Rabbis generally do not speak out against abortion, at least not like Christians. But New York’s terrible new law allowing abortion up to the moment of birth has stirred at least two of the largest rabbinical councils in the US to come out with public statements on the controversial issue.
“Jewish law opposes abortion, except in cases of danger to the mother,” reads the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) statement. “There is no sanction to permit the abortion of a healthy fetus when the mother’s life is not endangered.”
Jewish congregants were surprised by the public condemnation of abortion. Many of the most popular comments on the ruling, which was posted on the RCA website, complained that the rabbis now sounded like the Christians:
“This reads more like evangelical Christianity than Orthodox Judaism.”
“Why is the RCA emulating the Catholic Church rather than following the halacha?”
“RCA you may want to brush up on Halacha before latching on to Evangelical Christian ideals.”
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, vice president of the RCA, went so far as to call abortion murder: “The removal of any restriction from abortion access and the redefining of the word ‘homicide’ to exclude abortion, indicate a further erosion of the moral values of our society, where killing babies is no longer construed as immoral in any way.”
The fact that the law was passed in New York, a state heavily populated by Orthodox Jews, moved the rabbinic councils to make a clear ruling. It also seems like the Orthodox Jewish world is moving to the right politically, much along the same lines as conservative Christians.
Traditional Judaism has tended to be more liberal on abortion than Evangelical or Catholic Christianity. Orthodox Jewish groups do not support a full ban on abortion, generally allowing for more consideration of the mother. Reform Judaism prioritizes the life of the expectant mother over that of the unborn child, although abortion as a form of birth control is discouraged. The Reform movement has repeatedly opposed any legislative limits on access to abortions.
Abortion in Israel is common, about 100 to every 1,000 births, but is still only half of that in Europe, while in 2018, New Yorkers aborted 350 babies to every 1,000 births, according to the Guttmacher Institute annual report.
In Israel, Orthodox Jewish political parties have tremendous influence over deciding which coalition can form a government, but they have yet to make any restrictions on abortion a part of their bargaining tactics. Unlike Evangelical churches in the US, rabbinical councils here have not taken a real stand against abortion in the political arena. Orthodox Jewish groups in Israel tend to appeal to the public though massive pro-life advertising, as well as offering services to help pregnant mothers keep their babies.