Abortion

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R. Barry Freundel, Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity, pp. 257, 260-262

[F]rom our earliest discussion of the subject, Judaism has never taken what one might describe as either a pro-choice or a pro-life position… A contemporary discussion that incorporates and illustrates many of the elements just detailed is the debate between Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg and Rabbi Moses Feinstein on aborting a fetus that tested positive for Tay-Sachs disease… Bearing such a child and watching it whither and pass away is, to say the least, emotionally difficult for the parents. But is that sufficient to allow abortion? Rabbi Waldenberg permits such an abortion until the seventh month of pregnancy. Rabbi Feinstein… does not.

It is here that the extent of the range of opinions on abortion can be seen. Neither Rabbi Waldenberg nor Rabbi Feinstein would prohibit abortion if the mother’s life was in danger. Neither would permit abortion if the baby was healthy and the couple merely wanted to delay having children for a few years. Where the debate is joined is on the relative value of fetal life vs. parental distress…

Imagine a woman who is pregnant but who also, unfortunately, has cancer. If she takes chemotherapy for the cancer, the fetus will die, but this may be her only chance to survive. If she doesn’t take chemotherapy, she may well die but the baby will have a chance… At least one contemporary responsum allows the mother’s choice in such a case to be the determining factor…

Finally, this author is saddened that so many Jewish groups have aligned themselves with either the pro-choice movement (and this is by far the largest group) or (more rarely) the pro-life movement. As we have seen, Judaism accepts neither position.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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