Photo Credit: Rabbi Irwin Albert
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

“I refuse to deal with any halakhic essay, regardless of its scholastic merits or fallacies, prepared by a representative of a group whose philosophy is diametrically opposed to Torah and tradition and which does not accept the authority of Halakhah as a Divine and transcendental guide for the individual and the community.”

If those remarks and the aforementioned on abortion rub some Modern Orthodox Jews the wrong way—if they sound too “judgmental” and insufficiently “progressive” or “tolerant”—maybe introspection is the order of the day. Maybe more than a few Jews who honor Shabbat and keep kosher have internalized false values in other fundamental areas to disastrous effect. The edifying potential of Rav Soloveitchik’s brilliant conscience is so immense, if only we have the humility and courage to reflect upon it.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I guess he disagrees with the Torah and the Halacha, which give the choice to a woman to proceed -or not- with the pregnancy based on her ability to care for herself (and the children she may already have).

  2. I guess he disagrees with the Torah and Halacha which give a woman the right to choose whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy, based on her ability to provide for a child without harming herself (or shortchanging the children she may already have). As an Orthodox Jew, he should accept the fact that Hashem gave men the duty to make children, while he gave the choice to do so to women.

  3. “Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month,” Therein lies the weakness. He permitted it until the sixth month, in the case of Tay-Sachs. Why not only until the fifth or the second, or why not up to the eighth or ninth? Why just Tay-Sachs? Is it because of personal revulsion, or a view to the “beginning of human life”, or the hardships ot child or parent or both, if the child were to be let live? But what does that say about other “undesireable” conditions, other “undesirable” people – such as the senile elderly, the burdonsome, etc. ? Much better to not make the exception that the Rav makes.

  4. "Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month," Therein lies the weakness. He permitted it until the sixth month, in the case of Tay-Sachs. Why not only until the fifth or the second, or why not up to the eighth or ninth? Why just Tay-Sachs? Is it because of personal revulsion, or a view to the "beginning of human life", or the hardships ot child or parent or both, if the child were to be let live? But what does that say about other "undesireable" conditions, other "undesirable" people – such as the senile elderly, the burdonsome, etc. ? Much better to not make the exception that the Rav makes.

  5. "Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month," Therein lies the weakness. He permitted it until the sixth month, in the case of Tay-Sachs. Why not only until the fifth or the second, or why not up to the eighth or ninth? Why just Tay-Sachs? Is it because of personal revulsion, or a view to the "beginning of human life", or the hardships ot child or parent or both, if the child were to be let live? But what does that say about other "undesireable" conditions, other "undesirable" people – such as the senile elderly, the burdonsome, etc. ? Much better to not make the exception that the Rav makes.

  6. Michael Mostofsky you rely on whomever you wish. I am just stating a fact: the Halacha allows abortion in case the pregnancy is deleterious to the mother's health or the welfare of her other children. Baruch Hashem, I never had to make such a dreadful choice, but Hashem did give that right to me in case I needed it.

  7. “the Halacha allows abortion in case the pregnancy is deleterious to the mother’s health or the welfare of her other children”. In the case that pregnancy causes a weakness or backpains to the mother or some other deleterious condition, does Halacha allow an abortion? If the money for school supplies has now to be streched, at the birth of a baby, to cover four living children instead five living children in a poor family, does that halacha allow the abortion of that fifith?

  8. "the Halacha allows abortion in case the pregnancy is deleterious to the mother's health or the welfare of her other children". In the case that pregnancy causes a weakness or backpains to the mother or some other deleterious condition, does Halacha allow an abortion? If the money for school supplies has now to be streched, at the birth of a baby, to cover four living children instead five living children in a poor family, does that halacha allow the abortion of that fifith?

  9. "the Halacha allows abortion in case the pregnancy is deleterious to the mother's health or the welfare of her other children". In the case that pregnancy causes a weakness or backpains to the mother or some other deleterious condition, does Halacha allow an abortion? If the money for school supplies has now to be streched, at the birth of a baby, to cover four living children instead five living children in a poor family, does that halacha allow the abortion of that fifith?

  10. It allows it in case the detriments are serious enough. I doubt very much back pain qualifies, but should the mother need to choose between not getting a cancer treated and aborting in order to receive prompt treatment, I do think the Halacha allows her to abort the fetus. The case of welfare of the other children is actually specifically mentioned by the rabbanim: a breast feeding mother who becomes pregnant is allowed to abort the new fetus, so that the baby she already has isn't deprived of his need of both the milk and the constant care of his/her mother. The Torah and Halacha always give priority to the person already alive over the potential life of a fetus.

  11. It allows it in case the detriments are serious enough. I doubt very much back pain qualifies, but should the mother need to choose between not getting a cancer treated and aborting in order to receive prompt treatment, I do think the Halacha allows her to abort the fetus. The case of welfare of the other children is actually specifically mentioned by the rabbanim: a breast feeding mother who becomes pregnant is allowed to abort the new fetus, so that the baby she already has isn't deprived of his need of both the milk and the constant care of his/her mother. The Torah and Halacha always give priority to the person already alive over the potential life of a fetus.

  12. Well said. The Rav was committed to what the Halacha had to say on the matter. As such, the non-jewish morally relativistic approach to abortion or other aspects of morality and ethics, had no place in his Torah framework.

  13. I loath the term “modern-orthodox” as it is so unfortunately applied to him. I would be so bold as to say that the Rav would consider himself modern orthodox, in the same manner that the Rambam would apply such a non-sensical term to describe himself.

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