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THE JEWISH VIEW OF ABORTION

Since only 2 passages in the Bible deal with the death of a fetus and since both are in the OT, lets look at the Jewish view, since they often study the OT in much more depth and have a better understanding than Christians, since it is so fundamental to their faith.

The Jewish view is also important to discuss to show that one religious belief does not have the right to take away the rights of another religious belief. To many Christians and most Jews, there is no soul till birth, and the only scripture dealing with the issue, clearly shows taking the life of a fetus is not murder.

I respect the Catholic declaration that abortion is wrong and Catholics can be ex- communicating for it. However, the point is not to impose Catholic doctrine on other Christians and Jews whose religious beliefs follow more closely scripture rather than Catholic tradition. This is not a Catholic attack but a discussion on why they or any religious group should have no say in controlling the reproductive rights of non-Catholics, especially Jews.

I've reviewed many Jewish texts and they are surprisingly in agreement on the basic issue. One is Judaism Confronts Contemporary Issues by Alex J. Goldman. Mr Goldman, rabbi of Temple Beth El, Stanford Connecticut was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College, attended Dropsie College for Hebrew and received his J.D. from De Paul University College of Law. He served two terms as Editor of the Rabbinical Assembly Proceedings and has written extensively in Jewish history and created many liturgical aids.

The rest of this post is either direct quotes or paraphrases from this text.

Every group of Judaism agrees unequivocally that when the life of the mother is at stake, or even threatened, the fetus not only CAN but MUST be aborted. Danger to life includes psychological, as well as physical hazard. Both Physical and mental health stand on the same level of concern. When an abortion is performed in such a case it is therapeutic, and therefore absolutely permissible. It is almost conceded, even from the Orthodox position, and the word almost is stressed, that the risk to mental health, as well as to physical health is included under this general heading hazard to life. He points out that the fetus is not deemed a living being (nefresh in Hebrew), so no murder.

It is pointed out none of the denominations of Judaism would allow indiscriminate abortion without justifiable case. Life was very highly valued due to the need for more children and more Jews. This is because of the HEBREW CULTURE, not because of some greater Biblical morality. The Hebrew were strong pro-family and were even willing to allow incest-type behaviors just so that people could carry the family line. Therefore, an abortion would probably have been considered a blasphemy of not willing to carry the family line.

But, the women's mental well being in not wanting a child is a justifiable cause in some but not all Jewish denominations. The question is, What is abortion - murder of the fetus or the removal of a piece of tissue from the woman s body?

Even today, female soldiers in the Isreal Defense Forces are allowed two free abortions during their two-year stint. Two-thirds of abortions are done as a means of birth control.

Only one source in the entire Bible relates to abortion. (He quotes Ex 21:22-23 as I have discussed in other posts.) Literally and by interpretation, this passage poses the basic legal principal that the destruction of the fetus is not to be considered punishable murder. Death of the unborn child is punishable by fine only, and capital punishment does not apply. Only if the mother is harmed, i.e. killed, does the law of capital punishment take effect.

Even Dr. Immanuel Jakeobovits, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and leading Orthodox Jew (most conservative), agrees saying capital punishment applies to a murderer, but this applies to a man not a fetus. The unborn child is entirely different. While causing a miscarriage is indeed a property crime, it is not murder.

Catholic Misinterpretation Specifically Discussed: Rabbi Jakeobovits asserts that the Jewish position contrasts with the Catholic position due to the mistranslation of the word harm that has been retained and repeated which has hardened the Catholic position. In the Hebrew, the word a-son means harm that is, not a fatal injury. A mistranslation of this word in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, took it to mean imperfectly formed. This would mean that a miscarriage when the fetus was perfectly formed (about to be born), would incur the same penalty as murder. This mistranslation was later adopted as canon law. In time, the distinction between formed and unformed evaporated, leading to the one conclusion, that the killing of any fruit, from the moment of conception, was punishable as a capital offense. This distinction between the Catholic and Orthodox Judaism is clear-cut, whatever the conditions in which an abortion takes place, the crime, is not a capital offense.

Talmudic Basis Is Clearly No Soul Till Birth The Mishnah, composing the first part of the Talmud, which provides a source for understanding the Jewish position, assumes that life arises only at birth. If a women has great difficulty in giving birth it is permitted to cut up the child within her womb and extract it limb by limb...But if the greater part (or head) has come out, it must not be touched because one life must not be taken to save another.

So long as the fetus, or the most important part of it, its head, has not come out into the world, it is not called nefresh, a human soul....an unborn fetus is not to be considered a living being, and therefore the taking of its life cannot be termed murder. (He also references Time Magazine, The Desperate Dilemma of Abortion , October 13, 1967, which states Many Jews accept abortion because they regard a fetus as an organic part of the mother and not as a living soul until its birth.

The law is defined: before birth, the embryo is not a person; from the moment of birth on, it is; the disposition of the soul, being pure to begin with, in unaffected. The Jewish and Catholic doctrine have once again parted company.

Different views were held in ancient time regarding when the soul enters the body. Aristotle says 40th or 80th day after conception depending whether male or female. Plato holds at birth position which the Catholic Church followed. The Stoics and Jews maintained that the soul entered the body at birth. Roman jurists and common law viewed the soul is not in the fetus until birth.

The Reformed Jewish (most liberal) view on abortion legislation has been clearly stated. Existing state statutes do not provide sufficiently for social and medical reasons to terminate a pregnancy. Existing laws penalize the poor who cannot afford services available to the more affluent. The hazards of illegal abortions take a tragic and needless toll of life.

The Commission on Synagogue Relations, stated The CCAR considers as religiously valid and humane such new legislation that: a) recognizes the preservation of a mother s emotional health to be as important as her physical well-being; and b) properly considers the danger of anticipated physical and mental damage; and c) permits abortion in pregnancies resulting from sexual crime....We strongly urge the broad liberalization of abortion laws in the various states and call upon our members to works towards that end.

Other texts reviewed:

From Love & Sex, A Modern Jewish Prospective by Robert Gordis, Professor of Bible and Rapaport Professor in the Philosophies of Religion at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America: Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, declared abortion is permitted even for a very thin reason, such as avoiding pain for the mother. The Maimonides take a more conservative view of only to protect women's life. But the twentieth-century authority Rabbi Yehiel Weinberger ruled that the authorities who differ with the Maimonides are in the majority, and therefore, agreed with Rabbi Jacob Emden in permitting abortion to spare the mother pain. Indeed, the broad interpretation of the rabbinic attitude is entirely justified, since it is a fundamental principle of the Mishnah, amply confirmed by modern medicine, that an embryo is not an independent living being.

From On Women and Judaism by Blu Greenberg, a Jewish feminist Views the more conservative view less open to abortion as more due to need to increase Jewish people and traditionally life was so precious since you had to have eight children if you wanted four or five to survive. Concerning abortion on demand, Since there are no traditional Jewish precedents for abortion on demand, one way to maintain some integrity with halakhic framework could be to broaden the interpretation of therapeutic abortion, to extend the principal of precedence of the mother s actual life and health to include serious regard for the quality of life as well. She highly supports the Pro-Choice position from a Jewish historic prospective.

Maybe there is also a moral obligation to allow abortions, especially in the Third World. Pregnancy is one of the leading causes of death of mothers in the third world. It also most certainly causes damage to the mother who lives. It causes diabetes, bladder damage, tearing, scar tissue and can cause emotional damage.

Dave's concluding notes: The bottom line is the Jewish belief is no soul before birth, they clearly interpret Ex 21:22 as I have stated (was a dead miscarried fetus which was a property crime only) and each Jewish women should be allowed her reproductive choices based on her beliefs not be dictated to by a minority opinion of any one group such as the Catholic Church who should not impose its teachings on non-Catholics and should support non-Catholic women's right to all reproductive options.



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