Feeling a little left out…

Just this morning as Jonah was leaving for school, he remembered that he was supposed to bring paper plates for his class party.  He counted out the right number and stuffed them in his backpack.  Phew!  I wouldn’t have wanted my kid to be the freeloader, when everyone else remembered the party.

All joking aside, I am very sensitive to the fact that my kids often seem like outsiders.  They don’t attend dances and other activities on Friday nights.  They’re not available to walk around downtown or at the mall on Saturday afternoons.  They don’t eat the same foods as other kids.  They’re different.

Now, I may have chosen these differences for myself as an adult, but they didn’t.  They have had their outsider status imposed upon them by their parents.  As I have followed the national debate on contraception and abortion in recent weeks, I think I know exactly how they feel.  I sometimes feel like an outsider in my own my country and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

First, there was the Susan G. Komen Foundation–Planned Parenthood kerfuffle.  It was just one more attempt to delegitimize and weaken Planned Parenthood.  Although abortion is legal in this country and it is permissible according to Jewish law under certain circumstances, the “Pro-Life” movement thinks that their interpretation of the bible as it pertains to abortion ought to be the law of the land.  We read the same texts as them (the New Testament is silent on the issue of abortion) and come to different conclusions.  For now, Planned Parenthood has preserved its ability to provide abortion services for the neediest women in our country.  But the attacks will surely continue.

Then, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to the new national insurance law that requires all insurance companies to provide preventive health services including contraception.  Not surprisingly, they are opposed to providing contraception to employees of Catholic institutions because Catholic doctrine is opposed to all forms of contraception.  So, the Department of Health and Human Services devised a plan by which those employees could get contraception directly from insurance companies if they so wished without the Catholic Church having to be involved.  But, that was not sufficient.  The Bishops want the entire requirement for all Americans to be scrapped.

I just don’t understand this need to have one’s own religious law be the law of the land.  Is it not sufficient to simply have the freedom to follow one’s convictions?

As a religious person, I respect the rights of my fellow Americans to practice their religions as they please.  I cannot comprehend, however, why they feel the need to use our government to enforce their teachings.  Can you imagine a group of rabbis demanding that the USDA only approve kosher meat or that food stamps could only be used on kosher food?!  It’s ludicrous to even consider the possibility.

If the talented priests, pastors, ministers and reverends cannot convince their followers to observe the laws of their traditions, then why should the government do it for them?  And when the government chooses to indulge these religious leaders, it makes the rest of us feel like we forgot to bring our paper plates for the class party – the outsiders.

I pray that these efforts fail – not because I necessarily disagree with anyone’s religious stance – but because the US Government should never be used as a tool for religious persuasion.  As we begin to look forward to the festival of Passover, the festival of freedom, may we all work to preserve the freedoms to which we have become so accustomed in this country.  May our leaders recognize that the law of the land cannot be the law of one religious point of view.



PS – This was my most recent bulletin article.


About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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