"Hello Mrs. Anna,
I have been doing some research on Judaism. While looking around I found an interesting site: Judaism 101 (www.jewfaq.org). As I was browsing it, it mentioned that abortion is permitted in Judaism and that the unborn are not seen as humans but potential humans. I also thought it odd that it says that Judaism doesn't permit condoms but allows the use of (hormonal) birth control (which also works in causing abortion).
So in short, I was wondering what is your thought on this. And if you are pro-life (which it seems you are from your blog), how do you defend this position, using the Bible/Torah, against other Jewish people who are not?
Thank you for your time. Please take care."
Hello there, and thanks for sending your question.
There has been a lot of debate on the issue of abortion among the greatest of rabbis, and I cannot say a complete unity of opinion was reached. I will try to outline the general principles.
On the one hand, unlike certain Christian circles, Judaism doesn't completely ban abortion. On the other hand, Judaism doesn't permit abortion on demand, or for reasons such as financial incapability or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. We love and cherish children, and treasure and welcome new life:
"Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127)
It is true that in Jewish Law, the unborn child isn't considered a full-fledged human being. However, he is seen as a being with a soul, from day 40 and onward (around the time when an unborn baby's heart starts beating). No rabbi will light-heartedly authorize an abortion, and many will agree to an abortion only when the pregnancy poses a direct and substantial threat to the mother's life (until the baby is born, his or her life isn't considered equal to the mother's life).
While I have heard of some rabbis who permit abortion (even late-term) in cases of severe physical abnormalities, or when the pregnancy makes the mother so depressed she might become suicidal, personally I stick to the opinion that abortion can only be justified in the extremely rare cases when continuation of pregnancy directly and inevitably threatens the mother's life.
I believe that "happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them". I also believe that a substantial percent of abortions brutally committed all throughout the world stems precisely from the source of not treasuring and cherishing children, of not seeing them as beautiful gifts from the Lord, but rather as burdens, unwanted hindrances standing in the way to a better life.
Abortion debates are often held from the point of view that abortion is something women want. If we love children, if we cherish life, why is that? I believe that being pro-life starts not from banners, legislations and campaigns, but from loving, treasuring and welcoming children into one's life.
The abortion rate in traditional Jewish community is very low, and it is so well-known that even secular doctors don't press prenatal testing on Orthodox Jewish women. "We are obligated to tell you these tests exist," - most of them will say, - "but we realize you probably won't take them because you are religious, and wouldn't have an abortion anyway."
For more information, I suggest this article, which rounds the subject up.
As to your second question - why the Pill is permitted by most rabbis but condoms aren't - the answer is relatively simple. It is forbidden for a man to - how shall I put it - spill his seed in vain, so a man cannot use condoms. The Pill is used by women, which is a way around this prohibition. The potential abortifacient effect of the Pill is written off saying that while we cannot be sure there was pregnancy, it isn't considered abortion.
This is, again, an issue where rabbinical opinions are divided. Some will only permit birth control when the woman's health is in danger, some will take the financial situation of the family into consideration, some think birth control is permitted to "space" births. However, overall, the general thread is that big families are blessed, and children are gifts from the Lord.
From my posts you can understand I have - how should I put it mildly? - a great dislike for hormonal contraception. Personally, I believe too many rabbis are unaware of the potential damage hormonal birth control can cause to a woman's health and fertility, and are too easily tempted to give counsel in favor of it, simply because it is a non-barrier method.
I might have mentioned it on the blog already - I know a deeply religious woman who counseled her rabbi about taking the Pill, after giving two births in two years. When she went off the Pill, after just one year of using it, she couldn't conceive in a natural way, and only gave birth to her third child several years after that, with fertility treatment that left her exhausted. She couldn't go through it again, and while she never used any form of birth control afterwards, she didn't conceive anymore. Her dream of having a big family was shattered.
As the dangers of hormonal birth control are exposed, I believe the rabbinical attitudes will change as well.
Overall, yes, you can definitely call me pro-life. I love life, I love motherhood, I love babies and children. I believe it makes God happy to see a big, happy family, with many children of all ages. God is the Giver of life. Children are His precious gifts, and I cannot understand why on earth anyone would label a child - any child - as "unwanted". I love and treasure precious life, and hope with all my heart to become a mother to a big, close-knit family.