Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - October 31, 1999
Mike Feder: Welcome to Toward a Meaningful
Life with Simon Jacobson. We are live in the studio. I am
Mike Feder and tonightís topic is "Abortion."
Since we always have a limited amount of time
to talk about these massive topics, letís just start right in.
I just read the other day in the Times that one of the federal
courts denied what they call partial-birth abortions, late-term
abortions. So this is an issue that never goes away: there are
protests at abortion clinics all the time; people have been
murdered (a doctor upstate several months ago) over this topicÖ
So itís a serious issue and one that everyone
is concerned about. The first thing I want to say before I ask
you the first question is that I always feel funny when I discuss
topics like these that have to do with women. I have suffered
from many things and endured many things, but I have not endured
pregnancy and I have never endured childbirth.
So I would like to qualify that this discussion
is coming from a male point of view.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: This is a confession?
Feder: Whatever. So letís start off with
a question. "X" number of years ago this issue came to the Supreme
Court and it was decided that abortions could be legal, because
before that they were not. Letís say you were there the first
time for this massive decision, or you were there when it came
up again. What would you vote for? What you vote for the right
to an abortion or against the right to an abortion?
Jacobson: Before I would say what I would
vote, I would like to explain what I would vote, because
I donít like to impose my vote or opinion on anyone. So I would
want the floor for a few minutes to discuss and explain my position.
Now, I have to say, right at the outset, my position
comesóas my book Toward a Meaningful Life states very
clearlyófrom a Torah viewpoint. When I say Torah viewpoint I
mean what I consider a Divine blueprint for life that has a
very clear value system and standards that I see as being the
most humane, and at the same time, as being most Divine in allowing
us to be the best human beings we can be.
So therefore I see Divine law not as human law,
but as a way of self-actualizing and fulfilling (you and I and
many others, the 6 billion people on this planet for that matter)
a personís greatest potential.
So coming from that perspective, and I definitely
welcome yours and of course our callers, I want to state my
view and take into account, of course, the sensitivity of the
issue: doesnít a woman have a right over her own body, and what
about the case of rape, incest, and situations of those more
Now this is a topic that is clearly very explosive.
Everyone has an opinion that touches to the heart of the issue
of freedom, so to speak, the rights of a woman to make these
choices: Pro-Choice as they call it, which I think is really
a political term, as if itís assuming that the other side doesnít
want you to have choice.
Feder: Well, those on the side of Pro-Life
are assuming that the other side is Pro-Death.
Jacobson: Itís the same thing with Pro-Choiceóthey
see the other side as Pro-Slavery, essentially.
So from a Jewish perspective, a Torah perspective,
the long-term, bottom-line issue at the root of it all, is the
sanctity of life. Now, interestingly, a fetus, from a Torah
perspective, as long as itís still in the pregnancy, is not
yet considered independent life. That is why if the fetus poses
a threat to the life of the mother, the motherís life comes
first, because she has a full-fledged life, whereas the fetus
is still considered, to use a Talmudic expression, a limb of,
an extension of, the mother.
So it would be like, so to speak, an arm or a
leg, which as we know if the arm or the leg poses a danger to
the entire body, we amputate it in order to save the body. And
G-d forbid anyone should be in a situation like that, but just
to approach the topic on a legal level, itís not two equal lives.
So abortion per se is not an issue of the murder
of the fetus, however, there are other issues at hand. First
of all, even to amputate part of a body when there is no threat
of death is also very questionable and unacceptable in Torah
law, because, as Maimonides eloquently states, "Our bodies donít
belong to us." You do not have the right to mutilate your body.
You know, some people think, okay I have no right
to touch someone else, I have no right to abuse somebody else.
But interestingly, in Torah thought, you have no right to abuse
yourself as well, because your body is not yours; thereís a
sanctity to it, and that sanctity is like a gift that was given
to you on loan, for the duration of your lifetime, for you to
elevate, for you to work together with, and purify and refine,
and you have no right to mutilate it, even if no one else is
From a Torah perspective, if you mutilate your
own body you are harming the world. Itís the issue of sanctity
of life that weíre dealing with here, and therefore, abortion
is not just a matter of whether itís per se murder or not, itís
a question of how we treat ourselves, how we treat that which
comes our way, and particularly, how we treat a life that weíre
carrying that clearly, though it may not be legally an independent
life as the mother herself, but itís still clearly a potential
life, and that life will emerge and be who we are.
From that perspective, just because you donít
see the life because itís still being carried within the motherís
wombóso in a sense itís as if itís invisibleóit should not in
any way minimize our treatment of the sanctity of it.
Now thatís when weíre talking about a conventional
situation, and I just wanted to state that for the record. It
gets more complicated when the pregnancy is a more complicated
one: like when itís due to rape, or incest, or a woman just
decides that it was an accident, as many would say, and she
wants to terminate it because sheís not ready for a child at
this point. Either the child will get in the way of her career
Feder: Or maybe thereís just no money.
Jacobson: No money, or she feels incompetent
as a mother, even if itís very legitimate reasons. So here weíre
dealing with an issue that is difficult to discuss in two minutes,
the reason being because it touches a very deep and personal
place in our lives, very personal choices we may have made.
In addition, after the fact it is difficult to turn the clock
back. Many of us make mistakes in our lives and hen we try to
correct it after the mistake has been made and try to repair
it like a bandage.
The real issue is, what are our sexual attitudes
in general and what is the attitude that allows us to get into
a pregnancy of that nature in the first place. See, an abortion
in this case is like a short-term solution, "Okay, an accident
happened so we have a way to fix it."
But letís say the child was already born and the
person said, "Well, I donít have the money to pay for this childís
life, for health, education and the likes." Would anyone
consider putting this child to death after the child was bornóage
one, age two, age threeófor the above reasons? That itís inconvenient
for me or a matter of poverty? No one, that is, no healthy mother
would consider that.
Unfortunately we hear cases of that as well, but
thatís another topic entirely.
Feder: Thatís a matter of mental illness.
Jacobson: So what are we saying here? Because
we donít see the child yet, we can get away with it because
we can still say, "Hey, the life hasnít begun yet." See, when
you start tampering with that, it becomes a very sensitive area.
What about the Greeks (I think it was the Greeks), who had a
custom thousands of years ago where they considered it humane
to kill mentally retarded and handicapped children after birth.
Feder: There have been societies that have,
what they call, exposed children that are unwanted on a hillside
somewhere and that was it.
Jacobson: So why are we bringing this up?
Because most Americans will say, "No, thatís completely
inhumane." But you see how subjective things get when you don't
know where to draw the line.
So therefore the Torah is very careful not to
tamper with this area, because someone could say, "Okay, two-thirds
of the pregnancy fine, but the last trimester, we all agree,
no abortions," as you mentioned.
What about the second trimester, the first trimester?
So from a Torah point of view, life is life, G-d is G-d, and
G-d has given life, and itís come to this earth. You may consider
it an accident, but G-d didnít.
G-d is also a partner in the child's life and
He did send a soul down to this earth. Because the fact is,
there are many people who are very healthy, and they try to
have a child and it doesnít work. So itís not just a question
of convenience or where you stand right now.
There is a G-d, and obviously Iím basing my discussion
on G-d, or else, thereíd be no point at all.
Feder: Thereíd be no radio show here.
Jacobson: That, and also the whole issue
of abortion would be moot, frankly, because for example, do
we have a problem aborting sheep?
Feder: So if thereís no larger plan and
thereís no larger meaning, then you could do whatever you want.
Jacobson: So thereís a G-d in this plan.
So the people involved may feel that they had an accident, that
in their mind the pregnancy was an accident, they may feel theyíre
not ready, or in poverty Ö but G-d sent a soul down here. Where,
as I said, in many situations there are people waiting for children
and canít have one.
So you see that things are a bit mysterious when
it comes to this area, and tampering with that is a very serious
issue. So itís not always our game plan (or better said, the
way we understand our game plan).
Now Iím not suggesting that that is not painful.
Just as, for instance, G-d forbid, having a child who is born
with some kind of handicapóand my heart goes out with the deepest
tears to a parent who has a child like thatóbecause they may
never understand why G-d would do that. And you know what kind
of havoc it wreaks in a family when a child is born with unique
But Iíve seen parents embrace itóI donít mean
embrace it in the sense that they are not pained by itóbut they
arenít ashamed of it, they donít hide the child in some dark
basement, and thereís great dignity and beauty that has come
out of it.
You know, we hear stories about certain autistic
children, how their parents cared for them with such unbelievable
sensitivity, and stories of human majesty that emerge from that.
So thatís why Iím very careful that human beings
should think twiceómore than twiceóto be extremely cautious
before we tamper with this issue of life, and our own comforts.
Now the case of pregnancy resulting from rape
and incest is a very painful situation and Iíd like to discuss
that a little later in the show. But I wanted to first make
the statements that I did to preface the issue at hand, which
is the sanctity of life in general.
Now, you asked me what I would vote. See the second
question is, how should we regulate this, how should the government
regulate this? Now, Iím a firm believer in the fact that the
government should not intervene in free expression in this country,
yet we have "In G-d We Trust" on our currency, and I believe
that a government is responsible to uphold the welfare of its
In that case, I would vote to not permit abortions
for the reasons I stated above, but I would explain myself and
try as eloquently as I could, in a loving way, to explain the
Feder: So you would write a majority or
a minority opinion explaining this.
Jacobson: You see, sometimes when you come
in the middle of the debate, youíve already lost it in a way.
I would like to have seen the debate when it was talked about
before the Pandoraís box was opened. Because once itís there
(better: the law is established), women can say, "What
do you mean? We have the right already to do so." So you start
explaining to them, "Well, you have to deal with the sanctity
But once a certain taboo is broken, in a way it
becomes very hard to rewrite or retrace the steps. My belief
is not an imposition to try with a stick to force people to
prohibit abortions. I think that whatís required is a call to
people to look at what we are doing, and address the issue:
what is life?
And this brings us back to something we always
talk about. I think abortion is almost secondary to the actual
issue: How sacred do we think our own lives are? If a person
doesnít think his or her own life is sacred, theyíre surely
not going to think that a fetusí life is sacred. And I think
that is what really is at the heart of the issue.
Because if we really considered life Divinely
sacred, it would not be just an easy debate where people could
flippantly say, "Hey, itís freedom of choice."
Now the fact is, I know some women who have had
abortions and itís an extremely traumatic experience which for
me is a testimony that this is not just a technical matter;
itís not like going in (I donít even like to compare it) and
removing a wart. It is a seriously traumatic experience which
just means that, this is a life and itís part of the womanís
life for the amount of time that she carries the child. Women
who have miscarriages, and definitely abortionsówhich are intentionalóare
seriously affected by it, and that should tell us something
about human nature. Why are they affected by it? Why donít we
just dismiss it and say, "Hey, whatís the big thing? You just
get rid of it."
Feder: Well, same here. Iíve certainly
known women, most of whom are very liberal, who have supported
a womanís right to choose, who have had abortions and have felt
utterly miserable and guilty about it. So, in other words, it
is an issue that, as you say, goes above and beyond the law.
And also, as a point of fact, we are in an era
now where the child (as you mentioned before) is not so
invisible with all these tests and these sonograms and pictures.
This is an interesting technical era that has changed the way
we look at things ethically.
Now we have a picture of the child, we have a
description, we know whether or not he or she is going to be
ill in various ways, or seriously deformed. We never knew this
before, and this really adds something to the mixture.
Jacobson: I really think that the debate
hinges upon a serious confusion or a vagary in what I would
call the sanctity of life issue. In other words, weíre not really
sure what life is and how sacred life should be treated,
because if you bring it down to this topic (and Iíve tried to
discuss it with people who are what they would call pro-abortion),
theyíre very evasive when it comes to this because everyoneís
uncomfortableóand Iím not talking here about the fetus, I ask
the question about your life (how sacred is your life
in your own eyes?).
If a person is killed, we all consider that a
tragedy. How tragic is it ultimately? Why donít we see it as
survival of the fittest: just like the weaker deer in the winter
season will fall to predators or to weather, thatís how it is
in life. Some people just fall.
But I think every human being has a very deep
sense of lifeís sanctity but, in a way, our society has undermined
that sanctity because what we value is not the sacredness of
life but our looks and youth, and the whole cosmetic industryÖ
Feder: Spending $40,000 on Marilyn Monroeís
Jacobson: I think I said this on the show
before. Whenís the last time someone told you that you matter
and youíre valuable because you exist? Do you know why we donít
hear that message too often, if at all? Because no one is going
to make money by telling you that. Because if you exist, they
canít charge you for your existence. But if they create an image
and say, "Oh, you should wear this shirt, or you should have
this type of hair-do, or you should look like this celebrity,
then they can charge you and say, okay, hereís what it will
cost you to get that type of image.
And human beings are in a serious identity crisis
so we very much gravitate to images that are projected. Subliminally,
how many times a day are we inundated with these images? Now,
Iím not one of these fire and brimstone people attacking Madison
Avenue advertising, because if itís used well, itís great. But
there is a very subtle erosion of human value that results from
advertising image inundation.
Feder: So starting with the issue of abortions
and telescoping outwards to whatís the value of life from the
beginning to the end, the motherís life, the fetusí life, life
in general, is whatís part of this discussion here.
Jacobson: Well, this show is called Toward
a Meaningful Life, emphasizing that life is absolutely meaningful
or else we donít have a reason for our existence.
Feder: Okay, letís take a short break here
and remind people who we are. You are listening to Rabbi Simon
Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon
Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and weíre here every Sunday
night from 6-7pm here on WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
We are going to take calls from you in a moment,
with your opinions, perhaps your personal experiences, and your
attitudes about abortion and everything weíve been talking about
here. The number is 212-244-1050.
We really want to thank everyone who has emailed
us or written or called us. Here are some of the ways you can
get in touch with us, and we want to hear from you. The most
important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can always write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788
Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
Iíd like to also tell you that we have a new website
where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous
and future programs. Itís www.meaningfullife.com.
And donít forget, most of what weíre talking about here, the
foundation of all of it, is the book Toward a Meaningful
Life by Simon Jacobson, published by William Morrow, which
is available in stores now.
Let me just ask you this question. Biblically
speaking, G-dís blueprint for life, does a fetus have a soul?
I mean, before you sort of indicated that this soul has been
sent by G-d, but yet, I think I read in a book that a soul doesnít
start until actual birth. Now a fetus doesnít have a soul, so
could it possibly be murder if thereís no soul involved?
Jacobson: Actually, this is very interesting
discussion in the Talmud: when exactly does the soul enter.
But I must preface my answer by saying that as soon as the fetus
is growing, clearly itís not a corpse and it has some type of
energy force that has entered it. In other words, when an egg
is fertilized and it turns into a life, that moment of conception
is when, one would say, the soul enters into the equation, and
thatís why the fetus begins growing.
Feder: Once that cell starts dividing,
it has a soul?
Jacobson: Yes. However, when we say the
word "soul," I think we should define what the word "soul" means.
It has a life force that has begun to work. When we talk about
the soul and stages of the soul entering into the human life,
as a matter of fact, even after birth, the soul is not completely
manifest. That can happen later in life, whether itís a bar
or a bat mitzvah at twelve or thirteen years.
Feder: So the soul is always a work under
Jacobson: You could say that. Itís a work
under emergence, I would say, in its levels of emerging. So
actually, in the Kabbalah and Chassidic thought (Jewish mysticism)
thereís discussion about five levels of the soul: the soul has
five names, five dimensions. But when we say, letís call it
this way, biological life as we understand it, it begins at
the moment of conception.
There are two opinions in the Talmud of when that
actually manifests itself, whether itís at the moment of conception
or when the fetus begins taking on shape and form, which is,
I believe, at least in the first or second month. But even in
all those stages of development during pregnancy, you could
say that the soul is slowly getting accustomed to and slowly
entering the body. But as long as that fetus is being fed during
pregnancy by its mother, it does not yet have independent will
and independent life. Until you cut the umbilical cord upon
birth, you cannot call it an independent lifeÖ
Feder: Or an independent soul.
Jacobson: Right. So in a way, it has a soul but
the soul is still an extension of, and in some way, a part of
its mother. Now, I donít want to get too technical about this,
but just suffice it to say, to use an example; I donít want
to compare a child to this gross example, but letís just say
when you start up a car and you pump the gas, once, twice, sometimes
the gas goes into the fuel lines but it takes several times
for it to really go in. So you could say that in those early
stages, the fuel is beginning to enter, but you canít really
say that this car can drive on its own until the fuel is really
circulating completely and fully.
So itís something like that. So you say that the
soul begins to enter but the body is not really a container
that allows for the "fuel" to circulate freely until birth.
So to say that aborting a fetus is murder, you canít really
say itís completely murder. It would be like murdering a part
of the mother, part of the motherís body.
Feder: But the mother is doing that.
Jacobson: Correct, but it doesnít matter.
Itís still like amputating or affecting a part of a personís
life, but for instance, if a part of the mother is endangering
her life, as I mentioned, her life takes precedence over the
Feder: We do have a call. We have Dorothy
on the line.
Caller: I was thinking of this Torah that
has been characterized as being full of contradictions and inconsistencies
and absurdities and errors and mistakes. And why we should believe
the rest of it, I donít know. One page would cancel out another
one, and I guess youíd have to spend your life reading the Talmud
which justifies all these inconsistencies. So I wouldnít take
my value system from them.
Rather, if there is meaning in life, itís meaning
that we bring to life, not that has been endowed or imposed
upon us from some mystical source and a book written in the
Feder: So thatís a good comment and hopefully
weíll have a comment on that in a second, but let me just ask
you a personal question. What is your feeling on the idea of
Caller: Oh, I think women should definitely
have a choice.
Jacobson: Thank you Dorothy for the call.
However, when I say Torah, I mean a large body of time-tested,
or timeless wisdom. Remember, human beings, even though we have
fax machines and emails today, have been struggling with the
issues of life and death from the beginning of time. And issues
like love, I donít think that people in the Bronze Age, as Dorothy
put it, cry differently from the way we cry, and thereís much
to be learned from history and from timeless wisdom. I think
that the issues discussed should be taken on their own merit
and not be dismissed because they happen to go back thousands
of years. Before making a statement that the Torah has inconsistencies,
one needs to first study the different commentaries that address
these issues. Yes, it is easy to dismiss Torah thought if someone
is unable to read it or doesnít know the Hebrew or doesnít fully
appreciate the blueprint of life that it entails.
However, I was privy to have had an education
where I was taught, not as an imposition, but in a beautiful
way, how the Torah is an unbelievable manuscript and blueprint
for life, and as I said, I would invite Dorothy or anyone to
debate the issue on its own merit.
I presented on this show a logical explanation
about the sanctity of life. If I wouldnít say it was from the
Torah, it would still be the same argument, so Iíd like someone
to argue that on the merit of what Iíve said, and I would addóand
Iím not ashamed to sayóthat I took it from the Torah because
I believe that the Torah is an extremely humane system and it
should be studied as such. Indeed, by studying Torah, one will
come to recognize that the Torah is a Divine blueprint for life.
Still, I am sensitive to Dorothy because I know
that many people do have misconceptions of what the Torah is,
and therefore they do see it as a religious imposition of some
primitive time and a throwback to old times, and ask why we
should impose it upon ourselves today.
Thatís part of why weíre doing this show. Itís
a question of education, having opened enough minds to be able
to look at the Torah perhaps in a refreshing way, not based
Feder: Well, as an extension to that before
we go onto our next two calls, let me make a little trouble
Jacobson: I want you to make trouble!
Feder: Okay, you ready for it? You want
trouble, Iíll give you some, and thatís why I was put into the
world, and Iím glad Iím still here. So, a lot of peopleóand
I mean a lot of peopleóconsider these laws against abortion
(which were only corrected in a very recent time in our historyóI
say "corrected"Öobviously you see my point of view) as a patriarchal
inheritance, that when it comes to the Torah itself, the holy
word, the Scriptures, Judeo-Christian culture, it very clearly
comes down to the fact that men made these laws. Men
perhaps wrote this down or took these words down (men have been
running the show for a long time), and a lot of women feel this
way and a lot of men agree with them. And women resent this
as a patriarchal imposition on their bodies and on their souls
and on their choices as human beings.
I think Iím just stating a case, not necessarily
giving an opinion.
Jacobson: If that were true, that the Torah
were what you just described it to be, I would sympathize with
women and be the first advocate for their cause. However, I
know it to be not true, and I speak as (I donít want to call
myself an expert) but I speak as an authority of someone who
studied Torah intensely for many, many years.
If we were sitting at a medical convention, no
layman would get up and say, "Oh here, I know medicine, here
are my opinions." I am ready to present (and this is what the
show is about) in a logical way, the Torahís view on abortion
as a direct discussion ofóand I mentioned one thing and one
thing onlyóthe sanctity of life.
Because if a man said, "I want to mutilate my
own body," thereís a law that prohibits that. This is not a
man or woman issue. A human being does not have the right to
touch his or her own life because itís G-dís life.
Now I agree that that perception of Torah is thereÖ
Feder: I donít think itís Torah specificallyÖ
Jacobson: Religion, religious authority.
Feder: Okay, the next call is from Daniel.
Caller: I was originally Pro-Choice but
I always felt kind of uncomfortable with it. I wasnít sure why,
until it became clear to me that I really see life as a process,
and when a child is born you have an object there, and itís
clear that no one would want to end that life because we can
see it as something thatís tangible. We see that life runs through
the child, because the child is not an object, that child is
And if you look at that child a month later, itís
clear that itís a process because the child is then different.
So if you look at life as a process (and it doesnít really have
to have any religious overtones), and you try to think that
a process generally has a beginning and an end, and you try
to figure out, well, when does this process of life begin? Certainly
I donít think anyone could really say that it begins at birth
because birth is not really a definite beginning. A child can
be taken from its mother prematurely and still live.
So really, when I thought about it, there is only
one really clear-cut, clearly defined point, at which life begins
and that is at conception, even though we canít necessarily
see it and identify it. Theoretically thatís when life begins.
So anything that happens to stop that process is ending life,
ending the process of life. Merely because we canít see it as
an object, that doesnít make it any less valid.
Feder: So, first of all, would you be against
Caller: Yes, against abortion, however,
it really does get complicated when itís not a voluntarily pregnancy,
and thatís a very complicated issue. Iím glad Iím not a legislator
and I donít have to deal with it.
Feder: Or a judge.
Jacobson: Or a mother.
Caller: But in most of the cases it seems
to me thatówell, in all of the casesóit is ending life. When
does something else take precedence over that? When do circumstances
say that ending a life is less abhorrent than letting it go
on under these circumstances.
Feder: So thank you for calling.
Jacobson: I thought Iíd let you know, Mike,
that I tried an experiment tonight, without you knowing itÖ
Feder: Iíve been the victim of an experiment?
I canít believe it.
Jacobson: Victimization yet again. An experiment
which, in a sense, I donít regret but I realize the risks involved.
Usually when I discuss a topic like this (abortion), I specifically
donít use religious texts and just discuss it, because I realize
that by using religious references, people often get stuck in
stereotypes and resist hearing the message because of their
distrust or dismissal of religion. I just try to make the argument
and then at the end of the show, or, for that matter, next week
I could say, oh by the way, I took this from the Torah.
And the reason I say that is that when many people
hear the religious thing, it often evokes a knee-jerk reaction
that really obfuscates the issue, and Iím realizing it somewhat.
But I donít regret mentioning that my sources are from Torah,
because Iím adding this disclaimer. But I must say that I often
find that people focus more on "Whereíd you get this from?"
instead of just hearing what was said and responding to the
issue itself. The way Daniel put it was in a very secular type
of languageóhe didnít use the word Torahóso I appreciate how
he put it.
Feder: We have Sandy here on the line.
Caller: Hi, earlier you used the phrase
"partial-birth abortion" ever so briefly, but I would like to
address that. I think that whether one is Pro-Choice or Pro-Life
(and incidentally, the opposite of Pro-Life is anti-lifeóI think
we have to think about that for a moment) but partial-birth
abortion should be addressed separately from abortion because
it definitely is, or it would seem to me if I were to describe
it, a felony. I mean, in what law book can you find that a baby
who is presented in a breach position, and delivered up to his
neck, and then has a pair of scissors thrust into his neck with
the hole widened to receive suction tube, and then we say, well
we can clean it up a bit and say that the contents are removed,
or we can say that his brain is sucked out.
Feder: So what youíre saying is that youíre
very much against partial-birth abortion, that is clear, but
what about earlier-term abortion?
Caller: Iím against abortion in particular,
and if the rabbi was able to use the Bible as a source, or the
Torah or the Mishnah or the Talmud, I would like to as well
and just quote a very simple woman, Chanah who says "I was not
the one who gave you life and breath. I am trying to affirm
the sanctity of human life."
Feder: Okay, thank you very much for your
call. Okay, we have another call here. Vladimir youíre on the
Caller: I have a question for the rabbi.
My question is, when the baby is born, whoís going to take care
of the baby? Itís the mother whoís going to take care of the
baby. Now letís say in her lifeís circumstances, sheís not ready
to take care of the baby. Neither is the father. It could ruin
their whole lives. What are they going to do with the baby?
Are they going to give it away? Are they going to send it to
foster care? So in some situations, instead of giving a baby
a rough life, an abortion to me seems a viable choice that nobody
wants to make, but sometimes you just have to do it. Whatís
your opinion on that?
Jacobson: Well, I think I addressed it
already somewhat directly or indirectly. I empathize as much
as you Vladimir, as much as anyone, a mother or parents for
that matter, who feel they canít take care of the child. However,
you have to weigh the two options. Would you say the same would
be the case if they decide to have the child and then after
two years they see that they really are incompetent, unable
to rear the child, or that itís inconvenient for them.
Would anyone suggest that they should take the child and
murder it, G-d forbid?
Youíd say, "Well look. Itís very sad that children
are born into homes where the parents cannot nurture them properly
or provide for them, but I think itís sadder if we begin to
tamper with life itself." And when you start making such calculations,
I donít know where to draw the line. Ultimately it has to come
down to some type of appreciation of the sanctity of life.
In my community people have many children. And
some do not have money. But you have to see the love that they
have for their children, and the sacrifices that they will make
for them, and they bring up healthy and wholesome children.
The issue has nothing to do with abortion -- whether it is an
option or not. The issue is that we must educate those parents
to learn how to be loving and to learn how to take care of a
child even when itís difficult.
Some may argue, that all that I have said is good
and fine as a long term solution. But perhaps abortion is a
short-term solution to preventing the birth of unwanted children
or children that will not be cared for properly. The argument
goes: "we donít want to, but we have no other choice than to
abort a child who may be born into a family that canít provide.
I feel very terrible about it, but what other option do I have?"
This argument is unacceptable, because by aborting we tamper
with the sanctity of life. And whether we like it or not, we
must apply longer term solutions when it comes to an issue that
carries much gravity: life and death. I donít think short-term
solutions should be used in a long-term problem like this.
Feder: If we are not the owners of our
lifeóletís say G-d gave us these souls, these livesóif thereís
a higher purpose to all this, if we are not to abort for this
reason, then why on earth should we ever use any birth control?
Isnít that also interfering with G-dís plan? If people were
using birth control there perhaps would never have been a Beethoven,
never have been a Gandhi, there would be no Moses, or you or
me. I mean, isnít it the same exact thing weíre talking about
hereóthe sanctity of life?
Jacobson: I wouldnít say itís exactly the
same because abortion is an act where youíre actually aborting
a life, or a potential life, or a life in process, as Daniel
put it, whereas birth control is impeding the process from the
beginning. But conceptually yes, and we should dedicate a show
on that topic as well. I have much to say on it, and one of
the things I would say is, we donít even know the psychological
effects of birth control on potential parents.
If someone were to say that you should have your
left arm tied behind you for 20 years of your life, thereís
no question that that has to have an impact on you, because
you are, in a sense, impeding one of your faculties, one of
So if human beings have the ability to procreate,
to have children, and we control that or we stop it altogether,
what psychological impact does it have on the person who did
that? And that may be more destructive than the comforts that
that control can offer us. But I do agree that birth control
touches on the same issue of sanctity of life. Should we intervene
in the process that G-d put into the system, how human beings
multiply (remember the first commandment in the Torah is "Be
fruitful and multiply")? I know people who would give anything
to have a child because they either tied their tubes, or they
thought their career was more important in their earlier years.
The greatest gift in life is having a child, I
must say. Because itís the only thing that you actually create,
itís the only thing that is eternal. The power of eternity.
The Divine gift of life. The greatest gift of all. And unfortunately
not everyone appreciates that, and I think thatís the issue.
If we appreciated that, then the context of the dialogue about
all these topics like abortion and birth control would be entirely
Feder: You know, you mentioned the idea
of children being born into poverty or being born into a very
large family where thereís very little to go around. In fact,
letís expand that to the reality of the situation not only in
our city, but in our country, and on the planet.
Before you mentioned that there are 6 billion
people on the planet.
Jacobson: I think it just hit 6 billion
Feder: Well, it had nothing to do with
me! But hereís the serious point. If there are already far too
many people on this planetÖ
Jacobson: Wait a minute. Youíre assuming
that thereís far too many.
Feder: Okay, Iím not taking G-dís position
here. But from the point of view of territoryóof food, of housing,
of shelteróthe more people that come into the world, the less
there is of a limited amount of resources to go around, and
the more poverty there is. Arenít we actually causing greater
pain sometimes, and greater destruction and even death to large
groups of people and sometimes even war?
When people are trying to provide for their children
at the expense of someone else, if there were fewer children
in the world, there wouldnít be all this trouble.
Jacobson: Okay, a very good, legitimate
question. But I would say this. Why are we focusing on population?
Perhaps we should focus on why people who are prosperous should
share more of their prosperity with the people who arenít. You
know, if we allocated funds, on almost an equal basis: took
those who are have an abundance of wealth and donít know what
to do with their money (just look at whatís thrown out in the
garbage cans in Manhattan that could feed probably countries
in AfricaóIím not even sure whether that is an exaggeration)
if we distributed that wealth on a more equal basis, it may
be one solution rather than telling people not to have children.
Indeed, it is often the prosperous that put so
much focus on population issues and abortion. Perhaps it is
more convenient -- and more selfish -- to blame large families
and complain, "Hey look. Why are they having so many children?"
rather than being more charitable and distributing their wealth.
So I believe sometimes these causes (of abortion
and fighting overpopulation) are funded by people who are invested
in not wanting to share their wealth, or in maintaining their
comfort zones. Do you see people who have one- or two-child
families necessarily happier than those who have five or six
Feder: I donít think that was the point
I was trying to make.
Jacobson: What Iím trying to say is that
this is not just a question of population. First of allÖ
Feder: Youíre talking about equal distribution.
Jacobson: Thatís one comment. Second of
all, Iím not worried about G-dís world. The fact is, no one
ever imagined that 6 billion people could be on this planet
and we would still have resources. Now theyíre just discovering,
for instance, that oil and other fuel resources actually regenerate.
Everyone thought that it just depletes. But now I just recently
read, and a scientist friend of mine told me, that theyíre discovering
a new theory that it regenerates: that the more oil thatís drawn
the more is created.
However, in our logical, limited minds, we do
think that thereís just that much food, that much resources.
Look, no one believed in the 70s that we could have automobiles
that would get 30 miles to the gallon. The entire auto industry
went up in arms and said thatís impossible. The cars used to
get 9-10 miles to the gallon.
My point is that with technology, these issues
can be addressed, and I donít know if we should tamper with
life itself before we look at all the factors involved. But
I would dedicate a show to this because itís a good topic and
your question is a good one.
Iím just answering it tangentially more in context
with our discussion here.
Feder: Okay, letís just take a break to
acknowledge our supporters of tonightís show. Tonightís program
is underwritten by Dina and David Reis. And when I say
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Again, this has been another large topic tonight
and weíve had some interesting talk about it. I guess all I
can ask at this point is to make one last remark. You said earlier
that there may be cases in fact where itís possible that an
abortion may be required to save someoneís life, or because
of brutal emotional circumstances, but in general, your point
was that this is a human life weíre talking about and a human
life is sacred and we should not be taking it just because there
is some emotional or physical reason that bothers somebody.
And then Iíll ask you to offer people some comments to walk
away with at the end of the show.
Jacobson: You summed it up well. And I
would just add that I believe the issue really is a catalyst,
a springboard, for each of us looking at our lives in a deeper
way. Because I believe that the dialogue, the debate begins
much earlier, long before the issue of abortion, because it
touches on how we value life and how we see life and how we
see our right to intervene when we think that life isnít working
well. Iím sure you remember the show we did on suicide and related
topics. In other words, it comes down to how we see life and
how we see our role or right, so to speak, to use our logic
or our rationalizations to determine how life should be lived,
or how life shouldnít be lived.
To me, thatís a much bigger issue. I know many
people who are anti-abortion, but theyíre aborting their lives
every moment in a metaphorical sense. They undermine themselves,
they do not value themselves properly. So abortion is, from
my point of view, a much larger issue, and when you deal with
it from a root level, you often discover that oneís viewpoint
on abortion is really oneís viewpoint on life in general: Since
life is not that valuable, then yes, for me it makes sense:
a woman has a child, she doesnít want the child, abort the child,
no big thing.
Often our attitudes to things are a result of
our attitudes toward larger issues. Thatís how I would really
put it in context, because then you really get to the heart
of the issue. And we could have a debate on this topic, but
Iím sure, if you get to the root of the debate, abortion is
a secondary factor. It may be belief in G-d (that may be the
difference of opinion), it may be the sanctity of life, or it
may be whether life is valuable. Or perhaps, some people would
argue that some lives are not that significant, and perhaps
some lives are more negligible than others.
Feder: Some lives are more valuable than
Jacobson: Iím sure there are people who
have such attitudes because they feel that some child, for instance,
may suffer unfairly. Letís address the issue of unwanted pregnancies,
which is the most painful side of abortion. But clearly the
mother didnít want it. It wasnít just like a tragedy like a
rape or incest or something that is clearly not in the control
of the mother.
Now if the emotional trauma is so profound (and
that is established medically), that is a different issue and
I donít like to make generalizations on this program. Everyone
should ask oneís own authority, whether a rabbi or other religious
authority, case by case in a particular situation. However,
I do want to make a general statement, because here, weíre dealing
with a topic where we clearly know this child is a result of
a crime, letís say. A felonyÖ
Feder: Of the worst sort.
Jacobson: Correct. And I do equate it somewhat
with a child who is born handicapped in a very severe way, which
again traumatizes the parents. Why do I equate it? Because youíre
dealing here with the mysteries of life and death. The reason
the Torah would not just advocate abortion in the case of an
unwanted pregnancy, in the case of a rape, because you are tampering,
ultimately, with life one way or the other. And as painful as
it may be, the fact is that it is this womanís child. And we
donít want to tamper with that third partneróG-dówho did allow
a life to be born out of this violation, so to speak.
Now, because itís such a sensitive topic, I donít
want to elaborate on it, per se, but I do have to say that there
are a lot of things in life that are unfair. And if itís unfair,
it does not necessarily mean that we should become less sensitive
to life itself because something unfair happened to us.
Thatís why Iíd rather not speak generally about
it, because anyone who has experienced something terrible like
this shouldnít hear about it on the radio from me; it should
be done on a one-on-one basis in a personal way or a discussion.
Thatís why I didnít want to just flippantly state my opinion.
It feels somewhat vulgar to talk about it conceptually. As you
say, Iím a man, youíre a man, it hasnít happened to me. So I
feel inadequate, yet my heart goes out, and I would be happy
to talk to anyone who writes to me in such circumstances, because
I think sensitivity is the key here.
Itís not just a question of whether abortion will
heal the violation. Thereís a sensitivity required if somebody
who has been hurt and trying to understand G-dís ways, and if
a pregnancy didnít result from a rape, is the rape less of a
Peopleís entire lives change due to an abuse and
a violent trauma of that nature.
Feder: Let me just mention that next week
our topic will be "Lost Faith: How Can You Recapture It?" which
is something that I think a lot of people might have something
very personal to say about that.
Jacobson: And itís something connected
to what weíre discussing on this show. Why would G-d allow a
situation where a child is born handicapped, unable to fully
actualize its aspirations, or allow unwanted pregnancy? I think
thatís part of it; many people lose their faith over matters
But even if one doesnít, you donít want to cause
more damage than necessary and I think thatís part of the issue.
So itís a good topic and weíll address it next week.
So this topic is, as I said earlier, a springboard
for a way of looking at life in a new way. Even people who donít
necessarily have to grapple with life and death questions of
abortion, whether itís people beyond birth-bearing age or just
someone whoís not in that particular situation, any dialog,
any debate that has reached the publicís attention, I always
feel is Divine Providence, an opportunity to look at things.
Even if there are violent disagreementsóand when I say violent
I donít mean physically violentóbut when thereís very strong
disagreements, it always seems to me that thatís a great way
of looking at the issue anew, and the issue is "What is life?
How sacred is your life?"
And as I always say, when you wake up in the morning
and you say, "Thank You G-d for returning my soul to me," youíre
essentially acknowledging the sanctity of life; that itís something
for us to embrace and celebrate. It doesnít mean life is fair,
and there are times when itís more powerful than we are, but
we have to celebrate the lives that are given to us.
Feder: Thank you very much.