Opinion: Texas Republicans mistakenly call on God in new effort to ban abortion
The Texas law virtually prohibiting abortion that the United States Supreme Court allowed to come into effect, contrary to the half-century constitutional precedent of Roe v. Wade, sent shockwaves through our nation. What’s so amazing about this turn of events and other current challenges that Roe v. Wade faces is how the Republican arguments against the ruling have changed over the years.
God is now part of the conversation. Republicans used to keep God out of the discussion, but that has changed because … well, probably because they know what God wants. But, in America, it’s not supposed to be like that.
Linda Greenhouse, an opinion writer for the New York Times, documents the change in Republican line-up in a September 9 article, “God Has No Place in Supreme Court Opinions.” She writes: “… with the wind at their back and the Supreme Court on their side, Republican officials are no longer shy about their religious mission to stop abortion.
Jewish tradition expelled God from the affairs of human law over a thousand years ago. In a discussion of an obscure law relating to ovens, Rabbi Eliezer argues with all the other rabbis. He is so sure of his position that he invokes miracles to prove that he is right.
Every miracle is dismissed as having nothing to do with the discussion, until a heavenly voice announces that Rabbi Eliezer is right, we read: “Rabbi Yehoshua stood up and said:” It is written: “This is no it’s not in heaven! ” With that, God was banished from the discussion.
Rabbi Joshua quotes Deuteronomy 30: 11-12: “Certainly, this instruction that I am enjoining on you today is not too confusing for you, nor out of reach. It is not in the heavens that you should say, ‘Who among us can ascend into heaven and procure it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ ”
The point is, human beings have the intelligence to figure things out. They don’t need God to tell them what to do.
Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Eliezer and the rest of the rabbis were engaged in an epic debate and clash between biblical and rabbinical Judaism. It is a discussion that our debate on the separation between “Church and State” echoes.
Rabbi Eliezer is like a biblical prophet. He preaches with his guts; he knows he is right and that God is on his side. It represents the biblical tradition that God makes his will known by direct revelation. Rabbi Joshua and the others argued out of rationality; the assiduous use of argument and reason.
After the biblical period, Jewish rabbis believed that God had given the responsibility for legislation to humans. We no longer rely on what people think God wants, but rather on the careful use of the human mind to discern what is right.
How did the rabbis come to this conclusion? By reason! And through the belief that it was God’s intention from the beginning to give the responsibility of finding the truth to humans, who would use the gift of the spirit to arrive at truths that reflect the experience of human beings.
The Hebrew Bible can be interpreted as the story of God withdrawing from earthly affairs and entrusting us with questions of judgment and morality. In Genesis, God is everywhere. At the end of the Bible, it is barely visible.
How did the rabbis come to believe that God wanted us to find out the truth by using human reason and rationality instead of relying on the voices of heaven? In a rabbinical story that takes place before creation, the rabbis imagine that in heaven God was planning to create Adam. The beings who made up the court of God, we might call them angels, were debating whether or not this was a good idea.
The debate is described as follows: “… the angels in the service formed themselves into groups, some of them saying, ‘let it be created’, while others urged, ‘let it not be. not created. Some have argued that Adam should be created because he will do good deeds and acts of righteousness. Others opposed the creation of mankind because people will wage war. The “truth” opposes the creation of mankind because people will be “full of lies …”
And the story continues: “What did God do? God took hold of the Truth and threw it to the ground, as it is written “and the truth will be sent to the earth”.
When the ministering angels ask God why he did this, God responds, “May the truth arise from the earth!” This is why the Scripture says, “Let the truth come forth from the earth. (Psalms 85:12)
Rabbis tell us that God understands that “truth” and the human condition cannot coexist. The truth of God alone cannot be the criterion of human law, which must be discerned through the experience of real human life. God chooses humans and their ability to reason about his “truth”.
God throws the truth to the ground and says that the truth that informs human life will not come from heaven to earth, but will sprout from the ground. The truth does not come from heaven; but land as humans can best understand it.
Unlike the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, we don’t know what happened to the first tablets that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. According to tradition, the fragments of these broken tablets, written by the “finger of God”, were locked in the ark never to be seen again. Why? One scholar, Daniel Taub, suggests that this is because these shards were very dangerous. If someone came into their possession, you would think they had The Truth.
Almost nothing is more dangerous than those who think they know the mind of God and the truth of God. Texas anti-abortion law is proof of this truth.
Michael Berk is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California.