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.

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Read more at Torah Musings

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

The Significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s Holocaust Denial

Aug. 19 2022

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, during an official visit to Berlin, gave a joint press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, where he was asked by a journalist if he would apologize for the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The relationship between the group that carried out the massacre and Abbas’s Fatah party remains murky.) Abbas instead responded by ranting about the “50 Holocausts” perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Stephen Pollard comments:

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

The real issue, in Pollard’s view, is the West’s willful blindness about Abbas, who wrote a doctoral thesis at a Soviet university blaming “Zionists” for the Holocaust and claiming that a mere million Jews were killed by the Nazis—notions he has reiterated publicly as recently as 2013.

On Wednesday, [Abbas] “clarified” his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism”—to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

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Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust denial, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority