On Saturday, the Washington Post’s religion page inside the Metro section highlighted a pro-life cause: what may be the only Jewish crisis-pregnancy center in the country, Erica Pelman’s group In Shifra’s Arms (ISA). Debra Rubin’s story for the Religion News Service relayed both sides and noted both Jewish law and Jewish public opinion. Liberal rabbis have railed against ISA, even for using the term “baby” instead of “fetus.
Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple Sinai in Cranston, R.I., is among ISA's detractors, criticizing the group for its use of the term "your baby," rather than the medical term "fetus." That's too narrow a perspective of Jewish law, he said.
"It doesn't seem to recognize the challenges and reasons why some women would choose to end an unwanted pregnancy," said Stein, who's active in the Washington-based Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. He and others point to an ISA link to an abortion information page provided by the traditionalist group Aish HaTorah, which Rabbi Bonnie Margulis (who also is affiliated with RCRC) describes as an organization that "tries to convince non-Orthodox to become Orthodox."
Aren’t liberals funny? It’s controversial to try to talk someone into keeping a baby, or getting more conservative in your approach to God. But advocate for abortion, or homosexuality, and try to tear conservatives away from ancient moral tradition? That’s apparently just another day at the synagogue.
(See Brent Bozell's column Ban the Word 'Fetus'.)
Earlier in the story, the ISA’s rabbinic adviser was interviewed:
One thing ISA doesn’t provide, however, is information on or referrals for abortion, which has angered some Jews. Eighty-four percent of U.S. Jews support legalized abortion in all or most cases, according to the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey.
Jewish law is mostly ambiguous on abortion, allowing for the physical life (and sometimes the emotional health) of the woman to take precedence over the life of the fetus.
“The base line is that abortion is prohibited by Jewish law, but every situation is unique and different and needs to be looked at with great care and sensitivity,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the District’s Ohev Shalom — the National Synagogue, who is a rabbinic adviser to ISA.
“Some rabbis are more lenient than others are with what constitutes the health of the mother being in danger,” he said.
That’s putting it mildly. Rabbi Peter Stein of Cranston thinks a child of 38 weeks is still a clump of cells. Rubin didn’t seem to press Stein or Margulis on the “silent holocaust” hot button: if your goal were to build the Jewish people, why such eagerness to dismiss your potential flock of the future? That theme subtly came at story’s end:
Pelman believes that the non-Orthodox Jewish community has made abortion too acceptable and aims to bring more Jewish babies into the world.
Using abortion statistics from Planned Parenthood and the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, she estimates that Jewish women undergo some 10,000 abortions annually.
“If we’re able to make a difference to people who might want to keep their baby,” said Herzfeld, the rabbinic adviser, “that is a great way to add to the strength of the Jewish people.”
As for Saraleah [a 19-year-old woman at the story's start], who gave birth in November, she writes that ISA helped her see her pregnancy in a different way. Her child, she said in an e-mail, is “a gift from above.”
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