Friday, January 20, 2012

BIOETHICS: Abortion and congenital disorders in Jewish law (2 of 4)

Other than for medical reasons (see for example, here) abortion is forbidden by Jewish Law.  However, Jewish Law does not considered abortion as murder, i.e., a crime which deserved a capital punishment at the times when Jewish courts applied execution.  Similarly, a case in which a person accidentally caused a pregnant woman to miscarry her baby (such a case is explicit in the Tora, Shemot 21:22) was not classified as manslaughter (unintentional murder) and the penalty was monetary compensation. In this respect Judaism is different from other religions, for example, Christianity.   For the Catholic church, life begins at conception and for the most part abortion is equated with murder.
The Jewish criteria has implications for the examination of abortion when a malformation or a congenital disorder is detected in an unborn baby.   This type of cases represent a new challenge in Jewish Law. Obviously, the Rabbis of the Talmud or of the Middle Ages (Rishonim = Rambam, Shulchan Arukh, etc.) could not have possibly addressed such cases, because only in our days we have the capability to examine the health of an unborn baby.  Similar to cases like 'organ transplantation' or many 'end of life' issues, there is no Talmudic legislation to relay upon.  And it is important to know that whenever a direct precedent cannot be found in Talmudic Law, we should expect a number of different Rabbinic opinions, which based on Talmudic analogies (not direct precedents!) will arrive to various and dissimilar conclusions, sometimes, completely opposed to each other.  Additionally, with no precedents in Talmudic legislation, one is not able to say thatJudaism --as a whole-- unequivocally opposes or supports this or that position. The matter at hand, then, is open to particular ideas which have been formulated by modern Rabbinic legislators (=posqim) based on their particular analyzes and interpretations. 

As a rule, in these cases, every individual Jew is instructed to follow his or her own community's Rabbis and community's traditions. 
Next week we will present the main opinions in the matter of abortion and congenital disorders. We will based our discussion on the book: Penine Halakha, by R. Eliezer Melamed. Liqutim 2, pp 254-258. 
Shabbat Shalom!
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Shabbat ends in NYC:    5.49 PM


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