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Abortion: Is There a Jewish Perspective?


Controversy over the Obama administration’s proposed overhaul of American health care has dwelled in part on the issue of public subsidization of abortion. Although the bill passed by the House upheld the status quo and banned such subsidies—to the dismay of its liberal supporters—the subject has not faded from sight. Amid the turmoil, little attention has focused on the question of abortion itself, its moral and ethical status.

Relevant Links
Lessons of History  Daniel Schiff, Abortion in Jewish Law. A reader’s guide.
Abortion and Jewish Law  Barry Freundel, Public Policy and Social Issues: Jewish Sources and Perspectives. An authoritative survey of the literature.
The Consensus Opinion  Elliot Dorff, Matters of Life and Death. “Contrary to what many contemporary Jews think, Jewish law restricts the legitimacy of abortion to a narrow range of cases.”
What the Sources Say  David Feldman, Birth Control in Jewish Law.

Is there a distinctive Jewish view of this matter? In practice, to judge by survey results and voting patterns, Jews hold the most permissive “pro-choice” views of any group in the American population, and many Jews tend to anchor those views in “Jewish teachings.”

Are they right? Daniel Schiff offers a careful introduction to the issue. A briefer survey by Barry Freundel, an Orthodox rabbi, suggests that Jewish teachings tend to run contrary to today's popular view. Perhaps surprisingly, Rabbi Elliott Dorff, a liberal spokesman for Conservative Judaism, comes to much the same conclusion. For an in-depth discussion of the classic texts, David Feldman’s 1968 volume remains indispensable.

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