Judaism and Abortion

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
Post Reply
Posts: 423
Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2014 6:27 pm

Judaism and Abortion

Post by semiopen » Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:42 pm

All of the discussions in Jewish Bible discussions about abortion, seem to regard abortion as not that big a deal.

Maybe the most famous reference is the Ordeal_of_the_bitter_water
[Several commentaries on the Bible maintain that the ordeal is to be applied in the case of a woman who has become pregnant, allegedly by her lover.[13][30]

Although a pregnancy on its own does not exclude the possibility that a married woman may have become pregnant to her lawful husband, presumably pregnancy was an indication of adultery if the husband claimed (truthfully or not) that there had been no circumstance under which she could have been impregnated by him. However, presuming the husband is being truthful as to his non-participation in conception, pregnancy due to non-consensual rape (as opposed to consensual adultery) is not taken into consideration.

One reading is that the ordeal results in a prolapsed uterus if she is guilty.[31] Some interpretations of the ordeal describe the bitter potion as an abortifacient, which induces a purposeful abortion or miscarriage if the woman is pregnant with a child which her husband alleges is another man’s. If the fetus aborts as a result of the ordeal, this presumably confirms her guilt of adultery, otherwise her innocence is presumed if the fetus does not abort.[13][14][32][33][34][35][36]
Of course, that isn't the only possible interpretation of this, but this has to be way ahead of whatever is in second place.

A more complete list of passages/stories is here.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_biblh.htm and http://www.religioustolerance.org/refer ... ateuch.htm

A discussion of Rabbinic thinking is contained here - Judaism_and_abortion
The chief biblical source referring to abortion is Exodus 21:22–25 concerning the man who inadvertently strikes a pregnant woman, causing her to either give birth prematurely or to miscarry. The reference reads:

And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart (i.e., either "born alive" or "stillborn", depending on the interpretation), and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined ... But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life ...
The ancient Jewish historian Philo taught that the term "harm" refers exclusively to the child, and whether a fine is imposed or capital punishment depends on whether the fetus has sufficiently formed,[1] and, according to Rashi and other Talmudic commentators, the term "harm" refers only to the mother, and traditionally, unless the mother was harmed too, only a fine was imposed for causing a miscarriage.[1]
That seems like a pretty weak passage to base a denial of the pregnant woman's decision.
Genesis 9:6 says

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 57b) understands this verse to be talking about the killing of a fetus (the word translated as "man" in the verse is gender-neutral, and the word "by a man" could also be seen as "in a person"); that is a fetus is considered to be alive with regard to the prohibition against murderer and all are warned not to kill him. The fetus however, although being considered "alive" to the extent that his or her life is protected, is not considered to be fully alive to the extent that if it endangered the mother's life it takes precedence. Thus if a pregnancy risks the life of the mother the Rabbis rule that the mother's life takes precedence and that the child may be aborted so as to save the mother's life.
This is even weaker - which is probably why it is second.

The wiki goes on to describe past and current Jewish religious attitudes.
In Israel, abortion is allowed with the approval of a termination committee if the woman is unmarried, because of age (if the woman is under the age of 17 - the legal marriage age in Israel - or over the age 40), the pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (rape, statutory rape, etc.) or an incestuous relationship, birth defects, risk of health to the mother, and life of the mother. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics report from 2004, in 2003 most abortion requests were granted, with 19,500 legal abortions performed and 200 requests for abortion denied. Reasons for termination went as follows: the woman was unmarried (42%), because of illegal circumstances (11%), health risks to the woman (about 20%), age of the woman (11%) and fetal birth defects (about 17%).[34]
At first glance, the termination committee must be pretty busy; probably one submits a form where they look to see if one of the acceptable boxes are checked.

Posts: 92
Joined: Thu May 22, 2014 1:02 pm

Re: Judaism and Abortion

Post by nili » Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:00 am

I found Daniel Schiff's "Abortion in Judaism'" informative.

Post Reply