In ancient times, it was the Jewish people more than any other who maintained a belief in one Supreme G-d, and a strong commitment to protecting all human life, born and unborn. The sanctity of life was always the foundation of the Jewish religion.
When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, celebrated recently on Shavuot, it was a gift with 613 mitzvot providing us with standards by which to live. The Torah is a sign of G-d’s love for His people. In return, we commit to joy in fulfilling what is right by G-d. By choosing life, we are doing fulfilling the mitzvah “To save one life is to save the world entire.”
Over the past 60 years, there has been a widening shift in the Jewish community and progressive Jews have moved far away from religious practice toward secularism. The profound social upheaval of the 1960s provided an ideal backdrop for this change. The Reform movement opposed and resented Jewish religious practice and sought to change society’s rules - not just for themselves but for everybody else, too. They became politically active and militant on all social issues. Reform rabbis reinterpreted and redefined Torah Law to conform to their humanistic ideas, reflecting the contemporary counter-culture.
Prior to 1960, it would have been difficult if not impossible to find Jews of any denomination who supported unlimited abortion for “choice”, and they would never have agreed to one million abortions per year. Abortion is a proscription unless a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Today, most Reform Jews support abortion without restrictions.
An article came to my attention entitled “Judaism has a culture of life,” written by Rabbi Yair Robinson. From the title one would expect a life-affirming piece. However, the rabbi’s article appeared as a blog post on the website of Planned Parenthood of Delaware. What would a rabbi’s article promoting life be doing on a Planned Parenthood blog? Read on:
In the first paragraph, the rabbi writes: “The Torah repeatedly reminds us that human life is precious.” He again quotes from the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5), that “life is precious.” Rabbi Robinson refers to Deuteronomy 30:19, where again G-d “urges Israel to choose life.”
In the next paragraph he raises the issue of abortion. The rabbi misrepresents the Torah and Midrash, defending abortion not only as a woman’s right to choose, but also as a Jewish value. Rabbi Robinson diminishes the status of the unborn child. He carefully admits: “For many, the fetus is, in fact, a person in all respects.” But he then contradicts that value and writes that when it comes to potential life: “In Judaism it isn’t so simple.”
Yes it is. Choice does not define personhood. An unborn baby cannot be a person when it is born, and a non-person when it is not. If it is a developing child, it is alive. Historically, in English common law and in the states, there were no references to trimesters. That is a court invention. Life began at conception, not outside the womb. Abortion was always illegal and a criminal act.
Rabbi Robinson refers to two familiar passages to defend abortion rights. First, Exodus 21, in which two men are quarreling and a pregnant woman has a miscarriage as a result. The rabbi contends that because the death penalty is not applied and there is only financial compensation, the unborn child does not have the value of a human being. To support this opinion, he writes:
“Throughout the Mishnah and the Talmud (later rabbinic writings), there is a clear sense that, until a child is born, it is an appendage of the mother. A few times, it even describes the fetus as being like a limb or organ of the mother.”
The rabbi fails to mention that the unborn child’s death in this incident resulted from an accident, not an intentional act of homicide. The death penalty is never applied when death results from an accident. This verse in no way supports the rabbi’s opinion that the unborn child has no value or should not be protected. There are violations in Jewish law against self-wounding. It is against Jewish law to even get a tattoo.
Rabbi Robinson then turns to the passage from Mishnah Oholot 7:6. Once again, he quotes the passage and disregards the most important point: The mother’s life has to be in endangered to warrant abortion. In all cases where the mother’s life is at stake, Jewish law says the mother’s life takes precedence. Mishnah Oholot 7:6 does not support abortion for choice.
Out of the one million abortions per year, less than 1% are performed to save the mother’s life. Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and Rabbi Moshe Zweig refer to Oholot 7:6 and contend that Jewish Law prohibits abortion on demand unless the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was considered one of the greatest Torah scholars, considered abortion murder.
Rabbi Robinson concludes his article by expanding the meaning of the word “harm.” It sounds like an ad for Planned Parenthood:
“Women need to have access to safe, legal and affordable ways to terminate pregnancies when those pregnancies will cause harm. Finally, that ‘harm’ is something only the pregnant woman can really determine for themselves. In this way, we fulfill the words of our Torah, and choose life.”
The rabbi is saying that by defending the destruction of prenatal life, we are all fulfilling a Torah mitzvah. The rabbi’s contention that abortion is simply a woman’s choice is appalling. For any rabbi to lend his name to an organization that kills over 320,000 babies per year is appalling, as is his promotion of abortion on demand. The rabbi knows what Planned Parenthood does; he’s seen the videos and probably denies their validity.
But then, Rabbi Yair Robinson also lends his name to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, by writing blog posts on their site. This is the same Religious Action Center that obtained the signatures of over 700 “rabbis” asking President Clinton to veto the Partial Birth Abortion Ban.
In July of 1970, Agudath Israel published an article that appeared in The Jewish Observer looking at New York’s new law authorizing abortions for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. This was nearly three years before the Roe v. Wade ruling. They wrote this:
“It is a sign of our times, and of their effect upon us, that there has been no great wave of horror and revulsion sweeping over us all. Somehow we seem to have made our peace with a phenomenon that, we feel, has really no direct bearing upon us. Such a reaction is terribly wrong; it overlooks the manifold concrete ways in which this development is bound profoundly to affect us.”
The Jewish Observer, almost 50 years later, was right on the mark.
Copyright 2018 By The Jewish Life League. All rights reserved.