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The Christian view is that life begins at conception, the Jewish view is that life begins when the kids move out of the house and the goldfish dies-Unknown -Jewish Humorist

After the leaked Alito opinion, I’ve read many articles on whether abortion is allowed in the Jewish faith. Some say it’s allowed, and others say it isn’t allowed. Truth is, they are both correct and both wrong.

Personally, I believe children become ‘human” at conception. They cease being human when they become teenagers and eventually become human again. But if I was asked whether Jewish law allows or bans abortion, my honest answer would be “yes,” because the traditional Jewish view of abortion doesn’t really fit into a pro-life or pro-abortion philosophy.

Judaism disapproves of abortion on demand as a method of contraception. However, abortion is required if necessary to save the mother’s life. But what is meant by saving a woman’s life?

A fetus is considered a “life-in-potential.” Once the baby’s head has emerged from the birth canal, it is a full-fledged human being. That distinction is generally used when there is a need to choose between the baby’s life or the life of the mother. Before the head emerges, Jewish law (Halacha)says to save the mom, including abortions to save the mother’s life.

Halacha (Jewish law) insists that the fetus must be aborted to save the mother. It is considered an act of self-defense, the same as shooting someone before they shoot you. Once the baby’s head emerges, we are not supposed to give precedence to either life. It’s left up to God.

But it’s not just a matter of the fetus harming the mom physically. Judaism recognizes psychiatric and physical factors in evaluating the potential threat that the fetus poses to the mother. However, the danger posed by the fetus (whether physical or emotional) must be both probable and substantial to justify abortion.”

As with most Jewish law issues, the degree of mental illness to warrant an abortion is still being debated by halakhic scholars. Most Jewish law is decided by debate. In fact, the entire Talmud consists of debates by Rabbis. But there is no debate that if pregnancy causes a woman to become genuinely suicidal, then abortion is commanded. In pregnancies caused by rape, incest, or other biblically forbidden sexual activities, a key issue would be the emotional toll exacted from the mother in carrying the fetus to term. Other than that, there is no clear consensus.

Other than to save the mother’s life, one may not deliberately harm a fetus. Judaism holds accountable one who purposefully causes a woman to miscarry. Sanctions are even placed upon one who strikes a pregnant woman causing an unintentional miscarriage. But that doesn’t mean all scholars believe abortion is murder. Some of the ancient sages said yes. But others said no based on the fact that the Torah requires a monetary payment for causing a miscarriage. That is interpreted by some Rabbis that the forced miscarriage is treated as a case of property damage — not murder.

Many Jewish teachings are decidedly pro-life, as the Mishnah (part of the Oral Torah) says:

Whoever destroys one life is as if he destroyed a whole world, and whoever preserves a life is as if he preserved the whole world.

The Torah story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac is not only teaching about his loyalty to God but teaching that God doesn’t want people to sacrifice their children. Later in the Torah narrative, Jews fought against pagans who sacrificed their children to idols. As the Torah says in Leviticus 18:21, “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech [a god of the Ammonites], neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”

The rabbinical sages taught that when Jews were slaves in Egypt and the Pharaoh declared that every male child must be killed, parents did not abort their babies, which is one reason we were released from slavery.

Even though it was decreed that “every son that is born you shall cast into the river”, (Ex. 1:22) there was not found among them a person who would kill a fetus in the stomach of a woman, all the more so [not to kill it] after [it was born]. Through this merit, Israel went out of exile. (Zohar Shemot 3B)

That an Israelite parent might consider intentionally aborting a fetus seems almost beyond the moral horizon of the Torah’s original audience. For in the moral environment where the law was first received, the memory of genocide and infanticide was still fresh [and] every birth was precious. (Lenn E. Goodman, Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values, OUP 1998).

But the rabbinical sages agree that since the fetus will become a full-fledged human being, fundamentally, abortion is only permitted to protect the mother’s life or in other extraordinary situations. Jewish law does not sanction abortion on demand without a pressing reason as it is a violation of the commandment “Be fruitful and multiply.”

There is no agreement regarding what exactly is a pressing situation.

In the end, it all comes down to the grass-roots nature of Judaism. Catholic doctrine comes from one person, the Pope. But in Judaism, there is the concept of “mara d’atra” which translates as ‘master of the locality.”

In practice, Mara d’atra means the local Rabbi has the authority to determine all questions of Jewish law and practice for the community. Another Rabbi can’t enter the community and overrule the community’s Rabbi. In fact, the most brilliant rabbinical scholar who ever lived cannot overrule the community rabbi. Even God himself cannot overrule the local rabbi because we are taught that the Torah is not in heaven. It’s up to man to interpret:

Deuteronomy 30: 10-11; For this commandment which I command this day, it is not too hard for the sake, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’

There is an excellent Talmudic Story about the Torah being interpreted by man, not God.

[An oven] that was cut into parts, and sand was placed between the parts. Rabbi Eliezer maintained that it is pure (i.e., not susceptible to ritual impurity). The other sages said that it is exposed to ritual impurity… Rabbi Eliezer brought them all sorts of proofs on that day, but they were rejected. He said to the other Rabbis: “If the law is as I say, may the carob tree prove it.” The carob tree was uprooted from its place a distance of 100 cubits. Others say 400 cubits. The Rabbis replied: “One cannot prove anything from a carob tree.” So Rabbi Eliezer said to them: “If the law is as I say, may the aqueduct prove it.” The water in the aqueduct began to flow backward. But the other Rabbis said to him: “One cannot prove anything from an aqueduct.”

Finally, Rabbi Eliezer said: “If the law is as I say, may it be proven from heaven!” And heavenly which proclaimed: “What do you want of Rabbi Eliezer — the law is as he says…” That’s when Rabbi Joshua stood on his feet, pointed his finger skyward, and said: “‘You said at Sinai, The Torah is not in heaven … So we take no notice of heavenly voices. Per the Talmud, God smiled and said: ‘My children have learned well.”

That doesn’t mean a Rabbi can decide that the Sabbath is on Tuesday or pigs are kosher. What it means is where there is disagreement and/or nuance, it is the local Rabbi who decides what is appropriate in Jewish law.

In Israel, the decision is made by a broader group than the local Rabbi. Abortion is permitted when approved by a termination committee. Each committee is comprised of a social worker and two doctors. There must be at least one woman on every committee. 98 percent of people who seek abortions in the first trimester are granted an abortion by these committees.

There is a separate set of committees for those seeking the procedure after 24 weeks, usually for complex medical reasons. This committee is typically comprised of the director of the hospital or clinic and senior doctors.

As you can see by the above, one could make the case that Judaism is pro-abortion or anti-abortion by cherry-picking scripture, Talmud, and rabbinical writings. The truth is there is no consensus. Well, no agreement except that with abortion, as with every other crucial life decision, every individual case needs to be individually evaluated, by one’s trusted local Rabbi, or in Israel a termination but neither makes a blanket decision they look at a woman’s individual situation before making a recommendation.

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