PO Box 55045, Phoenix Az 85078-5045
Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality
COPYRIGHTED 1997 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED - MAY BE REPRINTED OR QUOTED
FROM ONLY IF CREDIT IS GIVEN LIBERATED CHRISTIANS, MAILING ADDRESS IS SHOWN AND
WE ARE SENT A COPY OF PUBLICATION.
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
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
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.
Return To Section Contents Page
Back To Home Page
Copyright © 1997, Liberated Christians, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.