Unfortunately one of my colleagues in the pastoral world decided the 24th of December, an auspicious day for around 1/5 of the world’s population, was also an auspicious day to misrepresent the Jewish view on one of the most sensitive hot-button issues of the day: abortion. What I mean by misrepresent is he takes his neo Aristotelean values about human life (or lack of value thereof), and ham fists a number of classical Jewish legal sources to justify his view. The fact that he doesn’t quote any contemporary authorities should tell any reader something is very wrong with this piece.
I anticipated that R’ Shmuly Yanklowitz would take this position, given his fundamentally non-Jewish outlook on what defines life. In addition to his equation of human and animal life, he adds a new element to his assessment of whether a fetus has a fundamental right to come into this world: science. This is a terrible error on two counts. First, scientists themselves disagree on what constitutes life, as is evidenced by the debate over whether viruses are actually alive or not. Second, and much more important, is science axiomatically rejects the existence of a soul since it is impossible to empirically test for one. Since science fundamentally lacks explanatory power in this regard, he shouldn’t be appealing to it. He should look to what Jewish sources say, considering the fact that he’s representing himself as a rabbi and authority in Jewish law and ethics.
So let’s look at what Judaism actually has to say about this issue*. First of all, Judaism bases the value of a human life based on the fact that people were created in the image of G-d (Gn. 1:26). Judaism even prohibits the wasting of seed, as is evidenced in the story of Er and Onan (Gn. 38:3-10), and a woman proverbially ‘sits shiva’ (undergoes a seven-day mourning period) for her unfertilized ovum each month (Lv. 15:19). To claim that a fertilized zygote is less of a living thing that its component parts is preposterous. Judaism views abortion as prohibited with certain leniencies, not permitted with certain restrictions as R’ Yanklowitz would have you believe. The only question among our authorities is what prohibition it falls under. Rav Moshe Feinstein maintained it actually fell under the rubric of murder. One opinion whose name I am blanking on believed it is learned out from a man causing a woman to miscarry while fighting (Ex. 21:22). The Siridei Aish learns it from the prohibition to injure oneself. How none of these opinions were even mentioned in this article is beyond me.
This piece is so utterly irresponsible. People look to rabbis to provide moral guidance, not rubber stamp their behavior. If any place was a place to take a strong stand, it was here. R’ Yanklowitz has misrepresented Judaism and failed his readers in the process.
*I am not claiming to be an authority on medical ethics by any stretch. My knowledge of the topic of abortion is based on a class I took with Rav Mordechai Willig shlita of Yeshiva University.