Please comment on a USA Today article claiming the Jewish faith teaches that abortion is permitted. The article was published on July 27, 2019.
Are they accurately quoting the teachings of the faith?
Thank you for bringing this shameful, painful and misleading article to our attention. The short answer is, no, they are not accurately conveying the teachings of the Jewish faith as expressed in our Constitution, the Torah. You can either build your worldview around your religion or build your religion around your existing worldview. The latter is what most people quoted in the article are doing. Either religion means something or it doesn’t. You can’t just call on it and define it as you like.
The sad fact which we have to set before you is that about 70% of all self-identified American Jews have values that are not shaped by God’s vision as revealed in the Bible. As has happened many times in history, they don’t merely wish to scuttle the Bible-based values of Judaism, they wish to change Judaism. Among the many Jewish values that they have eviscerated is the value of life. You can take it as a given that the more an American of Jewish ancestry supports today’s radical abortion views, the less he has to do with the faith of Moses and Aaron. That faith, while it does emphasize mercy and compassion, is nonetheless based on laws. When God’s laws are abandoned and only emotions are left, after a long and winding road, what started as compassionate concern for a desperate pregnant woman can step-by-step slide into support for infanticide, though no one back at the time of Roe v. Wade in 1973 would have believed that possible.
There is certainly room for a theological and worldview discussion in Judaism as to whether abortion is a category of murder or whether it falls under a different prohibition. Regardless, the positions of the Torah and those of today’s Democrat Party could hardly be further apart. In Judaism, if a woman’s life is in danger due to the baby she is carrying, a valid reason for inducing premature labor exists even if the baby is not viable. For this reason, Jews who live by the Torah are sometimes cynically manipulated by pro-abortion groups depicting a woman being forced to die during pregnancy or childbirth rather than having her life prioritized. As you know, American law is nowhere close to this extreme and an extraordinarily small number of pregnancies today present such a dilemma.
The dreadful article you cite quotes one view by an authoritative Orthodox rabbi of the past few decades trying to “prove” the acceptability of abortion in Jewish law. This is misleading for a few reasons. Firstly, because there is no Pope in Judaism, which is to say that we have no hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority. Within the ranks of those trying to be true to God’s Torah, there will be different opinions and discussions in trying to reach the truth. Each Jew is meant to choose which Rabbinical authority he follows. You can’t go “shopping” for someone whose views you like on a specific issue. We can guarantee you that the people in the article who approve the views of this rabbi do not follow his ritual rulings in other areas.
Secondly, while this rabbi’s position might have been more liberal (for example, to include extreme psychological distress under the heading of ‘danger to life’) in counseling women who personally consulted him thus allowing early labor to be induced more than other authorities might condone, we can assure you that he would be horrified at being used as the poster boy for Planned Parenthood. The mockery of life that the modern abortion movement celebrates has no basis whatsoever in Torah-true Judaism.
Abortion is not a recent phenomenon. The drive to completely sever the connection between sex and reproduction goes back to the earliest pages of the Bible and the times of Noah. Since then abortion has always been associated with the struggle against God’s authority on earth. Jews have been among the world’s most ardent defenders of that Divine authority but those of Jewish descent have also been most active in the timeless battle to defeat the Divine. Combating this misapplication of Judaism is why the American Alliance of Jews and Christians was established and why we support its work.
One does not “accept” Judaism at some moving moment in life. It is conferred by birth. So Judaism is almost unique in that you can hear of what sounds like an oxymoron—an atheistic Jew. You can hate God; you can disparage everything He asks of us and yet still consider yourself Jewish. Only a small percentage of Jews in America fall into the category of those whose daily behavior revolves around following Jewish law. They are not featured in this article.
It is an embarrassment.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention even though it made us squirm with discomfort,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin