Closing the Abortion Discussion

So, now it has become clear: Rabbi Broyde seems to have entirely misconstrued the Agudah’s position, and this is why he claimed that the Agudah was somehow at odds with Rabbi Gordimer’s correct, factual statement that “Judaism is not pro-abortion.”

Neither of us, of course, can speak for Agudath Israel, but it clearly expressed its position: “it can only support such laws [limiting abortions] if they include a religious exemption clause.” The necessary basis for such a position, of course, is the belief that a Rav must have full authority to authorize a woman to have a necessary abortion without anyone else signing off, much less second-guessing, on his approval. From a strict religious liberty perspective, when dealing with a serious Moreh Hora’ah B’Yisroel, such a perspective has obvious merit.

Rabbi Broyde’s extrapolation from that position to imply something entirely different than what it says, does not. There is no basis for the assumption that requiring a religious exemption is founded upon the belief that “the status of a fetus is in dispute in halacha,” or that “American law must determine that that a fetus is not a person.”

As I already explained, in this particular case and in the current political environment, granting anyone calling themselves rabbi (and, of course, the United States cannot presume to distinguish between Rabbonim and rabbis) full authority to make this decision is both unnecessary to preserve our religious liberties, and would be misused to nullify the law’s limitations upon abortion and render it essentially worthless. And as I wrote previously, a member of the Moetzes agreed with me that a religious exemption would thus only be counterproductive; that is why the Coalition for Jewish Values (which both Rabbi Gordimer and I serve in different capacities) took a different position.

None of us can contradict the posuk which, according to Rebbe Yishmael, states that a fetus is Adam, a person, in Torah, at least as understood by the consensus of poskim. None of us is greater than the Rambam who called “a fetus in the belly of his/her mother” an example of “killing a soul.”

Reb Moshe writes as follows (Choshen Mishpat Beis, 73:8): “In the current era, due to our many sins, there are women without merit who wish to abort the fetus within them. Behold, this is forbidden from the prohibition of murder, and it is forbidden to help in this, not only for a Jewish woman but also for a non-Jewish woman, because all Children of Noah are also prohibited in murder, also with a fetus… there is no concern for hostility [from her / the non-Jews] when he says that he does not wish to assist in something which is murder of a soul, for even non-Jewish women know that this is not a proper thing to do… and a G-d-fearing doctor can say that he does not wish to participate in a matter of murder of a fetus when this is not for healing, due to danger to the mother’s life.”

Rabbi Broyde writes that “Many giants of halacha do not think abortion is murder. Some think it is.” I suspect that he should have reversed these, and diminished “some” considerably. It is the permissive view of the Tzitz Eliezer that is seen as an outlier, at least according to the poskim with whom I have consulted. “Rav Moshe said the Tzitz Eliezer made a mistake, and ALL major Poskim agreed with him,” in the words of a posek whom I asked while researching this issue.

Indeed, elsewhere the Agudah makes clear that it shares this position, writing that it hopes the Supreme Court will “reconsider” Roe v. Wade, because “the sanctity of human life deserves respect and legal protection at the onset of the life cycle,” meaning, as it writes explicitly, before birth. That reference is, again, to human life, which “has status and dignity,” not merely something that might become a life later on if nature is permitted to take its course.

No matter how you slice it, there’s no way to turn the Agudah’s position into “somewhat pro-choice.” “Pro-choice” is the belief that a woman should be legally able to have an elective abortion simply because she doesn’t want to have a baby—and over 95% of abortions in the U.S. (or at least in Florida, which requires documents the reason behind each) are done for this reason. The Agudah, like anyone Torah-observant, “supports legislation that restricts abortion on demand,” because Torah cherishes human life.

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13 Responses

  1. FWIW, my own experience – over many years – is the antipodal one. All morei hora’ah that I have been familiar with rely lema’aseh on the Tzitz Eliezer, and see R. Moshe’s position (which presupposes that halacha is with the Rambam, and then according to one understanding of him) as the outlier position. Scratch the surface, and you will find yerai’im u-shleimim who have applied the Tzitz Eliezer’s position to their own families. And we are not talking about minor league morei hora’ah, unless anyone who disagrees with a position one does not want to hear gets sent to a farm club

    • E.S. says:

      Anonymous statements can only carry so much weight, are any of these poskim comfortable going on the record? If not why not

    • Yehoshua says:

      Too bad there is no “like” button for comments here.

      • Yehoshua says:

        My previous comment was directed to what R’ Adlerstein wrote, in case that was not clear.

    • dr. bill says:

      Gedolai Ho’raah do not issue public pesakim on many matters where the circumstances are critical. Thus, requests for names of those agreeing (at least to some degree) with Rav Waldenberg ztl are not always that easy to come by.

      The article by RAL ztl about 30 years ago provides a cogent summary of the issues involved.

    • Yehoshua Kahan says:

      Rabbi Adlerstein, who are the poskim that you are quoting? Do you have ma’arei mekomos?

      • I believe that I said morei hora’ah, not poskim. There is a crucial difference. Among poskim, I believe that R Dovid Cohen doesn’t hide the fact. You’ll find enough mar’ei mekomos to keep you busy for a while in the teshuva of the Tzitz Eliezer

  2. Tal Benschar says:

    בֶּן נֹחַ שֶׁהָרַג נֶפֶשׁ אֲפִלּוּ עֵבָּר בִּמְעֵי אִמּוֹ נֶהֱרָג עָלָיו. וְכֵן אִם הָרַג טְרֵפָה אוֹ שֶׁכְּפָתוֹ וּנְתָנוֹ לִפְנֵי אֲרִי אוֹ שֶׁהִנִּיחוֹ בָּרָעָב עַד שֶׁמֵּת. הוֹאִיל וְהֵמִית מִכָּל מָקוֹם נֶהֱרָג. וְכֵן אִם הָרַג רוֹדֵף שֶׁיָּכוֹל לְהַצִּילוֹ בְּאֶחָד מֵאֵיבָרָיו נֶהֱרָג עָלָיו. מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:

    A ben-noach who slays any soul, even a fetus in its mother’s womb, should be executed in retribution for its death. Similarly, if he slew a person who would have otherwise died in the near future, placed a person before a lion, or starved a person to death, he should be executed for through one manner or other, he killed.

    (Rambam, Hil Melachim, 10:4)

    Seems like the Rambam considers an unborn baby to be a nefesh. The permission acc. to him to abort in certain situations is based on rodef, not that the fetus is not a person.

    I cannot speak for the Agudah, but the reason a Rav would permit abortion could be the halakha of rodef.

  3. One must consider this matter in its political context. There are legal protections affordable for mothers in such crises; but none for a baby after it is killed.

    The first question is not can a leniency be found. But how does the Creator feel about this?

    “This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses of you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

    Let’s choose blessings, not the opposite.

    I have written more about this at this link.

  4. Steven Brizel says:

    One can posit that Poskim disagree as to the source and extent of the prohibition of abortion but do not endorse the agenda of reproductive freedom or an absolute right to life of the fetus .Halacha recognizes the need for abortion in certain cases sanctioned by Halachic authorities as a grave physical or emotional threat to the mother .I do think that the Tzitz Eliezer is a better source for that argument than the Teshuvah in the last chelek of IM which was edited posthumously and is contradictory to other Shut In earlier volumes in IM .That statement is not simplistic but IMO is Amitah shel Torah and can be presented very cogently to any audience live ,on the web or in an amicus brief to SCOTUS which IMO is Agudah’s position RMenken who I have a great deal of respect for is conflating the Halachic view with right to life

  5. Dave says:

    I’ll pit your anonymous “poskim who[m] you consulted” with R’ Dovid Cohen who publicly told David Lichtenstein on Headlines that “The TE quotes a whole list of Acharonim, and everyone holds like him….It seems from all the Acharonim that no one held like Rav Moshe. It’s not only the Maharit, it’s dozens of Gedolie Acharonim throughout the ages.” This article with citing anonymous poskim and an anonymous member of the moeztes is supposed to “close” the issue? For whom exactly?

    • Michael Jay Broyde says:

      Dave, can you give a link to this quote from Rabbi Dovid Cohen and the Headlines Program?

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