Abortion in Judaism

Abortion in Judaism

Abortion in Judaism

Abortion in Judaism

Synopsis

Abortion in Judaism presents a complete Jewish legal history of abortion from the earliest relevant biblical references through the end of the twentieth century. For the first time, almost every Jewish text relevant to the abortion issue is explored in detail. These texts are investigated in historical sequence, thereby elucidating the development inherent within the Jewish approach to abortion. The work considers the insights that this thematic history provides into Jewish ethical principles, as well as into the role of halakhah within Judaism.

Excerpt

At the core of Judaism is the legal system known as halakhah, from the Hebrew meaning “to go” or “to walk. ” Originating at Sinai, halakhah shapes Jewish life and, ideally, directs Jews towards righteous and exalted conduct. Yet even this legal system, seen to be based in divine revelation, is not exempt from its share of complex questions, uncertainties, and disagreements about the appropriate path to follow. In those occasional circumstances when the correct legal ruling is unclear, halakhic authorities formulate responses through the application of precedents and principles to the situation under consideration. This task, accomplished as it is by gifted but fallible human beings, at times produces differing interpretations and rulings such that the law generates various solutions that cannot be neatly reconciled. While, in time, the halakhah usually converges on a path that comes to be regarded as normative, this “right way” is rarely so obvious that it can be determined with ease, nor can alternative potential legal options be dismissed without reservation.

The issue of abortion presents the halakhah with exactly this type of challenge. While there is fundamental agreement on the broad parameters of the distinctive Jewish attitude to abortion, legal clarity on critical particulars—a low priority for many centuries—has proven to be a difficult goal to attain. This reality makes the thought of the rabbis— as they grapple with a delineated textual tradition, wrenching actual moral dilemmas, and a diversity of developing responses—particularly intriguing.

For this reason I have chosen to write a historical account of the development of the Jewish response to abortion. It is, of course, relatively unusual to explore halakhic issues through the lens of historical reflection. The methodical study of history is, after all, essentially a modern enterprise involving analyzing, comparing, and contrasting events from differing epochs. Halakhic subjects, conversely, are typically explored according to topic, without regard to time-period. Thus, the examination . . .

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