web analytics
November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Is Christianity’s Notion of Abortion Based on Mistranslated Text?

What is lost in the discussion are the Biblical underpinnings of abortion and how this is not primarily a legal issue but a religious one.
Christians and Abortion

For four decades abortion has dominated the social values-debate in America and deeply divided our nation into factions of pro-life and pro-choice. This year Republicans paid a huge price at the ballot box for extreme positions, like not allowing abortion even in the case of incest or rape, with two Republican Senate candidates going so far as to speak of ‘legitimate rape’ and divinely-sanctioned pregnancies that result from rape.

What is lost in this discussion are the Biblical underpinnings of abortion and how this is not primarily a legal issue but a religious one. Opponents of abortion do not look to the Constitution to cement their opposition but the Bible, and, as such, it is worth reviewing the Biblical text pertaining to abortion, which yields surprising results.

The Hebrew Bible makes only one reference to abortion, and this is by implication. Exodus 21:22-23 states: “And if two men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, accordingly as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, though shalt give life for life.”

There is a significant parting of the ways in the interpretation of this passage between Judaism and Catholicism which will, in turn, mark the much more lenient rulings on abortion of the former and the much more severe views of the latter.

According to the ancient Rabbis, the text is to be read simply as written. The Bible talks of a woman who is hurt by a man in a fight and loses her child. Monetary restitution is paid for her miscarriage. But if the woman dies, then one must take a life for a life. The passage does not say that a fetus is alive but that the mother is.

The words if “no harm follows” the ”hurt” to the woman refers to the survival of the woman following her miscarriage. In that case, there is no capital guilt involved since the woman did not die and the fetus is not considered to be fully alive. The attacker is therefore merely liable to pay compensation for the loss of her “fruit,” her fetus. “But,” the Bible continues,” if any harm follow,” i.e., if the woman, rather than her fetus, is fatally injured, then the man responsible for her death has to “give life for life.”

The interpretation is straightforward and matches the Hebrew original precisely. According to the Jewish interpretation the Bible only says that the woman, rather than her fetus, is living.

This interpretation that a fetus is not fully alive and the destruction of a fetus does not carry a death penalty is also borne out by the rabbinical interpretation of the verse defining the law of murder: ”He that smiteth a man, so that he dieth, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12), which the rabbis construed to mean “a man, but not a fetus.”

These passages clearly indicate that the killing of an unborn child is not considered as murder.

But the Christian tradition disputing this view goes back to a mistranslation in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Bible that sometimes contains significant errors (see my book Kosher Jesus for a comprehensive list). There, the Hebrew for ”no harm follow” was replaced by the Greek for “[her child be born] imperfectly formed.”

This interpretation, distinguishing between an unformed and a formed fetus and branding the killing of the latter as murder, was accepted by Tertullian and by later church fathers and was subsequently embodied as canon law and in Justinian law. In the Christian interpretation, therefore, both parts of the verse are referring not to the mother’s life, but to the fetus’s. And the verse concludes you must ‘give life for life,’ meaning, a fetus is fully alive and destroying a fetus constitutes murder punishable by death.

This is the source for the Catholic position of viewing a fetus’s life as being the equal of a mother’s life and, therefore, even if the mother’s life is at risk one cannot perform an abortion as it constitutes murder.

Judaism, however, strongly disputes this interpretation which is not faithful to the Hebrew original. Therefore, the Talmud declares (Ohalos 7:6): If a woman is in hard travail [and her life cannot otherwise be saved], one cuts up the child in her womb and extracts it member by member, because her life comes before that of the [the child]. But if the greater part [or the head] was delivered, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for the sake of another.” A fetus is only alive when it is born, not before.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Is Christianity’s Notion of Abortion Based on Mistranslated Text?”

  1. About time we got that sorted, thank you for explaining so that we can stop plaching

  2. About time we got that sorted, thank you for explaining so that we can stop plaching

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Border Police keep an eye out for Palestinian Authority terrorists.
IDF on Manhunt for Arab Terrorists Trying to Gun Down Jewish Drivers
Latest Indepth Stories
Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Cravatts-Richard--new

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

Egypt’s al-Sisi is in an expansionist mood. He wants Israel’s permission to take over Judea and Samaria.

More Articles from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin, Nov. 20, 2013.

On the one hand, Putin has been a friend to Chabad and to Israel. On the other hand, Putin is a brutal dictator.

The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidencing itself in the American Jewish public.

Rabbi Schochet wrote the Johannesburg Beis Din: It is totally prohibited and unacceptable to hear someone like Boteach.

If you’re feeling down, stop reading right now. You’re only going to be more depressed.

The world and the United State continue to give Rouhani a pass.

American Jews – especially those working on campus – don’t accept that we have a battle on our hands.

But the most painful part of an otherwise illuminating and extraordinary Forum was Iranian President Rouhani’s speech.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/is-christianitys-notion-of-abortion-based-on-mistranslated-text/2012/12/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: