Lessons from a Failed Rally
By all accounts, last week’s “Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice” was a dud. Public support failed to materialize, despite the rally’s backing from many of America’s largest Jewish organizations. The Forward, a staunch bastion of left-wing thought, generously suggested that “roughly 1,500 Jews” attended (though how they knew which were Jews is anyone’s guess). In reality, even the Washington Post and Jerusalem Post’s mutual estimate of “over a thousand” seemed excessive. But either way, the barriers and security were set to accommodate a crowd several times its actual size, and besides the hometown paper, the rally garnered no significant coverage outside Jewish media.
Even The Forward’s overly-optimistic assessment amounted to barely a minyan (10 people) per sponsoring organization, though these organizations claim to collectively represent millions of American Jews. Clearly, the notion that “banning abortions is a religious freedom issue” failed to galvanize the Jewish public, and this is instructive precisely because the sponsors spanned the gamut of purported “representatives” of non-Orthodox American Jewry. What was billed as a unified show of strength revealed that the edifice of the American Jewish establishment is on the verge of imminent collapse.
The Times of Israel reports that organizers tried to “emphasize how diverse the support for abortion access is.” They did this by introducing, to outsized applause, “Orthodox” rabbis and Maharats whose Orthodox bona fides are rejected by every recognized Orthodox rabbinic group. This was a fool’s errand, because no one was fooled. Truly Orthodox institutions were conspicuously absent from the list of sponsors, and as I stood spectating, without signs or placards, it was obvious from attendees’ reactions that they knew full well that my sympathies did not lie with them, simply because I look identifiably Orthodox.
The involvement of many of the participating organizations is itself revealing. The Anti-Defamation League’s stated mission is to fight antisemitism, and it is not as if that problem has been ebbing of late. Hillel International exists to support Jewish life on campus, while T’ruah exists to oppose Jewish life in Judea. Jewish Community Centers are where you go to work out on a Peleton and take a dip in the pool. And Jewish Community Relations Councils are supposed to represent the entire, unified Jewish community on issues of common interest. Yet all lent their names to a demonstration opposing the Torah’s position on a serious moral question, while claiming that what they supported was a “Jewish value.”
These organizations clearly felt it was an urgent priority for them to support access to abortion as a “religious” issue, though, notably, none of the foregoing have been at all vocal on behalf of Sabbath observance, keeping Kosher, or learning our holy texts at any serious level. The failure of the rally shows that the adoption of the cause du jour as a new “Jewish value” no longer holds traction. Did people not respond because they felt no enthusiasm supporting abortion, or no enthusiasm supporting those Jewish organizations? Either way, these “leaders” clearly lack followers.
This is not really a new lesson; redefining Jewish values to suit current mores has never worked. But it is clear that it needs to be learned in our day, because non-Orthodox Judaism is imploding at an increasing rate, both in America and around the world. Besides that more than half of non-Orthodox American Jewish young adults now describe themselves as “Jews of no religion,” the rally showed us that the allegiance of even those claiming a Jewish identity is paper thin.
That Judaism has lasted is an historical miracle. There is no religion or culture that has faced any similar level of persecution, and survived. In fact, it is the dominant cultures that once surrounded and often oppressed the Jews that have faded into history, while Judaism itself continues to thrive.
But the definition of “Judaism” that thrives is the one we were given 3,334 years ago (as of Shavuos, just weeks from now), the one that accepts the Torah as the sole arbiter of “Jewish values.” Movements which have attempted to change our beliefs or priorities have fallen by the wayside throughout our history, and that is what we observe playing out once again today. Only by following the path do we remain, and it is urgent that those valuing a Jewish future for their families once again proclaim their allegiance to our true and eternal Torah.
When social justice and the woke agenda and its view of children as either RL expendable or ideological cookie putter to be molded into social justice warriors is substituted for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, rallies such as the above can be expected together with sound bites for the legacy media about Judaism being in favor of “reproductive freedom” and the gender fluidity, and against the ideological companions of systemic racism and climate change
The overriding problem is that the “Judaism” the general public sees is nearly always its leftist mutation and falsification.
This is true whether rallies like this bomb out or not. When, yet again, socialism falls in a heap, we could be blamed yet again. This is one reason why CJV deserves our wide, enthusiastic support. It’s also why some other Orthodox organizations should reassess their traditionally close ties to the Democrats (example—their advocacy for Mayorkas’ disastrous appointment as Secretary for Homeland Security).
I first noticed the thing about sponsors years ago at some planned massive anti-Israel rally in DC. There were 300 sponsoring organizations and about 2,000 people showed up. That’s less than seven people per sponsor.
And here we have over 150 sponsors and 1,000 people, not all of them Jewish. (One article explicitly says that Christian pastors spoke.) So it’s about the same rate.
In fairness, there’s probably a *lot* of overlap between these bodies, but come on, that doesn’t improve matters much. The main sponsor was the NCJW- this was part of their actual *convention*- and they claim 180,000 members. The two main sponsors after that (after two rich family foundations) were Hadassah, with 330,000 claimed members, and the URJ (880,000 actual members, claim to “represent” 2.2 million). Abortion is the biggest issue for liberals, period- and this is what they managed?
I noted years ago, after an election to the Zionist Congress, that the total number of votes (including the significant Orthodox vote) was about half the number of people attending the Siyum HaShas at the same time, and if, say, half those attendees had voted, the Congress would be about 100% Orthodox. Well, in the last election, there was both a Religious Zionist and a somewhat more charedi-friendly slate, which combined did very well indeed.
I would suggest that one sad reality is that the type of Jew who really supports abortion is very unlikely to identify with anything Jewish at all. So they might attend an abortion rally, but this one doesn’t even appear on their radar, and if it did they might be “uncomfortable” with the parochial nature of it. This is not good news, by the way: Hadassah does good work and needs the money. And as R’ Norman Lamm once pointed out to us, a Jew being a member of URJ or USCJ is far preferable to one who’s a member of nothing. But it’s a fact that an increasing percentage of American Jews are not at all connected. (It would be nice if Israeli officials of all stripes were made aware of this fact.)
Ironic fact; the streams of Judaism who are seemingly more “kind” to women and support abortion at all cost and in every circumstance will quickly disappear, while the ones who wish it for emergency purposes only, allowing an abortion just to save a life and not destroy future life, will continue on and grow.
Thank you Rabbi Menken for your wisdom and continued clarification of the Jewish position on abortion, which is to defend and protect human life. Abortion is a negative thing and these organizations at the rally are Jewish in name only. It is tragic that they are mobilized to promote abortion on demand as a Jewish value by distorting Jewish law, rather than promoting the Torah’s positive values, to choose life. I always enjoy reading your articles and learn from your commentaries.