A miscarriage of understanding
In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago three Republican congressmen representing America's pro-life (anti-abortion) camp paid Israel a visit.
Congressman Chris Smith, leader of the Pro-life Caucus in the House of Representatives led the group which met with Shas Party officials, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and others in order to bolster Israeli legislative efforts in the battle against abortion.
The US lawmakers expressed concern over Israel's declining birth rate - when compared to the growing birth rate among Palestinians. They also discussed the possibility of holding a conference in Washington which would host rabbis, academics, and Israeli MKs from the anti-abortion lobby. Shas MK Chaim Amsellem announced plans to establish a parliamentary lobby against abortions which would work closely with Congressman Smith's.
As a Torah observant woman I wouldn't touch America's pro-life or pro-choice camp with a 10-foot forceps, as neither position represents the complex and compassionate Jewish approach to the issue. Jewish law does not sanction a total ban on abortion, nor has it ever endorsed abortion-on-demand.
Importing the great American abortion conflagration does not seem to be something Israel needs right now (or ever). Our collective soul has been sufficiently rent over endless national concerns, and lumping US partisan politics and social mores together with Israeli demographic concerns, and dumping them atop a complex medical ethics and halachic issue, would only serve to obscure rather than clarify - exploit rather than humanize.
Though I personally would like to see more stringent abortion guidelines in Israel, I would hate to think that any distressed Jewish woman facing an abortion review committee would have cause to feel that made-in-the USA Judeo-Christian trends, or Israeli-contrived doomsday demographic forecasts would have a bearing on any decision determining the future of the life that she is bearing.
It is an enormous tragedy that any women in the Jewish state would feel compelled to consider abortion due to a lack of social or economic support. Thank God there are organizations such as EFRAT which manage to step in, assist, and succeed in a significant number of these situations.
Indeed, officials from EFRAT also met with the congressmen. But I wonder if the rabbis, parliamentarians and organizational heads in attendance were familiar with the positions held by the pro-life congressmen, or were they simply wowed by the charm of their guests and the heaps of praise they were receiving?
Before agreeing to cooperate with or solicit the services of Republican pro-lifers, it would be wise to examine agendas and intentions.
Chris Smith has declared that, "Human life begins at the moment of fertilization." He likens abortions to a "holocaust" and deems it an "indisputable fact that abortion is violence against children ..." With regard to stem cell surgery, Smith considers it experimentation "with cells obtained from human beings ruthlessly killed in the first weeks of life..."
That's pretty brutal, and a far cry from most Jewishly-held positions on the subjects.
Did the chief rabbinate have an inkling of the way in which Christian pro-lifers would spin and simplify halachic discussion?
Jill Stanek a prominent pro-life spokesperson and columnist for World Net Daily picked up on a rabbinic opinion which was published on Ynet that, "...abortions [for other than life or health endangerment] are a grave sin which may even delay the coming of the messiah."
On her ProLife Pulse blog she comments, "I'm surprised they [these rabbis] didn't worry the Messiah might be aborted. Perhaps that isn't possible according to Jewish theology."
Along those same lines, Lifenews.com reminds its readers that Jews do not believe the messiah is Jesus Christ, and their report suggests that the congressional group met with members of the Knesset to help promote pro-life laws which could reduce or "eliminate abortions" (pretty much an impossibility according to halacha).
ProlifeAmerica.com continued to build on the messiah theme, and told their readership that "Although sacred Jewish texts and traditions oppose abortion, most American Jewish groups have long supported the practice and pro-abortion lawmakers." They then proceeded to finger the AJCommittee, ADL, Hadassah, and the National Council of Jewish Women.
It is no coincidence that the congressional threesome of Chris Smith, Joseph Pitts and Frank Wolf have been in the forefront of a crusade to promote religious freedom. Nothing wrong with that, except that we are talking about legislation custom designed to protect and encourage Christian missionary activities. The 1998 International Religious Freedoms Act made religion an integral part of US foreign policy and helped to squash proposed Israeli anti-missionary legislation (which, ironically, had been jointly proposed by Shas and Labor MKs).
This Jewish mother wishes she could conjure up a "morning-after pill" which would compel my coreligionists into taking a hard look at the consequences of our relationship with the Christian Right.
Meanwhile, it is essential that everyone understand that Israel is a unique nation, with uncommon obligations , and that the Jewish people are certainly entitled to ensure religious continuity, seek moral clarity and formulate legislative solutions for our own people in our own way.
The writer and her family live on the Golan Heights. She is the author of The Oslo Years: A Mother's Journal and is working on a new book which takes a critical look at the Israel-Evangelical relationship.