Category Archives: Gender

The Blessings of Health and Choice vs. the Curse of Coercion

Stand Up Monday – Rally at Texas Capitol:
July 1, 2013
Clergy Opening Remarks:
“The Blessings of Health and Choice vs. the Curse of Coercion”
Rabbi Rick Brody

“Enough!” to the invasive curse of meddling lawmakers who seek to deprive women their rights.  “Yes!” to the blessings that come with the safe, free exercise of conscience. 

[Video courtesy of Roz Altmejd]

I am blessed to stand here today with courageous and resolute Texas women. I stand here as a rabbi, as a husband, and a father. As the son of Democrat and Republican parents who are both ardently pro-choice. Parents who adopted two newborn children—before a surprise pregnancy with me. Yes: my parents, my siblings, and I all know—intimately—that what’s unplanned can become a blessing; but only when choices are made freely, without the curse of coercion. There is no blessing in treating a woman’s body contrary to her wishes. And even the best-laid plans can intrude on blessing—when a woman’s health is at risk or when a fetus holds no promise of a healthy life. My tradition shares both a deep reverence for the blessing of potential life and also this adamant conviction: the blessing of a pregnant woman’s life takes precedence over the potential life of her fetus at all times—and up until the moment of birth, the fetus is part of her body.

But with clinics beyond her access, or if her doctor is denied privileges at hospitals asserting their religious views, or if certain fetal complications are not yet detectable, or when women find themselves cursed with despair in back alleys—then, the state has endangered women’s health and the state has cursed their dignity. By imposing one moral conclusion to such a profoundly complex set of choices, the state tramples my religious teachings and violates the most basic religious freedoms that are the hallmark of this great nation.

In my tradition, a pregnant woman is the best judge of her own body’s needs, even over the judgments of her doctor. And many extend the welfare of the mother to include her emotional health—in direct contrast to the current, repressive legislation. The curse of lifelong torment to a woman’s mind is no less a part of her body and no less real. Yet those with one narrow religious view in Texas seek to tell all women and their health-care providers and their religious leaders that they can make better choices for Texas women. For the sake of religious liberty, for the sake of the dignity of choice for all women, and for the sake of women’s safety and health, I stand today with Texas women and say “Enough!” to the invasive curse of meddling lawmakers who seek to deprive women their rights. And I say “Yes!” to the blessings that come with the safe, free exercise of conscience.

At the July 1 rally, immediately following this speech, Rabbi Rachel Kobrin delivered this stirring call to action.


Marriage Equality: Turning the Tide Towards an Idea Whose Time Has Come

Marriage Equality: Turning the Tide Towards an Idea Whose Time Has Come

by Rabbi Rick Brody

As one who has never been quiet about my advocacy for equal rights and inclusion for the queer (LGBTQ) community, including marriage equality, and as the unnamed husband in a popular submission on the Huffington Post from a rabbi who staunchly promotes those same values, I figured it was time for me to offer up a post of my own.

A Facebook friend shared a communication from about marriage equality and criticized it for being propaganda that conflated a notion of inevitability (“You can’t stop an idea whose time has come”) with the need for a “revolutionary vanguard” (his words) to push the revolution (“Help us turn the tide”). He then compared this phenomenon of “turning the tide” to that of the Bolsheviks. He also mistakenly spoke about the “pushing” of “gay marriage.”

Here is the post in question, followed by an adaptation of my response to my friend. I should clarify from the outset that I have no affiliation with and, while I agree with many of the stances the organization takes, I make no official endorsement of anything it says or does:

While I make no hesitation in expressing my absolute conviction in the moral necessity for marriage equality, I’m not interested in debating the “merits” of my views or criticizing someone else’s; what I am interested in doing is clarifying the way you framed the issue and the particular “propaganda” you have criticized above because I believe you have severely misunderstood and distorted the message:

No one is “pushing” for “gay marriage.” The issue is equality under the law. I’m not pushing for atheism when I demand that Christian bias be removed from public textbooks and classrooms. Nor am I pushing for abortion when I demand that a woman be left free to care for her own body as she so chooses without the government getting between her doctor and her vagina. As many have said, “If you’re opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.” And, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” The “implementation of a policy” that you’re referring to is not about a revolutionary change. It’s about taking the rights afforded to some and extending them to all, equally. Perhaps more to the point, it’s about ending a particular policy, one of discrimination. No one ever spoke about heterosexual marriage as a “policy,” at least not until people began challenging hetero-only marriage as a discriminatory policy. It just simply was, and nobody gave any thought to that reality being any different, because enough brave people hadn’t yet spoken up and begun living their lives openly and honestly, demonstrating to the world that there is no logical, rational, or ethical reason to prohibit them from having the same access and entitlements to this “policy.” Those of us arguing for marriage equality are saying that the new status quo of equal protection under the law also should not be a “policy;” it simply should be what it is.

As for “the idea whose time has come,” I understand the comment to be not in conflict with the notion of “turning the tide.” I see it this way: A critical mass of people obviously already exists to challenge the status quo, raise the consciousness of others, and expand the conversation about marriage equality. It is part of the national conversation; the courts have established this fact by their repeated hearing of the legal challenges at various levels of the judicial system, the majority of state legislatures have felt the need to address the issue one way or another in their laws (while, again, 30 years ago it was a non-issue), and the president has commented on it repeatedly. So, undoubtedly, the idea has “arrived.” One of the only things in its way is bigoted lawmakers who refuse to see the ethical necessity of accepting this idea. MoveOn is saying, “the idea is here and we, supporters of equality, are not going to let it go away because we believe in it unflinchingly.” So it’s not a comment about descriptive inevitability–even though it is a fact that regularly, more and more people, especially younger people, poll in growing numbers in favor of marriage equality. The comment is one of the ethical appeal of the idea and the fact that supporters of it will not rest until the idea becomes the law.

Call that propaganda if you like, but Thomas Paine was an extraordinary propagandist and he helped us enshrine an idea (an independent democracy free of royal tyranny) that I hear few people in this country complaining about well over 200 years later. The suffragists of a century ago also succeeded in spreading the necessary propaganda for dismantling gender-based discrimination in voting rights. Not every “idea whose time has come” is another Bolshevik disaster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what’s right. And helping “turn the tide” to ensure the success of an idea whose time has come is also just the right thing to do.

Women are not Cows…but Cows are not Machines

Outrage at comparisons of women to farm animals doesn’t go far enough — the deeper problem is how we relate to those farm animals to begin with.

This post is only indirectly about my relational theology or about my fascination with the charge to humanity that we can discern from the majestic creation narrative(s) from the Torah (those two themes tend to serve as the foundation of my blog). A close reading of this entry, however, will reveal its connections to those overarching themes — and I do intend to elaborate on those connections in future posts.

The assault on women’s bodies by various draconian legislators in our country is growing more and more appalling. Recently, a writer, , offered a response in the Huffington Post to a particularly offensive example of this trend, in which a Georgia state representative argued that policy regarding the rights and fate of women be based on his witnessing of the plight of various pregnant and birthing female farm animals.

The response by Ms. Chemaly was appropriately indignant. I applaud her comprehensive critique of so much of what is happening in legislatures and in public debate that is dehumanizing to women. However, what struck me about the critique is the way it passively accepts the idea of subjugation of non-human animals in a manner that reinforces the ongoing abuse so many creatures suffer. The Georgia representative that the author lampoons made this comment: “Life gives us many experiences…I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.” Well, sir, how many broken animal hearts is our meat-driven society responsible for? And, basically none of those animals “make it,” except into a life of misery and ultimately an early death (if they’re lucky). Ms. Chemaly infers that the representative is feeling empathy for the farm animals, and I’m sure he believes he is too. Maybe the farm he worked on was a small, family-run operation that didn’t involve the horrors of the factory-farming world and was an exception to the rule of treatment of farm animals. But regardless, it seems to me that real empathy or compassion would lead to a more serious and comprehensive reevaluation of how we relate to the rest of Creation.

I think there’s a remaining, insidious element of abuse regarding our wanton mistreatment of non-human animals that underlies the way these backward-thinking people (legislators, etc.) think and argue. It’s not JUST that female human beings are being dehumanized and deprived of their human rights; it’s also that other sentient beings are being objectified and deprived of their basic rights as living creatures. If we lived in a world where there was no tolerance for the treatment of non-human “farm animals,” “beasts,” “brutes,” etc. as nothing more than machines, then how much further from the realm of possibility it would be to even contemplate treating other human beings in such a manner. We are not confined to an “either/or” choice wherein we need to keep our abusive practices directed at other species and simply prevent them from affecting our fellow human beings. Rather, the better path is to completely overhaul the way we think of and treat all living beings and then we can guarantee that no one suffers in the ways that women’s dignity is being threatened.

My suggestion is that we take these awful comparisons of women to cows and sows not just as a wake-up call to how we treat women but also as a wake-up call to the inherently manipulative, demeaning, and abusive way we treat so many other species in our ecosystem. Let’s expand our compassion as far as we can, not draw sharp lines in the sand, beyond which deplorable behavior can remain unquestioned. Yes, women are NOT cows and pigs. But cows and pigs are NOT machines. Rather, they too are creatures of the Divine deserving of our kindness.

Note: Selections from this blog post were cited in 2014, in a scholarly article, “COMBATTING REPRODUCTIVE OPPRESSION: WHY REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE CANNOT STOP AT THE SPECIES BORDER,” published in a journal devoted to law and gender. The author contends that no other written critique of the feminist outrage discussed here was publicly available: “Seemingly only one commentator, on a personal blog, questioned the characterization of nonhuman animals. . . . . No one in the mainstream feminist community heeded [his] suggestion.”