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Archive for March, 2018

Recently I published an guest column in the Tallahassee Democrat criticizing the comparison of the political influence of the NRA to Planned Parenthood.  www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/2018/03/05/opinion-nra-vs-planned-parenthood-bad-comparison/394038002/

Lynda Bell, the leader of an active anti-abortion group, wrote a response criticizing my interpretation of a Biblical passage.  I wrote a response that was shortened by the paper into a letter.  Here is the full content of my explanation of Exodus 21:22 to 25:

I completely understand the passion of Lynda Bell in her opposition to abortion. She is the leader of a group that leads the fight against abortion in Florida, so of course she sees Planned Parenthood as a mortal enemy.  What I would like to address, however, is the interpretation of Exodus 21:22 through 25. By insisting that her take on this Biblical passage is the only correct one, she misses my point that Biblical passages are seen differently by various religious traditions. I do not claim the Jewish perspective is the only way to read the passage, but that it is as valid as any perspective. So let’s look at the complete passage and see how it forms the basis for the Jewish perspective on assessing life.

Here is the full passage, 22) If men quarrel and hurt a pregnant woman so that her (unborn) child comes out and yet no further harm follows; he shall surely be punished, according to what the woman’s husband will lay upon him and he shall pay a determined penalty. 23) And if any further harm follows, then you shall give life for a life, 24) Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for a hand, foot for a foot. 25) burning for burning, wound for a wound, bruise for a bruise.

While the actual Hebrew has some wording oddities, this passage is not used to either justify or oppose abortion. Rather, it is the basis for establishing that there are different levels of life. The punishment for the loss of the unborn child is a fine, NOT a death penalty. The Torah has many examples of when a death penalty is the punishment for the loss of a life. This is not one, so the rabbinic sages of the first few centuries CE qualify fetal life differently than fully formed human life. In this passage we should note a few things. First, the husband is the one who has a say in the amount of the penalty. The further harm referenced in verse 23 is to the woman, which would then be punished by what is outlined in verses 24 and 25. If the woman loses her life, then the perpetrator loses his and so on.

The Talmud, which is the early rabbinic elaboration on Torah law redacted between 200 to about 600 CE, builds upon the difference between fetal life and fully formed human life. The example used for abortion arguments is a case in which a woman’s life is threatened by the birth of her child, the child can be aborted unless its head is emerging during birth. There are other examples showing different levels of life. Funeral rites are not required for the loss of a fetus regardless of the reason (miscarriage, accident, abortion). They are required for the death of a fully formed human. In the early 20 century, a leading rabbi in Palestine (before the establishment of the State of Israel) took these teachings and ruled that a woman who consulted him, could have an abortion because her doctor concluded the pregnancy would result in her being blind. Of course today we would question how this doctor could know this, but the point is the rabbi used our traditional perspective on the levels of life to make his decision.

Therefore, from a Jewish perspective, the mass murders of students at schools, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, or at the Orlando night club are more horrific than abortions, as they are murders of fully formed human life. I must, however, add this note that will make liberals unhappy. While the Talmud is clear that fetal life is not the same a fully formed human life, it is also clear that fetal life is human life. Ergo, the use of abortion as simply birth control would be condemned by Jewish tradition.

There is so much about all of this to discuss, and I invite Ms Bell to meet with me and set up a community, public discussion. If we do it civilly, perhaps we can find some areas of agreement to bring our community together rather than to verbally fist fight.

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