Abortion And Judaism

  • Category: Religion
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Abortion in Judaism

        The issue of abortion has been debated for centuries and will surely continue to be a major topic of debate. Some see abortion as murder of an innocent child, others believe that the fetus is not yet a human and therefore can be aborted. Most of the world religions have a view of abortion, some religious laws allow it while others condemn the act. Abortion in the eyes of religion is a major conflict that is closely related to God and his sole ability to create and destroy life. Judaism is one of the religions that does not see abortion as murder, rather they see it as a necessity if the mother's life becomes endangered by the pregnancy.
        The Jewish law, although approving of abortion, does not let it happen freely. If abortion were to be murder then it would be prohibited in the Jewish community states Feldman.1 But according to the Talmud, Jewish law does not equate it with murder, and there are circumstances under which Jewish law would permit, or even mandate, an abortion.1 The welfare of the mother is the most important thing It is her welfare, avoidance of her pain, that comes first.1 Jewish law indicates that if abortion was murder then one could not have an abortion because it would then be considered a cardinal sin.1 Hence if abortion were declared murder, a mother would not be allowed to have an abortion even to save her life, which is obviously not the case.1
In Jewish law the fetus is not considered a person, in this, if the fetus is removed through abortion it is not killing a person. The fetus is a "part of its mother"1 and not separate. This further asks, "whether feticide is or is not homocide."1 To answer this we look to the Torah where the law of homicide states "he who smites a man", or "any human person" is punishable by martyrdom. The fetus on the other hand is not a person until it comes into the world. The nefesh adam, or any human person, is thought to exclude the fetus.1 The author uses Rashi, a known Bible and Talmud commentator, who states the fetus "is lav nefesh hu, not a person, until he comes into the world." Therefore feticide is not homocide.1
The fetus is thought to be a rodef, an aggressor, one that may threaten the mother's life and therefore needs to be eliminated in order to preserve life which is now, not one that could be.1 If the fetus endangers the mother in a physical or mental way in which her life could be altered or results in death, it is necessary to abort. Within the Ten Commandments we have "Thou shalt not murder." Murder being the key word here, is different than kill. Killing is allowed in self-defense while murder is punishable by martyrdom. The Talmud indicates that "saving life sets aside all else in the Torah."1 Abortion then is the killing of the rodef, not murder because the rodef is endangering the life of the mother. The Talmud also states that one should abandon the Sabbath or any other holiday in order to save the life of someone so that they can celebrate many Sabbaths to come.1 The preservation of life in the now is more important in Judaism then in other major religions.
The idea of abortion proves to be unique to the Jewish religion. In a text form the Genesis, which would have been written down before Sinai, we find that feticide is a capital crime, but for non-Jews.1 Genesis states "He who sheds the blood of man, through man shall his blood be shed"1 This line can also be interpreted as "man in man" in which case would indicate a fetus in a mother. 1 A Rabbinic interpretation of this would indicate that this law does not apply to Jews since it was instituted before God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and therefore before the Jewish people established their covenant with God.
The idea of abortion as a means to save the life of the mother is also supported by Donin. Donin agrees with the case presented by Feldman and with the idea of "abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother"”are not only permissible but mandatory." And goes on to say that the stage of the pregnancy does not matter.2 Again the idea of abortions out of convenience, finance, or personal reasons is condemned. Another common argument is the over whether or not to abort if a child is thought to be born defective. The decision to abort may come "before the fortieth day"”and in some instances up to three months" into the cycle.2 They are tough decisions because even if "there is a strong possibility that the child will be born deformed, in case of incest, or where there are possibilities of serious emotional and psychological disturbance to the mother even if there is no actual threat to her life."2 The abortion in such a case will come only if the mother may suffer mental damage due to the thought of giving birth to a deformed child. In all other cases if the mother is fine and even thought she thinks that child will be deformed, yet she suffers no physical or psychological stress, the abortion will not be allowed.
        Both of the Jewish authors that have expressed their view on abortion are in agreement. In both cases the practice of abortion is based on the writings in the scriptures and is closely followed. The idea of abortion in Judaism is explained and all aspects of why it is done are presented to the reader to show clearly why it is allowed. The welfare of the mother is a key concept in the first reading. As the author explains why abortion is allowed, he returns to the idea of the mother's welfare with almost every example. In the second article, although shorter in length, the author also stresses the importance of a mother's welfare when the question of abortion arises.
Through reading these articles I found the writers attempting to show the reader why abortion is allowed in Judaism. They do so by giving examples of various ideas and then follow up with text from the scripture as their backing. This creates a solid argument where all points are clearly explained and then followed up with factual texts form the Bible, Torah and the Talmud. I did not find either author to be forcing a point. Rather, both authors are attempting to present their case to the reader and inform him/her on the position of Judaism when it comes to the issue of abortion. The ideas expressed in these essays are clearly of a expository type. The explanation of the argument and the close linking of religious text show that the authors believe what their religion and law dictates to them. Their interpretation is fair and well backed.
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