Monday, September 01, 2008

Klinghoffer’s Abortion Distortion

In a few hours, I’ll be reading this segment from Larry Yudelson’s and my new book, “How Would God Really Vote.” I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Having read the chapter titled: Abortion: A Litmus Test, I must say that Klinghoffer is a decent writer, and he manages to do a lot with the scant support in scripture for his position. So I sat down and put together a reasonable response to Klinghoffer’s argument on how God votes on the abortion issue. But before I get there, I must share with you what Joseph Farah had to say about the book.

Joseph Farah is one of those Internet commentators whose diatribes your right-winger neighbor in shul is likely to send you until you threaten to filter out his emails. It was therefore a pleasure to read Farah’s disappointment in Klinhoffer’s effort: If that is a “conservative” agenda, I’m glad I am not a “conservative” but rather an independent-minded American faithful to the U.S. Constitution and guided by his own understanding of God’s Word.

[, June 4, 2008]

Farah is a pro-Israel Lebanese-American, and his attack is purely ideological and cannot be lamed on anti-Jewish sentiment. The fact that I can’t stand his writing doesn’t make it invalid. Millions of Christians and Jews adore him (see paragraph 3).

But Farah’s attack exposes the fundamental problem in Klinghoffer’s methodology, as he tries to pawn off a rabbinical approach to Torah text on a wide public that has no recognition of its roots nor its validity. Throughout the chapter, Klinghoffer mixes Biblical citations (accepted by Jews and Christians) with rabbinical citations (accepted only by Jews, and even then not all of us, really). It has to be a losing effort when it comes to fundamentalist Bible thumpers like Joseph Farah.

I actually loved Farah’s taunt of Klinghoffer the Conservative wannabe, specifically on the abortion chapter. Farah writes:

Here’s how I believe God would have us vote on [abortion]—and why: …There are many familiar passages of Scripture that have been used to show that killing unborn children, the most innocent of life, is not God’s way: Psalm 94:21, Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 59:7, Genesis 42:22, Proverbs 28:13, Deuteronomy 21:9, Psalm 139:13-16 and Luke 1:41-47 to name a few. But to make this simple, every time the Bible refers to a pregnant woman, it says she is “with child.” We don’t talk like that any more in our 21st century American culture because we don’t want to acknowledge the child until the day it is born—if it is allowed to be born. But check out how often the Bible refers to women “with child”: Genesis 16:4, Genesis 19:36, Genesis 38:24, Exodus 21:22, 1 Samuel 4:19, 2 Samuel 11:5, 2 Kings 8:12, Isaiah 26:17, Mathew 1:18, Mathew 1:23, Luke 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and Revelation 12:2.

I don’t know from Revelation, Mathew, or Luke, but I did look up Farah’s citations from the Jewish Bible, which are way more extensive than Klinghoffer’s, but are about as credible about abortion as the evangelical proof that Jesus is mentioned in Jewish scripture. Total rubbish.

Psalm 94:21— . “They gang up against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the blood of the innocent.” The psalm is about how God will punish the wicked some day soon. How the verse is more about the killing of fetuses than about any other innocent person I fail to understand.

Ecclesiastics 11:5— . “Just as you do not know the way of the spirit or the bones in the pregnant belly, likewise you do not comprehend the works of God who makes everything.” And how is this a prohibition against abortion? Sheer nonsense.

Isaiah 59:7— . “Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood, their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.” A pattern emerges: Every time Farah spots innocent blood, it’s gotta’ be a fetus. Interesting idea, especially when juxtaposed with the Christian idea of Original Sin, which suggests them fetuses is full of sin like the worst among us, un-saved folks…

Anyway, so Farah employs the evangelical tradition of raping the Biblical text until it gives up the ghost. I mean, he even brings Genesis 42:22, where Reuven cautions his brothers not to kill the child, as if the sons of Jacob were in the middle of an anti-abortion rally (the child in question is, of course, Joseph, who was 17 at the time, a story Farah should know, as he shares a first name with the lad).

The reason I’ve digressed so much with the Farah citations is to show what happens when you just roam in the scriptural text, picking verses that seem to fit your opinion. If, on top of it, you’re working from a translation of the Hebrew, you’re very likely to stray in both comical and tragic fashion. Unlike Farah, Klinghoffer is, ostensibly, bound by rabbinical tradition, which scorns that kind of unsubstantiated cherry picking, because the latter often yields grossly inedible cherries. So Klinghoffer’s search of legitimate Biblical comments on abortion ends up with this begrudging admission:

A liberal Bible interpreter, meanwhile, could confront us with the most troubling passage for the pro-life cause, Exodus 21:22-25, which has the merit of being a legal text.

You know something? Whether you’re a liberal interpreter or a troubled pro-lifer, why not read the verse as is? By the way, the strictly abortion-related verses are only Exodus 21:22-23: If men fight, and hurt a pregnant woman, so that her children exit her, and yet no tragedy follows, they shall be surely punished, according to what the woman’s husband will lay upon them, as determined by a judge. And if tragedy follows, then you shall exact a life for a life.

Klinghoffer stops short of taking the text to its logical conclusion, but, supposedly because he’s no liberal interpreter, would not declare the obvious kal vachomer1 (That’s a fortiori, for those of you who prefer your major-to-minor arguments described in Latin rather than Hebrew) here: If when you hit a woman accidentally and she loses her fetus you’re not a murderer, then of course if you extract her fetus with her consent you’re certainly not a murderer. There’s no other conclusion from this passage vis-à-vis the legality of a doctor performing an abortion. If he does it without consent he pays damages, if he does it with consent he probably should get paid for his trouble.

Now, the fact that the Torah does not call for the execution of abortion doctors does not mean that it promotes the use of abortion, most certainly not as a means of birth control. I do agree, then, with Klinghoffer’s assertion:

Though liberal Jewish groups, I’m sorry to say, like to cover this up, the rabbis of the Talmud, contemplating America in the opening decade of the twenty-first century, would say the hundreds of thousands of such murders are being committed by Americans against unborn babies every year.

I’m not so sure the rabbis of the Talmud would be describing abortions as murder even if they were suddenly resurrected in our time, but without a doubt they would have frowned on such a widespread practice. But the rabbis probably would also have differentiated the relative value of gentile and Jewish fetuses.

I’m not sure how they would have dealt with the notion of “pro choice,” which presupposes a woman’s ownership of her body. Intuitively, I would have assumed that the value of life and the duty of preserving life are so paramount, they supersede the claim of self-ownership. Yet the Talmud is not explicit on the prohibition of suicide, which is another example of executing self-ownership. Our rabbinical strict anti-suicide decisions are post-Talmudic. In fact, the Talmud

entertains cases in which suicide is not only permitted but encouraged (yehareg u’bal ya’avor).

Of course, sanctioned suicide is not the same as suicide by choice. Rather, these are cases of suicide for the sake of avoiding the transgression of one of the three superior laws (blasphemy, murder, and illicit sex), which could be interpreted to mean that we do not own our bodies, since on some rare occasions we are obligated to relinquish them. But an examination of later authors on this question of necessary suicide (or permitting oneself to be killed)—most explicitly in Maimonides’ Igeret HaShmad—reveals a reluctance to demand of Jews to be martyred rather than be forcibly converted (blasphemy). Maimonides states that one who does not rise to the challenge of martyrdom, and abandons Judaism under duress, is not considered an apostate and does not deserve any degradation or punishment.

So perhaps it can be said that Maimonides does offer tacit recognition of a personal choice regarding the preservation of one’s life when faced with defilement through a super-transgression.

All of which spells bad news for Klinghoffer, whose agenda, to remind you, is turning God into a card-carrying conservative.

So Klinghoffer picks Genesis 9:6 to try and promote his cause. On its face, the verse is as abortion-related as those Jospeh Farah quotes: He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.

Klinghoffer brings a Talmudic citation from Rabbi Yishmael, which offers a different punctuation: He who sheds a person’s blood inside a person—his blood be shed. So we should extend the death penalty even to those who kill a fetus, which is the only “person inside a person.”

The problem with citing a single argument out of a huge, multi-page Talmudic discussion of the death penalty, is that it deprives the reader of an awareness of the numerous other arguments which do not make this point, and also of an appreciation of how minute this opinion is within the flow of the discussion. It also obscures the fact that the discussion is of the death penalty for gentiles, and that Rabbi Yishmael’s opinion concerns only a gentile who performs an abortion.

One thing is for certain – there is no suggestion, not even a hint, that the sages considered abortion a capital offense. As Menachem Elon—who authored the Encyclopedia Judaica article which Klinghoffer relies on extensively in this chapter—put it: “Thus abortion, although prohibited, does not constitute murder (Tos., Sanh. 59a; Hul. 33a).”

A bit later it’s a pleasure watching Klinghoffer trying to sell the rabbinical concept of the fetus being considered viable only after 40 days in the womb. But one loses one’s benign tendencies after reading the entire chapter and realizing the author has dealt with a whole bunch of esoteric stuff, even mixed in a citation from Paul John II, but neglected to discuss the central rabbinical argument in favor of abortion.

The basic Talmudic priorities regarding a conflict between the life of the mother and that of the fetus are delineated by Rashi on Sanhedrin 72b:

Regarding a woman having a difficult birth which threatens her life, the midwife may insert her hand and cut up the fetus and extract it in pieces, because as long as it hasn’t come out into the world it is not considered a living being and one may kill it to save its mother.

This is the core of our belief in the rabbinical permission to perform abortions. Not because the fetus isn’t a viable person until the 40th day of gestation, but because it is not viable until the very end of gestation. When it has taken its first breath it has become equal to its mother, two living human beings each with the right to life. Until it has completed its exit from the womb, even if it is stuck halfway, as long as it hasn’t taken a breath it’s still part of Mommy, and, sadly, we would terminate its life to save Mommy’s.

In other words, not only do the Rabbis permit late-term abortion, they actually base their entire understanding of the legal relationship between mother and fetus on the late-term conflict between those two lives, one which is fully realized and one which is still only potential. And in rabbinical law we always go with the life we have, not the life that might appear in the future.

Klinghoffer’s most serious offense against the reader is not the cherry picking and the quoting out of context, which are the tools of his trade.

It is his intentional deletion of the most important rabbinical ruling concerning the rights of a pregnant woman: She is superior to her fetus and may choose to terminate its life in extreme cases. How would God vote, then, pro-choice or pro-life? Pro-choice, with the obvious proviso that abortions must only be used as a last resort.

God would very likely avoid the pro-life candidate, because their position deprives women of their essential rights.


Blogger Eby Halevy said...

What a strange logic! Where did Yanover find anything in Exodus 21:22-23 about the woman's consent or lack of it?

Driven by his devotion to left-wing politics, Yanover is bending backwards in an attempt to apply Talmudic methodology to reach conclusions that stand in total contradiction to Talmudic ruling on abortion. He is using here the logical Talmudic method of 'kal vachomer', as he explains so beautifully, to completely twist the letter and the spirit of Torah Law and Judaic sources.

Firstly, Yanover fails in reading the actual verse! Where did he see in Exodus 21:23 that " ... when you hit a woman accidentally and she loses her fetus you’re not a murderer"? A few lines above his statement, he quotes the actual verse: "And if tragedy follows, then you shall exact a life for a life"! This has only one meaning, whether you read the Bible in Hebrew, English or any other language: If the foetus dies, then you should apply the Biblical punishment for murder - "exact a life for a life". Indeed, the Talmudic sages were divided on whether the death penalty should apply in such a case (Sanhedrin 79), but none of them suggested that the killer is innocent and should not be punished at all!

Secondly, the real 'kal vachomer' that one can learn from these verses is exactly the opposite: If when you kill the foetus ACCIDENTALLY you ARE punished as a murderer, then of course if you "extract" her foetus DELIBERATELY, and "tragedy follows" (i.e. the foetus is not alive) - you are CERTAINLY a murderer! In Yanover's own words: " There’s no other conclusion from this passage vis-à-vis the legality of a doctor performing an abortion."

Goodness, three gross distortions in interpreting such a short text: [1] Twisting the actual meaning of the text ("You're not a murderer" when the verse says that you are punished with death for the death of the foetus), [2] Inserting into the text something that does not exist in it ("extract her fetus with her consent"), and [3] The leap to the 'kal vachomer' that binds the two distortions together, conveniently producing the desired fashionable conclusion. Indeed, this is "what happens when you just roam in the scriptural text, picking verses that seem to fit your opinion."

The rest of Yanover's scholarly analysis is most impressive, but even if we ignore his partial quotations, some of which are just as out-of-context and misleading as Klighoffer's, his conclusions are totally opposed to his own choice of sources. To put it briefly and simply:

[1] Are the Talmudic references to suicide in situations of 'Kidush HaShem' relevant to psot-modern 'pro-choice' decisions that terminate an inconvenient pregnancy? Is Yanover really suggesting to elevate a post-modern woman who gets rid of her foetus for selfish reasons to the level of a spiritual martyr who sanctifies God's Holy Name?

[2] The "most important rabbinical ruling" (Rashi on Sanhedrin 72b) is probably "the most important" argument for Yanover's own political bias. This source too is entirely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of abortions in our times. As Yanover admits, the Talmud discusses a situation where the pregnancy endangers the mother's life. Yet, just like he claims against Klinghoffer, Yanover conceals from his readers the topic of the discussion throughout this Talmudic section: the law concerning 'rodef' - a human being who threatens the life of another human being. Admittedly, Rashi says that the unborn baby is not considered alive until his head comes out of his mother's body, but the entire discussion deals with many cases in which it is allowed to kill a LIVING person who presents a mortal danger to another living human being. So the question is - how is this whole Talmudic deliberation relevant to a post-modern woman whose pregnancy is completely healthy and normal?

What is the reason for this extreme effort? Is it not easier and more honest for Yanover to admit that he does not accept the Biblical and Talmudic laws on abortion and suicide? Oh, but that would kill something more important - the chance of making lots of money by writing and selling books that "prove" that Talmudic Judaism is politically correct!

5:59 PM, September 18, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply . . ." Genesis 1:22.

God did NOT say Be fruitful and abort. Abortion is wrong, pure and simple and you surely know this. It would be good for your soul to admit that you are in rebellion and denying God's Word and His Will in this matter.

Patty in Pelham, GA

10:18 AM, December 29, 2008  

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