Jonathan Sacks’s Moderate Stance on Abortion

While perhaps unrepresentative of popular opinion, American public discourse about abortion tends to pose an argument between two extremes: either the fetus is a “clump of cells” and its destruction a morally neutral act, or abortion is no different at all from postnatal murder. Although the former position has been endorsed by some non-Orthodox rabbis, and the latter by some Orthodox ones, the late British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks made the case for an intermediate approach in his commentary to Exodus 21, which discusses a man’s tortious accidental termination of a pregnancy. Gil Student explains:

Rabbi Sacks focuses on the importance of tradition and interpretation. The talmudic sages (Tractate Sanhedrin 79a) interpret the word ason regarding a pregnant woman who is struck (Exodus 21:23) as referring to damage, a fatal accident. From this interpretation, it emerges that a fetus does not have the legal status of a person, and causing a woman to miscarry is not a capital offense. In contrast, [the 1st-century BCE Jewish philosopher] Philo of Alexandria, under the influence of the Greek translation of the Torah, interprets ason as referring to the fetus’s form. If the fetus is not yet formed, then causing a woman to miscarry is not a capital offense. If the fetus is formed, then abortion is murder.

Sacks briefly traces these two interpretations through history. Jews traditionally followed the Talmud while Christians adopted Philo’s understanding. The result is that Judaism generally does not consider abortion to be murder while Christianity considers it to be murder once the fetus is formed, however that is defined. This distinction is important not only in terms of the nature of the offense of abortion but also regarding how we determine our values. Judaism takes it values from the Oral Torah, the rabbinic tradition recorded in Talmud and midrash, and transmitted throughout the generations by its leading lights.

But Sacks adds an important caveat, which Student quotes:

This is not to say that Jewish and Catholic views on abortion are completely different. In practice, they are quite close, especially when compared to the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, or the secular West today, where abortion is widespread and not seen as a moral evil at all. Judaism permits abortion only to save the life of the mother or to protect her from life-threatening illness. A fetus might not be a person in Jewish law, but it is a potential person, and must therefore be protected. However, the theoretical difference is real. In Judaism, abortion is not murder. In Catholicism, it is.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Abortion, Exodus, Halakhah, Jonathan Sacks, Judaism, Philo

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority