The decision to have an abortion is emotionally charged, whether a person has religious or secular values. Many poskim have allowed a degree of leniency and have ruled that abortion is permitted according to halakhah in circumstances in which a pregnancy is not only harmful to a woman physically but also psychologically. This ritual is designed to support a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy to help her move forward with a peaceful mind and renewed connection to God and the community.
The creation of this ritual was inspired by the work of Frida Kahlo, who used art to navigate through pain and disappointment regarding her inability to conceive and carry a child to term. Through her art, she reinterpreted life events and created alternate realities in which she authored her own journey of psycho-spiritual transformation. Although Kahlo desperately wanted to have a child and could not, she tried to come to terms with her situation by seeing her life circumstances as ongoing trajectories of becoming or re-birthing. Two of Kahlo's paintings that speak to the notion of personal transformation through pain are My Birth and Roots. My Birth is a graphic portrayal of Kahlo giving birth to her adult self. In Roots, Kahlo imagines herself as a seed or tuber which sprouts new life.
The proposed ritual for a woman deciding to have an abortion resonates with Kahlo’s theme of transforming personal struggle into a self-birthing rite of passage and presents an opportunity to recognize and nurture seeds of potential within. The self-birthing ritual, which could be done privately or with trusted loved ones, has four basic elements:
- Honoring Potential
- Commitment to Self-Birthing/Renewal
Schwarz’s Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism discusses various sources in the Talmud, Kabbalah and Tanakh on the origin of the soul. One of the prevailing myths is that there is a treasury of souls (Guf). A soul is released from the treasury to attach to an infant at the time of birth by means of angelic assistance.
In acknowledgment of the Treasury of Souls, which some rabbis envision as a celestial tree, the first part of the ritual involves planting an actual tree accompanied by the following kavannah:
Source of Blessing, as I plant this (tree/plant/seed), may You bless the souls in the Guf. I pray for their timely attachment to bodies so that they may experience how earthly existence benefits spirit. In their incarnations, may they have loving families, friends and communities to guide and support them on their earthly journeys. In the act of planting I also commit to accessing my highest potential on my own earthly journey and to turning toward You with all my heart and soul.
If others are present, they say the following:
Source of Blessing, may You bless the souls in the Guf with timely attachment to physical bodies and with loving families and communities. May You bless the tree that has just been planted to grow and flourish and may You bless [Name of Woman] with the ability to also grow and flourish and reach her highest potential physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
Honoring the spirit of potential is also achieved through giving tzedakah with the kavannah of being supportive of the life journey of the recipient(s). The idea is to connect with Jewish values of seeing our own well-being (physical-psychological-spiritual) in concert with the well-being of the community. All present may commit to giving tzedakah in honor of the woman’s rite of passage.
Commitment to Re-Birth/Renewal
This part of the ritual is inspired by the stories of the copper mirrors in the rabbinic commentaries. According to Rashi on Exodus 38:8, when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the Israelite women used copper mirrors to reflect their beauty in order to ignite the libido of their over-worked husbands in order to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation. The mirrors became ritual objects for conception and the eventuality of birth.
Ideally a copper mirror would be used in the self-birthing ritual, the reflective surface functioning metaphorically to access inner beauty and Divine sparks. The woman then looks into the mirror and calls out her gifts, acknowledging that they are sources of healing for the self and others.
Source of Blessing, thank you for the gift(s) of ________________. Help me to recognize my inner sparks of holiness, that they are a source of healing for myself and others. Help me to express and utilize my gift(s) in the highest good for myself and others.
If trusted loved ones are present, they respond to the above with the following:
Source of Blessing, I/we see the gift(s) of _____________ that you have given to [Name of Woman] and I/we promise to nurture her so that she recognizes her inner sparks of holiness and expresses and utilizes her gift(s) in the highest good for herself and the community.
All participants say the following:
מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶסֶד. מִי כָמוךָ בַּעַל גְּבוּרות וּמִי דומֶה לָּךְ, וּמַצְמִיחַ יְשׁוּעָה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מְחַיֵּה הָעוֹלָם:
You sustain the living with loving kindness. Who is like you, Master of mighty deeds, who causes salvation to sprout. Blessed are You, Source of Life, who brings life to the world.
The copper mirrors were also used in the making of the laver in the mishkan (Exodus 38:8). The priests used the laver to wash their hands and feet before doing holy service. Thus, the copper mirrors were transformed into a ritual object for purification. Drawing inspiration from this idea, the re-birthing ritual also involves purification but through mikveh. After immersing three times, the participant recites/chants Psalm 51:12:
לֵ֣ב טָ֭הוֹר בְּרָא־לִ֣י אֱלֹהִ֑ים וְר֥וּחַ נָ֝כ֗וֹן חַדֵּ֥שׁ בְּקִרְבִּֽי׃
Fashion a pure heart for me, O God; create in me a steadfast spirit.
Breathing is part of the birthing process. To facilitate childbirth women are taught special breathing techniques, for example. In Genesis 2:7, God breathes life into the Adam and thus he became a living being. Because of the connection of [Divine] breath to life, the self-birthing/renewal part of the ritual involves a YHVH breathing meditation. All present are invited to participate in the breathing meditation which goes as follows:
Envision the Yod of Divinity and inhale Heh. Envision Vav drawing the breath down the central channel. Breathe out Heh in praise of the gift of blessing/life. (Repeat for several breath cycles).
The final part of the ritual involves blessing of the newborn/renewed self. Many Jewish parents say blessings to God on the birth of a newborn. In liberal Judaism, Hatov V’hameitiv is said for the birth of a boy or girl, to acknowledge the pleasure that the newborn brings to the individual and the community.
In this ritual Hatov V’hameitiv followed by Shehekhiyanu are recited to mark the process of spiritual renewal, the acknowledgment that God is good and has the power to grace us with good, and the specialness and timeliness of the event.
All participants are invited to say the following blessings:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵיטִיב
Blessed are You, oh Lord, our God, King of the universe, who is good and causes good.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹקינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמָן הַזֶּה
Blessed are You, oh Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season
Schwarz, Howard. Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Rashi on Genesis