrat will support a woman who needs to have an abortion because the continuation of the pregnancy would be dangerous to her life. Or if there are severe disabilities discovered. What Efrat is opposed to is abortions for what they call financial reasons. So they say we don’t end a life because of money, because we can’t afford the pregnancy or the baby. 

And so Haredi women who find themselves in a tough financial situation will go to Efrat and get some social services. They may not actually be thinking about termination. Some of them might be, and might be convinced by Efrat’s package of gifts. But others might just be going to Efrat for a year of baby food and diapers and the new stroller and a new crib, all of these things that Efrat provides to women who they can convince not to have an abortion.

So, you know, in many ways it is a crisis pregnancy center, like we would have in the United States, and that, you know, are really problematic. And in other ways, they’re also targeting their anti-abortion message to a particular type of abortion.

Yehuda: We started off the show talking about the problem of framing abortion through the realm of Halakhah because of justification language. But one of the sites for ultra-orthodox Jews, for Haredi Jews to litigate these questions is through rabbinic authority. Am I allowed to do the following?

I’m genuinely curious. From the outside, it would look like, okay. You’re actually, you’re genuinely asking a question of a Halakhic authority. My guess is that is not exactly what’s taking place. That actually there’s much more agency in how you decide to frame the question, what information you share, which rabbi you contact.

And I actually thought this was done pretty well in the third season of Shtisel, if you haven’t watched it yet, go back and watch it, so you don’t get spoiled. But a big part of that story is a person who really shouldn’t be having babies, trying desperately to have a baby and trying to figure out strategically when to engage Halakhic authorities in the process.

So I’d love to hear a little bit about like, how you’ve seen that in your research of Haredi women. Because the decision to the decision to ask a rabbi can be a source of powerlessness, but it also can be a tremendous tool of power. 

Michal: yeah, Ruchami’s my favorite in that season. I think she’s such a great example of some of the things that I, that I, you know, saw as well among the Haredi women I spoke to. So yeah, the Haredi woman will decide which rabbi to go to depending on what kind of an answer they want. And in that way, they’ve already made the decision, you know. 

Or sometimes, rebbetzins serve as kind of gatekeepers. So if they hear that something’s going on, they might say, don’t ask my husband because he’s going to give you this kind of an answer. Or if you want this answer, go ask this person. And so that’s already making the decision before they go to the Rav for the answer. 

What I observed though, also, in some of these cases, when women talk to me about what they might do, if they had you know, a diagnosis during the pregnancy, that was really something they wanted to terminate, is they would go to the rabbi to make the decision so that they didn’t have to. That there really was this sense of, it was morally complex and they wanted the relief off of their shoulders. 

Because part of the way that they think about themselves is reproducers. So that means not just getting pregnant. It actually means completing the pregnancy and having a baby afterwards. And if they’re making a decision to terminate, then it really challenges their own self-identification as reproducers.So they leave that decision to terminate to somebody else, but already kind of making the decision before they even approach a rabbi. 

And yeah, Ruchami and Chanina are great examples of that. I mean, Ruchami knows what the rabbi is going to say, and she just does something else entirely. And I think actually what’s really powerful about what she does is that she realizes that I don’t know how many spoilers we can give away,

Yehuda: Go for it

Michal: when she put, when she puts, it’s far enough out already, when she puts out the pregnancy pillow that the surrogacy agency gives her, that’s when she really realizes how much she misses being pregnant, that being pregnant is actually really important. It’s not just about the baby that comes out at the end, but it is the embodiment of the experience that makes her into a Haredi woman and gives her the kind of authority. She becomes really empowered to make that decision without the rabbi, because she can be pregnant. 

Yehuda: Right. I mean, she has, there’s a feminist icon aspect of that precisely for the reason that you’re describing of even within a system that is defining her value as related to producing children, she is going to dictate her own experience. I will say I was disappointed by the ending because it doesn’t always work out.

And it was kind of like a nice way of like everything working out. Although there’s a whole bunch of fan theories about how season four is going to start. 

Michal: I know, there are theories about what actually happened at the end. Yeah. 

Yehuda: What actually took place. I know. All right, last piece for you, Michal. So let’s assume, as I think is reasonable, that states aren’t going to get out of the business of trying to manage fertility and childbirth and pregnancy.

And that the Jewish community, in spite of your thesis that Jewish pronatalism is much more selectively applied, some people are encouraged to have babies, some are not. But that Jewish population anxiety, which has been around since Abraham. It’s not going away anytime soon. I should say Abraham and Sarah. 

And that there are, as we’ve talked about, like really different cultures around the values that get brought into bear in a Jewish pro-natalist conversation, both in America and Israel. What would you like the Jewish communal culture or conversation around the abortion debate in America to look like? What would be a healthy version of how we, as a collective, can be conducted in this conversation? 

Michal: I have learned a lot from the reproductive justice movement, and I think the reproductive justice movement actually provides us with a great model for thinking about how Jews can support abortion. And reproductive justice is this movement formed in the nineties by a group of black women who were reflecting the ways in which women of color and LGBTQ women felt excluded from the reproductive rights movement, because reproductive rights was basically just advocating for the right to abortion and the right to contraception. 

And many women of color were saying, wait a second, we’ve been forcibly sterilized for decades, so I would like the right to actually have children. And so reproductive justice said, you know, their principles are everybody has the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to raise their children in a healthy and safe environment. 

And when I hear that, I hear the various components of what Jews are expressing about pronatalism, about being pro-choice, about wanting better family leave policies, and all of these things.

It is expressing the fact that there are some people who are going to want to have children. And there are some people who are going to want to have children, but maybe not this child, or maybe not this child right now. And then there are some people who are not going to want to have children. And then there are people who are going to have children and need support for raising them.

And we need to be able to contain all of that. And I think the only time I’ve heard it expressed in a comprehensive way like that is in the reproductive justice movement. And I would love us to learn a little bit more from them and to, you know, be better allies and have our movement support theirs much more.

Yehuda: One kind of superficial way of understanding that is just, I’ve seen in my own life experience that like people who are kind of like me, but who are Israeli, are probably more likely to have one or two more children than I am, politically and that, and I’m fascinated by that. And I find that like, really healthy, to be able to say our family based on our socio-economic reality, our impression of what kind of family we’re supposed to be, what we can handle, what we can afford. All of that is making a set of family choices. And hopefully we, we live in a society that helps to promote those choices.

And if you live somewhere else and your society is organized a little bit differently, it helps to promote those choices. It’s when we start to feel as though our autonomy and decision-making about the fundamentally good act of constructing healthy families is defined and dictated in ways that suppress us. That’s when we start to get into trouble.

Yehuda: Thanks so much to all of you for listening to our show and special thanks to my guest this week, Dr. Michal Raucher.

Identity Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Joelle Fredman and M. Louis Gordon with assistance from Miri Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz and music provided by Socalled. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute can visit us online at

We’d love to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people find the show and you can write to us at [email protected]. You can subscribe to our show everywhere podcasts are available. We’ll see you next week. And thanks for listening.

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