Real Torah / Real Life: Abortion, Beyond Law
Real Torah / Real Life: Abortion, Beyond Law

Yom Iyyun on Abortion, Beyond Law

Tuesday, August 2-Wednesday, August 3

All sessions will be held on Zoom



In a time when the dignity and agency of people navigating hard realities of pregnancy is being denied, there is much work to be done. Alongside taking action, it is also a moment to reach for the narratives and theologies that strengthen us in this work. Embracing our Jewish tradition, we can find a much-needed religious voice of care and compassion towards experiences of abortion.

Join us and learn from sensitive teachers who bring our rich tradition to encounter the complexities of people’s real lives, in theory and in practice. We will lift up a vision of Torah that can hold us - as individuals and as a society - as we do the beautiful, hard, and messy work of filling the world with life, work which has always included life, loss, and decisions to end pregnancies.


This yom iyyun (day of study) is presented in partnership with SVIVAH/HerTorah, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, the JTS Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice, Jewish Women's Archive, Our Love Continues, Maharat, JOFA, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Schedule - All Times Eastern

Tuesday, August 2

7:45-9:45 PM 

Our Stories, Our Bodies, Our Torah: Coming Together as a Community After Dobbs
A women's-only* space for study, reflection, and community support. Join us for 8 sessions with 14 talented educators sharing pastoral voices of Torah, leadership and empathy, alongside women*s stories and lived experience. Together we will face this moment of upheaval in all its complexity, approaching it together with holiness and care. View session descriptions on SVIVAH's website.
*SVIVAH defines "Jewish woman" as anyone wishing to be included in a circle of Jewish women. If you want to be here, we want you to be here. And, welcome.


Wednesday, August 3

11:00-12:00 PM: Opening Panel 

Stories We Know and Don't Know: A Quest for Agency and Dignity​
Dr. Michal Raucher, Dr. Chavi Karkowsky, Dr. Esther Altmann. Moderated by Rabbi Aviva Richman.
The goal of this panel is to frame the day by being firmly rooted in real narratives and stories as the bedrock for our learning.  Panelists will share about the broad range of experiences people have around abortion, from the perspectives of medicine, psychology, and medical ethics.  What does it mean to approach these stories with an eye towards honoring agency and dignity?

12:00-12:30 PM: Break

12:30-1:30 PM

When Worlds Fall At Our Feet: A Modern Midrash about Loss and Grief
Rabbi Avi Strausberg
In this session, we'll turn to a modern midrash that explores God's grief in the wake of the destruction of her worlds. We'll look to God as a model for how to sit with loss, where to turn to for strength and what it looks like to reconstitute a world from blood, tears, and fragments of brokenness.

Abortion and Wanted Pregnancies: Experiences and Identities that Transcend Halakhic and American Political Discourse 
Dr. Shira Billet
In this session we will focus on a particular kind of experience: Abortion of a wanted pregnancy after a devastating fetal diagnosis. Often, experiences around abortion that are deeply personal and extra-legal or apolitical are abstracted into predetermined Jewish-legal (halakha) or political categories to make value judgments (right/wrong) or legal judgments (permitted/forbidden). While there is always an unbridgeable gap between personal experience and a broader explanatory category, by lifting up the voices of women who have gone through this particular kind of experience in the context of a halakhic community and in the shadow of the disputations of the American public square, we will see that their stories defy the categories set by both of the halakhic and political discourses. We will see that the pain, love, and identity that emerges from this experience simply doesn't fit into how we talk about abortion. Sometimes this discourse adds to pain in unexpected ways. If we want to better support our friends and fellow citizens going through this experience within and beyond our Jewish communities, it behooves us to hear their stories.

Stories of Abortion in Judaism: Ancient and Modern
R. Aviva RIchman interviewing Dr. Tirtzah Meacham
We will consider some of the earliest Jewish sources about women seeking abortion, alongside some of the most modern Jewish sources about seeking abortion. What factors can affect a “Jewish approach” to abortion? How do Jewish approaches to abortion intersect with wider cultural contexts?

1:30-2:30 PM

The Words Within: A Creative Excavataion 
Facilitated by SVIVAH and Kohenet Rachel Kann
This moment is hard to put into words. Together we will find them. Our stories bring the world into focus. Join Kohenet Rachel Kann as she guides us through an introspective creativity workshop, cultivating connections between what is within to what builds a bridge to the page. This workshop is a special opportunity to work closely with Rachel, a globally acclaimed poet, author, and writing instructor. No previous writing experience necessary. Just an openness to what you might discover + to what might be shared. Creativity in any form is most welcomed. You won’t have to share unless you want to. Bring something to write with and something to write on, or your computer; whatever speaks to you creatively. 

This session is intended for those who identify as women* or nonbinary.
*SVIVAH defines "Jewish woman" as anyone wishing to be included in a circle of Jewish women. If you want to be here, we want you to be here. And, welcome.

2:30-3:30 PM

Different Questions, Different Answers: Rabbinic Views About When Life Begins
Rabbi Micha'el Rosenberg
*Please note that some of the sources we'll be learning in this session discuss the death of newborns and infants. If you need to step away during the class for any reason please feel free to do so.

Abortion Across Time: Personal Narratives​ 
Jennifer Cowan, Dr. Elizabeth Stone, and Rabbi Zachary Truboff. Moderated by Dr. Esther Altmann.
The decision to abort is often deeply personal and complex, which many hold privately. At the same time, sharing experiences of abortion has taken on new meaning and relevance in our current political moment. This panel aims to personalize the topic of abortion through the particular experiences of three individuals. Their stories span over fifty years across time and history, from 1965 when abortion was illegal to the present. Panelists will reflect on the effects of an abortion on one’s life course, how feelings about that decision may evolve over time, and how relationships, values, and broader social systems may impact experiences. 

3:00-4:00 PM

"Soul-Holding": A Space For Processing, A Space for Stories
Facilitated by SVIVAH and Yael Flusberg
Spend this session with us as we widen the circle of care, taking time to reflect on what this moment is bringing up for us. We will use guided meditation, writing, and discussion to explore what we are holding. Expect an experiential-rich session together, and know that you will not need to share unless you choose to do so. Bring your favorite pen and paper. Yael is an expert "soul-holder" with profound experience in the areas of grief and trauma -- let's be together with her and give her permission to help us uncover what needs to surface.

This session is intended for those who identify as women* or nonbinary.
*SVIVAH defines "Jewish woman" as anyone wishing to be included in a circle of Jewish women. If you want to be here, we want you to be here. And, welcome.

4:00-5:00 PM

Matriarchs and Reproductive Justice
Rabbi Tali Adler, Rev. Dr. Angela Parker, and Rabbi Aviva Richman
This interfaith conversation will explore how religious traditions interpret and reinterpret the stories of Hagar and Rebecca in a way that can bring our attention to contemporary issues of reproductive justice in America. Who has access to what reproductive choices and how is race a critical part of this conversation? Join R. Tali Adler of Hadar and Rev. Dr. Angela Parker, of Mercer University for a rich encounter between religious texts and real needs across religious and racial communities in contemporary America.

Our Grief Matters Too - A Conversation for Bereaved Partners and Spouses Who Have Experienced Abortion, Miscarriage, IVF Failures, or End of a Wanted Pregnancy 
Facilitated by Rabbi Ilan Glazer
Discussions of pregnancy loss often leave out the needs of the partners and spouses of the birth parent. The spouses and partners are called upon to support the birthing and/or pregnant parents. Who supports the partners? When tragedy strikes, partners and spouses are affected too. In this confidential conversation, we'll share our own experiences as non-birthing/pregnant partners and spouses. Our emotions are important too, and the sadness and heartbreak we carry is very real. Together, we'll begin unpacking our own journeys and stories of loss and finding comfort and support from others who've experienced these painful journeys as well. May all of us find healing and peace.

5:00-7:40 PM: Break

8:00-9:15 PM: Closing Session

Holding These Stories and This Moment Through Torah​
R. Aviva Richman, Ariele Mortkowitz, R. Aliza Sperling,  R. Deborah Sacks Mintz
R. Aviva will offer a closing teaching on what it means for Torah to hold stories of abortion, and reflect with the organizers of the Yom Iyyun on what we witnessed today and how to take that with us.  We will close with song led by R. Deborah Sacks Mintz.