Over the past week, since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, our office has received a number of letters asking for the truth about ancient Jewish wisdom’s view of abortion. In response, we have been forwarding an Ask the Rabbi and Susan from 2019 that answered the following question.
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?
Since this is exceptionally relevant now, we are reprinting our answer as well as expanding on it:
Thank you for bringing this shameful, painful and misleading article to our attention. The short answer is, no, those quoted are not accurately conveying the teachings of the Jewish faith as expressed in the Constitution of the Jewish people, 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 and understood through thousands of years. 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 to match their society-shaped values. 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 down a slippery slope 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, no American law is close to this extreme and almost zero percent of pregnancies present such a dilemma.
The dreadful article our correspondent cites 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. First, 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. However, the discussion will revolve around details, not essentials. One rabbinic authority might explore exactly what kind of threat the fetus presents to its mother, while another might look at another angle, but no legitimate rabbinic authority would ever make a blanket statement that abortion is fine or see it as anything but a tragedy. Sadly, just as in modern American politics there are many secular progressives who find the US Constitution needlessly restrictive in their quest to remake America, in the wide world of Judaism there are many, some even carrying the badge of ‘rabbi’ (we have explained elsewhere why this is a meaningless term today), who wish to rewrite the Jewish constitution, the Torah. Each Jew is expected to choose which Rabbinical authority he follows. You can’t go “shopping” for someone whose views you like on a specific issue and then ignore him on all other issues. We can guarantee you that the people in the article who are attempting to validate their own views using the views of this Torah-true rabbi do not follow his ritual rulings in other areas. In itself, that negates their “proof.”
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 in situations that many other authorities would not 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 among those 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.
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. You can be very ignorant about Jewish thought, practice and the Bible and categorize yourself as strongly Jewish. Only about 30% 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 misleading article to our attention even though it made us squirm with discomfort,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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