GLENDALE, Wis. — A day after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Rabbi Joel Alter was at the pulpit, speaking to his congregation at Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale.
"The sermon I gave on Shabbat morning, Sabbath morning this past Saturday, the day after the decision came down, I would say was vigorously condemnatory of the decision and a call to action," Rabbi Alter said.
Rabbi Alter explains that Judaism doesn't recognize full personhood until birth.
"Prior to birth, even to the last moments of pregnancy, the mother's life, the mother who has full personhood, has prior claim. If there's a situation where one can only save the mother or the child, the mother will always take precedence until birth has occured," Rabbi Alter said. "We are called to do what we can as citizens to bring about change, to bring about the restoration of the right that has now been taken away by the court."
However, he said that should not be understood as an indifference to abortion and that Judaism is a life affirming tradition.
"The mother, her doctor and her rabbi, they are the ones not the legislature, to look carefully at what has to be a fraught and difficult decision," he said.
He said he felt offended by the Supreme Court's ruling because he said it infringes on his and the Jewish communities religious liberty.
"It's significantly an initiative of a particular Christian world view and interpretation of scripture that is not in align with Jewish tradition," he said. "The highly restrictive, if not complete [ban], now in Wisconsin... is definitely contrary to the religious freedom of our community. It's very problematic."
Sue Strait, co-president of the Milwaukee Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, said she was in D.C. when the draft decision from the Supreme Court was leaked back in May. She said the decision from the high court has been overwhelming.
"I am so disappointed and afraid for the decision that was made. For a decision that was made for my daughters, and their friends and all women," She said.
Strait is also concerned about her religious liberty.
"We came to this country ages ago because of religious freedom and right now, they're taking our religious freedom away and downplaying it in favor of someone else's morals and someone else's beliefs. That's very disturbing," Strait said. "I've grown up in a community where my Judaism meant that I could decide when to have a baby, whether to have a baby, and now somebody else has decided that and contradicted my Jewish upbringing."
Rabbi Alter said legal action isn't out of the question. Earlier this month in in Florida, our affiliate WPTV reported "a Palm Beach County rabbi is leading a legal challenge to keep abortion rights in Florida, and he's citing religious freedom.
Back in Milwaukee County, Rabbi Joel Alter said, "I have not had the opportunity to talk with my own rabbinic community to see if that has legal legs, if that's a place we want to go to advocate legally here in Wisconsin to make that claim. So I don't have an opinion yet, but to me that's plausible."
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council said in statement:
"Access to safe and affordable health care, including abortions, is essential to uphold the central Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, or saving a life. All branches of Judaism permit, and in some cases counsel abortion when a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Without federal protection of the right to terminate a pregnancy, Jews may be prohibited from acting in accordance with Jewish law under these circumstances."
Orthodox Jewish groups, like Agudath Israel of America, have expressed support for the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade.
"Agudath Israel has long been on record as opposing Roe v. Wade's legalization of abortion on demand. Informed by the teaching of Jewish law that fetal life is entitled to significant protection, with termination of pregnancy authorized only under certain extraordinary circumstances, we are deeply troubled by the staggering number of pregnancies in the United States that end in abortion."