The Jewish Position?
A note from a reader tells me that I may have been too nice to the Rabbi turned TV Consultant who wrote a letter saying that she, too, was upset with the portrayal of Orthodox Jews on the show in question. According to the reader, said Rabbi’s previously-expressed opinions of the Orthodox are not inconsistent with how the Orthodox were portrayed on the show. This might explain why in her initial discussion of the show with the Jewish media, she said nothing about the negative portrayal, and only wrote in response to Rabbi Avi Shafran’s justified critique.
I also find her juxtaposition of the “the way the Orthodox girl was portrayed” with “how Reform Jews were portrayed as ‘not even knowing the 10 plagues'” more than a bit jarring. One was portrayed as a foul-mouthed, ungrateful boor. The other was portrayed as not knowing the details of the Passover story. Not only are the two hardly comparable, I dare say the latter has more than a bit of truth to it. Anyway, if anyone can help clarify the Rabbi’s previous attitudes and statements, please tell me.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Jewish Times this week features another misportrayal — this time, of Judaism itself. Rabbi Susan Grossman writes that “all rabbis permit and even require abortion where the mother’s life is endangered.” So far, so good. But then: “This is because, for Jews, human life begins only when the baby’s head or the majority of its body exits the mother, and not before.”
Thus Rabbi Grossman presents as “the Jewish position” a statement expressly and unanimously contradicted by the Mishnah (Ohalot 7:6), the Talmud (Sanhedrin 57b), The Codes of Maimonides and Rav Yosef Karo, and others. According to “Induced Abortion According to Jewish Law” by Dr. Avraham Steinberg (of Sharei Tzedek Medical Center, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 1981), “the Rabbinic authorities who have determined and interpreted Jewish law have unanimously taken a negative attitude towards abortion.”
Rabbi Grossman is a member of the Conservative Movement’s Committee of Law and Standards, and the author of an article titled “Partial Birth Abortion and the Question of When ‘Life’ Begins.” This being the case, her lack of knowledge of Judaism’s answer to this very question has consequences for all those who look towards her and the Conservative Movement to accurately portray traditional Jewish values.
Rabbi Grossman goes on to state as follows: “The current debate is really about what kind of nation we are. Are we a nation that protects the freedom of religious conscience for minorities through the separation of church and state? Or are we a nation in which one religion can force its religious interpretation upon everyone else?”
Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics of Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, has suggested publicly that since in-vitro techniques are insufficient to discover many genetic defects, it might be appropriate to declare a child fully alive and viable only after his or her first birthday. So if, as Rabbi Grossman suggests, our only Jewish priority is the provision of maximal individual religious and ethical choice, the natural result is that we should permit not only partial-birth abortion, but “post-birth abortion” as well.
Indeed Rabbi Grossman is correct; the current debate is really about what kind of nation we are. Are we a nation that protects the lives of the unborn and the newly-born, or are we a nation which permits the “Human Values” of Peter Singer to bring state-sanctioned infanticide to reality?