In Halakhah, Abortion Is Prohibited—but Not Considered Murder

Aug. 13 2018

In America, debates over abortion tend to boil down to “pro-life” or “pro-choice” positions—defined more often than not by religious principles. But traditional Jewish sources take an approach that doesn’t quite fit either term, as Shlomo Brody explains:

Procreation, [in the Jewish view], represents a definitive commandment and is paradigmatic of a general attitude of promoting life. The notion that having an abortion is simply a woman’s [moral] prerogative, based on [an idea of individual moral] autonomy, is entirely absent from traditional Jewish sources. [Furthermore], Jewish law grants moral status to a fetus. For this reason, one is permitted to violate the Sabbath to save its life, even as it would not be permitted in the case of animals, which have a lower moral status. . . .

While Jewish law may grant moral status to this future human being, this does not mean that it equates feticide with murder. If feticide is prohibited, but is not homicide, then what is it? Historically, many halakhic authorities viewed feticide as a lower-level form of manslaughter that is permitted only when it will save the mother’s life. . . .This includes cases of direct physiological danger as well as mental imbalance [that could render a mother] suicidal. Otherwise, abortion remains a very severe offense. . . .

Yet [some] scholars like Jacob Emden (1697-1776) and Ben-Zion Uziel (1890-1953) significantly lowered the severity of the prohibition on abortion, even as they firmly maintained that it is generally forbidden. Some asserted that abortion falls under the general prohibition of battery, while others include it within a general rabbinic proscription of preventing the creation of life. These lenient assessments clearly allow for a broader range of dispensations, including cases in which the pregnancy might aggravate preexisting medical conditions that are not life-threatening. Most famously, [the 20th-century] rabbis Eliezer Waldenberg and Shaul Yisraeli permitted aborting a fetus diagnosed with Tay-Sachs in order to prevent the future suffering of this child and the mental anguish of its parents. Others strongly opposed this ruling. . . .

These significant disagreements create a greater amount of nuance than in other religious traditions that assert that life begins at conception and only allow abortions when the mother’s life is threatened. This is a perfectly cogent position, but not the Jewish one.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abortion, Halakhah, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, U.S. Politics

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy