We Need More Orthodox Jewish Voices in Advocating Pro-Life Options

We Need More Orthodox Jewish Voices in Advocating Pro-Life Options

Orthodox Jewish law permits abortion when the unborn is putting the mother’s physical life at risk. For some rabbinic authorities, the dispensation has been extended to consider the mother’s emotional and psychological state as factors before rendering a final decision on the matter. Although abortion on demand is prohibited, it is my belief that most Jews within the Orthodox community, and certainly those of other denominations within Judaism, advocate or passively accept pro-choice legislation throughout the mother’s pregnancy.

For Jews who do not follow the tenets of Orthodox Jewish law, many rabbis and Jewish leaders have happily adopted “my body, my right” as some type of Jewish value. As an Orthodox Jew myself, I find this position repugnant and a twisting of sacred text in order to be accepted within greater society. I feel Jews that take these types of counter-Jewish law positions are a result of our collective PTSD from 2,000 years of living in exile. We would rather be loved by the greater society than be stewards of God’s law. 

For the Orthodox Jewish community, the option of having pro-choice legislation ensures that if a mother’s physical life is at stake at any point in the pregnancy, one may terminate the baby. The problem with this stance is that 60,000,000 unborn babies, who never endangered their mother’s life, paid a severe price for this legislative acceptance. Furthermore, Jewish law also advocates to ensure that non-Jews uphold God’s law. 

Only 2% of abortions done were due to some medical complication the mother was experiencing at the time. Ninety-two percent of all abortions were done by women from their 20s-40s. One percent of women obtain an abortion because they became pregnant through rape, and less than 0.5% do so because of incest. The vast majority of abortions have nothing to do with any medical complications. Besides issuing an occasional organizational statement and a few clergy appearing in the media to discuss the topic, many Orthodox rabbis and institutional leaders have passively stood by and allowed the non-Jewish community, specifically the Christian conservative community, to take the reins on this issue. 

Last month, we read Isaiah chapter 1, where the prophet denounces the people who defraud the innocent, neglect the poor, and abuse the weak. Judaism is not Judaism if we disdain our responsibilities. We have a duty to give a voice to the most marginalized in society who are unable to defend themselves, even for people who are not from our faith community. Yet, for the less than 1% possibility of medical complications affecting mothers today in the Jewish community who may need an abortion, we are willing to stand by and be an accessory in terminating tens of millions. 

For the record, I must confess that I was guilty of being a bystander on this issue for decades. However, in January of 2019, I had a transformation on the issue when the New York Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act. In celebration of legalizing abortion all the way up until birth, for any reason, One World Trade Center went pink! New York City gave a standing ovation to abortion. The most concentrated Orthodox Jewish community outside of Israel pretty much remained silent except for the Rabbinical Council of America, Agudath Israel of America, and a few others issuing the standard Jewish law position. What should have occurred was a day of fasting and repentance.

We owe a debt to Christian conservatives for advocating on behalf of the unborn for nearly 50 years as well as applaud the Supreme Court Justices for the courage to overturn Roe vs. Wade. As the individual states determine their abortion laws, there is an opportunity for the members of the Orthodox Jewish community to work hand in hand with Christians in proactively advocating for the unborn not to be terminated by elective abortions. 

With the universal High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Biblical New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) around the corner, it is a time of deep personal and collective introspection and reflection of our walk with God. The sacred season not only asks of us to renew our allegiance to the King and our responsibility in actualizing His Kingdom, but it also demands repentance. 

Confession is at the heart of repentance as stated, “They must confess the sin they have committed” (Numbers 5:5-7). The act of confession is more than feeling regret and a pledge not to repeat the sins committed. We are pleading our guilt in the heavenly court of law. More than eighty formal confessionals are declared during the Yom Kippur service. Some of these confessionals are repeated ten times. Some of these confessions include:

We have committed iniquity!

And for the sin we have sinned before You by desecrating Your name!

Regarding the first confession, the Hebrew term for “iniquity” is avon, crooked. In the context of this confession, we admit to God that we have used convoluted reasoning to persuade ourselves to sin. The second confession is an admission that we have brought discredit to our people or faith and thus about God Himself. 

The world should not think that the only Jewish voice out there is the one that is okay with on-demand abortions. We must go beyond issuing statements and work with our Christian brothers and sisters in providing alternatives to abortion by working on banning on-demand abortions as well as funding pregnancy centers. Millions depend upon us!

David Nekrutman is an Orthodox Jewish theologian with over two decades experience in the calling of Jewish-Christian relations. He currently serves as the Executive Director of The Isaiah Projects and is the Jewish Adviser to The Chosen. In 2018, he received his master’s in Biblical Literature from Oral Roberts University.

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