Mike Feder: Welcome to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. We are live in the studio. I am Mike Feder and tonight’s topic is “Abortion.”
Since we always have a limited amount of time to talk about these massive topics, let’s 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 topic…
So it’s 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 let’s 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. Let’s 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 don’t 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 comes—as my book Toward a Meaningful Life states very clearly—from 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 person’s 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: doesn’t a woman have a right over her own body, and what about the case of rape, incest, and situations of those more sensitive areas.
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 it’s assuming that the other side doesn’t want you to have choice.
Feder: Well, those on the side of Pro-Life are assuming that the other side is Pro-Death.
Jacobson: It’s the same thing with Pro-Choice—they 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 it’s 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 mother’s 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, it’s 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 don’t 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; there’s 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 harmed.
From a Torah perspective, if you mutilate your own body you are harming the world. It’s the issue of sanctity of life that we’re dealing with here, and therefore, abortion is not just a matter of whether it’s per se murder or not, it’s a question of how we treat ourselves, how we treat that which comes our way, and particularly, how we treat a life that we’re carrying that clearly, though it may not be legally an independent life as the mother herself, but it’s still clearly a potential life, and that life will emerge and be who we are.
From that perspective, just because you don’t see the life because it’s still being carried within the mother’s womb—so in a sense it’s as if it’s invisible—it should not in any way minimize our treatment of the sanctity of it.
Now that’s when we’re 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 it’s 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 she’s not ready for a child at this point. Either the child will get in the way of her career or…
Feder: Or maybe there’s just no money.
Jacobson: No money, or she feels incompetent as a mother, even if it’s very legitimate reasons. So here we’re 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 let’s say the child was already born and the person said, “Well, I don’t have the money to pay for this child’s life, for health, education and the likes.” Would anyone consider putting this child to death after the child was born—age one, age two, age three—for the above reasons? That it’s 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 that’s another topic entirely.
Feder: That’s a matter of mental illness.
Jacobson: So what are we saying here? Because we don’t see the child yet, we can get away with it because we can still say, “Hey, the life hasn’t 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, that’s 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 it’s come to this earth. You may consider it an accident, but G-d didn’t.
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 doesn’t work. So it’s not just a question of convenience or where you stand right now.
There is a G-d, and obviously I’m basing my discussion on G-d, or else, there’d be no point at all.
Feder: There’d 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 there’s no larger plan and there’s no larger meaning, then you could do whatever you want.
Jacobson: So there’s 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 they’re not ready, or in poverty … but G-d sent a soul down here. Where, as I said, in many situations there are people waiting for children and can’t 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 it’s not always our game plan (or better said, the way we understand our game plan).
Now I’m not suggesting that that is not painful. Just as, for instance, G-d forbid, having a child who is born with some kind of handicap—and my heart goes out with the deepest tears to a parent who has a child like that—because 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 challenges.
But I’ve seen parents embrace it—I don’t mean embrace it in the sense that they are not pained by it—but they aren’t ashamed of it, they don’t hide the child in some dark basement, and there’s 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 that’s why I’m very careful that human beings should think twice—more than twice—to 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 I’d 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, I’m 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 citizens.
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 standard.
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, you’ve already lost it in a way. I would like to have seen the debate when it was talked about before the Pandora’s box was opened. Because once it’s 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 of life.”
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 what’s 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 doesn’t think his or her own life is sacred, they’re surely not going to think that a fetus’ 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, it’s freedom of choice.”
Now the fact is, I know some women who have had abortions and it’s an extremely traumatic experience which for me is a testimony that this is not just a technical matter; it’s not like going in (I don’t even like to compare it) and removing a wart. It is a seriously traumatic experience which just means that, this is a life and it’s part of the woman’s life for the amount of time that she carries the child. Women who have miscarriages, and definitely abortions—which are intentional—are seriously affected by it, and that should tell us something about human nature. Why are they affected by it? Why don’t we just dismiss it and say, “Hey, what’s the big thing? You just get rid of it.”
Feder: Well, same here. I’ve certainly known women, most of whom are very liberal, who have supported a woman’s 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, we’re not really sure what life is and how sacred life should be treated, because if you bring it down to this topic (and I’ve tried to discuss it with people who are what they would call pro-abortion), they’re very evasive when it comes to this because everyone’s uncomfortable—and I’m 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 don’t we see it as survival of the fittest: just like the weaker deer in the winter season will fall to predators or to weather, that’s how it is in life. Some people just fall.
But I think every human being has a very deep sense of life’s 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 industry…
Feder: Spending $40,000 on Marilyn Monroe’s bathing suits.
Jacobson: I think I said this on the show before. When’s the last time someone told you that you matter and you’re valuable because you exist? Do you know why we don’t 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 can’t 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, here’s 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, I’m not one of these fire and brimstone people attacking Madison Avenue advertising, because if it’s used well, it’s 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 what’s the value of life from the beginning to the end, the mother’s life, the fetus’ life, life in general, is what’s part of this discussion here.
Jacobson: Well, this show is called Toward a Meaningful Life, emphasizing that life is absolutely meaningful or else we don’t have a reason for our existence.
Feder: Okay, let’s 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 we’re 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 we’ve 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.
I’d like to also tell you that we have a new website where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous and future programs. It’s www.meaningfullife.com. And don’t forget, most of what we’re 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-d’s 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 doesn’t start until actual birth. Now a fetus doesn’t have a soul, so could it possibly be murder if there’s 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 it’s 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 that’s 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 it’s a bar or a bat mitzvah at twelve or thirteen years.
Feder: So the soul is always a work under development?
Jacobson: You could say that. It’s a work under emergence, I would say, in its levels of emerging. So actually, in the Kabbalah and Chassidic thought (Jewish mysticism) there’s discussion about five levels of the soul: the soul has five names, five dimensions. But when we say, let’s 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 it’s 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 life…
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 don’t want to get too technical about this, but just suffice it to say, to use an example; I don’t want to compare a child to this gross example, but let’s 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 can’t really say that this car can drive on its own until the fuel is really circulating completely and fully.
So it’s 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 can’t really say it’s completely murder. It would be like murdering a part of the mother, part of the mother’s body.
Feder: But the mother is doing that.
Jacobson: Correct, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still like amputating or affecting a part of a person’s life, but for instance, if a part of the mother is endangering her life, as I mentioned, her life takes precedence over the fetus.
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 don’t know. One page would cancel out another one, and I guess you’d have to spend your life reading the Talmud which justifies all these inconsistencies. So I wouldn’t take my value system from them.
Rather, if there is meaning in life, it’s 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 Bronze Age.
Feder: So that’s a good comment and hopefully we’ll 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 abortion?
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 don’t think that people in the Bronze Age, as Dorothy put it, cry differently from the way we cry, and there’s 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 doesn’t know the Hebrew or doesn’t 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 wouldn’t say it was from the Torah, it would still be the same argument, so I’d like someone to argue that on the merit of what I’ve said, and I would add—and I’m not ashamed to say—that 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.
That’s part of why we’re doing this show. It’s a question of education, having opened enough minds to be able to look at the Torah perhaps in a refreshing way, not based on stereotypes.
Feder: Well, as an extension to that before we go onto our next two calls, let me make a little trouble here.
Jacobson: I want you to make trouble!
Feder: Okay, you ready for it? You want trouble, I’ll give you some, and that’s why I was put into the world, and I’m glad I’m still here. So, a lot of people—and I mean a lot of people—consider these laws against abortion (which were only corrected in a very recent time in our history—I say “corrected”…obviously 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 I’m 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 don’t 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 Torah’s view on abortion as a direct discussion of—and I mentioned one thing and one thing only—the sanctity of life.
Because if a man said, “I want to mutilate my own body,” there’s 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 it’s G-d’s life.
Now I agree that that perception of Torah is there…
Feder: I don’t think it’s Torah specifically…
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 wasn’t 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 it’s clear that no one would want to end that life because we can see it as something that’s tangible. We see that life runs through the child, because the child is not an object, that child is a process.
And if you look at that child a month later, it’s clear that it’s a process because the child is then different. So if you look at life as a process (and it doesn’t 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 don’t 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 can’t necessarily see it and identify it. Theoretically that’s when life begins. So anything that happens to stop that process is ending life, ending the process of life. Merely because we can’t see it as an object, that doesn’t make it any less valid.
Feder: So, first of all, would you be against abortion?
Caller: Yes, against abortion, however, it really does get complicated when it’s not a voluntarily pregnancy, and that’s a very complicated issue. I’m glad I’m not a legislator and I don’t have to deal with it.
Feder: Or a judge.
Jacobson: Or a mother.
Caller: But in most of the cases it seems to me that—well, in all of the cases—it 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 I’d let you know, Mike, that I tried an experiment tonight, without you knowing it…
Feder: I’ve been the victim of an experiment? I can’t believe it.
Jacobson: Victimization yet again. An experiment which, in a sense, I don’t regret but I realize the risks involved. Usually when I discuss a topic like this (abortion), I specifically don’t 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 I’m realizing it somewhat. But I don’t regret mentioning that my sources are from Torah, because I’m adding this disclaimer. But I must say that I often find that people focus more on “Where’d 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 language—he didn’t use the word Torah—so 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-life—I 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 you’re saying is that you’re very much against partial-birth abortion, that is clear, but what about earlier-term abortion?
Caller: I’m 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 you’re on the air.
Caller: I have a question for the rabbi. My question is, when the baby is born, who’s going to take care of the baby? It’s the mother who’s going to take care of the baby. Now let’s say in her life’s circumstances, she’s 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. What’s 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 can’t 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 it’s inconvenient for them. Would anyone suggest that they should take the child and murder it, G-d forbid?
You’d say, “Well look. It’s very sad that children are born into homes where the parents cannot nurture them properly or provide for them, but I think it’s sadder if we begin to tamper with life itself.” And when you start making such calculations, I don’t 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 it’s 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 don’t want to, but we have no other choice than to abort a child who may be born into a family that can’t 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 don’t think short-term solutions should be used in a long-term problem like this.
Feder: If we are not the owners of our life—let’s say G-d gave us these souls, these lives—if there’s 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? Isn’t that also interfering with G-d’s 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, isn’t it the same exact thing we’re talking about here—the sanctity of life?
Jacobson: I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same because abortion is an act where you’re 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 don’t 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, there’s no question that that has to have an impact on you, because you are, in a sense, impeding one of your faculties, one of your arms.
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 it’s the only thing that you actually create, it’s 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 that’s the issue. If we appreciated that, then the context of the dialogue about all these topics like abortion and birth control would be entirely different.
Feder: You know, you mentioned the idea of children being born into poverty or being born into a very large family where there’s very little to go around. In fact, let’s 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 last week.
Feder: Well, it had nothing to do with me! But here’s the serious point. If there are already far too many people on this planet…
Jacobson: Wait a minute. You’re assuming that there’s far too many.
Feder: Okay, I’m not taking G-d’s position here. But from the point of view of territory—of food, of housing, of shelter—the 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. Aren’t 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 wouldn’t 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 aren’t. You know, if we allocated funds, on almost an equal basis: took those who are have an abundance of wealth and don’t know what to do with their money (just look at what’s thrown out in the garbage cans in Manhattan that could feed probably countries in Africa—I’m 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 children?
Feder: I don’t think that was the point I was trying to make.
Jacobson: What I’m trying to say is that this is not just a question of population. First of all…
Feder: You’re talking about equal distribution.
Jacobson: That’s one comment. Second of all, I’m not worried about G-d’s world. The fact is, no one ever imagined that 6 billion people could be on this planet and we would still have resources. Now they’re 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 they’re discovering a new theory that it regenerates: that the more oil that’s drawn the more is created.
However, in our logical, limited minds, we do think that there’s 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 that’s 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 don’t 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 it’s a good topic and your question is a good one.
I’m just answering it tangentially more in context with our discussion here.
Feder: Okay, let’s just take a break to acknowledge our supporters of tonight’s show. Tonight’s program is underwritten by Dina and David Reis. And when I say underwritten, I mean in a way sponsored by: they provided money to help this program air and get out to you.
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Again, this has been another large topic tonight and we’ve 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 it’s possible that an abortion may be required to save someone’s life, or because of brutal emotional circumstances, but in general, your point was that this is a human life we’re 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 I’ll 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 isn’t working well. I’m 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 shouldn’t be lived.
To me, that’s a much bigger issue. I know many people who are anti-abortion, but they’re 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 one’s viewpoint on abortion is really one’s viewpoint on life in general: Since life is not that valuable, then yes, for me it makes sense: a woman has a child, she doesn’t want the child, abort the child, no big thing.
Often our attitudes to things are a result of our attitudes toward larger issues. That’s 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 I’m 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 other lives?
Jacobson: I’m sure there are people who have such attitudes because they feel that some child, for instance, may suffer unfairly. Let’s address the issue of unwanted pregnancies, which is the most painful side of abortion. But clearly the mother didn’t want it. It wasn’t 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 don’t like to make generalizations on this program. Everyone should ask one’s 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, we’re dealing with a topic where we clearly know this child is a result of a crime, let’s say. A felony…
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 you’re 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 woman’s child. And we don’t want to tamper with that third partner—G-d—who did allow a life to be born out of this violation, so to speak.
Now, because it’s such a sensitive topic, I don’t 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 it’s unfair, it does not necessarily mean that we should become less sensitive to life itself because something unfair happened to us.
That’s why I’d rather not speak generally about it, because anyone who has experienced something terrible like this shouldn’t 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. That’s why I didn’t want to just flippantly state my opinion. It feels somewhat vulgar to talk about it conceptually. As you say, I’m a man, you’re a man, it hasn’t 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.
It’s not just a question of whether abortion will heal the violation. There’s a sensitivity required if somebody who has been hurt and trying to understand G-d’s ways, and if a pregnancy didn’t result from a rape, is the rape less of a violation?
People’s 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 it’s something connected to what we’re 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 that’s part of it; many people lose their faith over matters like this.
But even if one doesn’t, you don’t want to cause more damage than necessary and I think that’s part of the issue. So it’s a good topic and we’ll 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 don’t necessarily have to grapple with life and death questions of abortion, whether it’s people beyond birth-bearing age or just someone who’s not in that particular situation, any dialog, any debate that has reached the public’s attention, I always feel is Divine Providence, an opportunity to look at things. Even if there are violent disagreements—and when I say violent I don’t mean physically violent—but when there’s very strong disagreements, it always seems to me that that’s 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,” you’re essentially acknowledging the sanctity of life; that it’s something for us to embrace and celebrate. It doesn’t mean life is fair, and there are times when it’s more powerful than we are, but we have to celebrate the lives that are given to us.
Feder: Thank you very much.
Thank you for the thoughtful dialog- it is refreshing to hear intellectual thoughts on an issue that is usually so emotional. I appreciate finding a piece on abortion that is truly thought provoking.
I believe you are correct in your point that abortion is an outcome to ones view on the sanctity of human life instead of being an issue of freedom of choice.
It seems you are against abortion on most cases, but you didnt comment on if a fetus would endanger the mothers life. Would it be then justified as much as, and I do agree that it is nearly improper to make such comparisons, chopping off a foot due to gang green infection?