Jewish Leaders Meet to Take Active Pro-Life Stand

November 1998

Washington -- The Jewish community can work together to reduce America's high abortion rate and lend a "Jewish moral voice" to the issue, said numerous rabbis attending a conference Thursday at Catholic University in Washington.

The event, "Affirming the Sanctity of Life," was attended by more than 70 pro-life activists, 60 percent of them Jewish and the rest Catholic.

Jewish actor Ben Stein urged pro-life rabbis to advertise in trade industry magazines, such as Daily Variety, to reach Hollywood's heavily Jewish media elite. "The Jewishness of the business is so enormous so that if there was a letter from rabbis saying abortion is murder, that would be extremely influential," he said.

TV and movies influence Americans' thinking, Stein said, noting that if just one episode of the popular TV drama "Touched By An Angel" had the angel characters give a pro-life message to a pregnant woman, that would have enormous effect.

"Why is a woman's right to kill so popular?" Stein, the keynote speaker of this year's National Right to Life convention, asked.

"Why has it become the entrenched political position on the left, and to a large part, in the center and also on the right of center? I think it has to do ... with the essence of being a woman in modern-day America. ... Women see the right to choose, as they call it, as a means of liberating them from the constraints of their sex," Stein concluded.

Pro-lifers are a little-known segment of the Jewish community, most of which supports abortion. Of the 10 Jewish legislators in the U.S. Senate, only one, pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) voted for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1997 and 1998.

This attitude carries over into synagogues, speakers said. "The short answer to why don't rabbis talk about this more," said Rabbi Clifford Librach of the liberal Temple Sinai of Sharon, "is one hyphenated word: Self-preservation. "An American conservative rabbi would carry on about abortion at his peril. ... I'm not sure that American Jews don't know [about abortion]. I think they don't want to know. ... I think the American Jewish community, the vast number of American Jews are prepared to say, 'Well, we just don't want anybody telling us or anybody else what they should do, because we're afraid that we're a beleaguered, victimized minority that's quite vulnerable.'"

Liberal, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis at the meeting agreed that Jewish law forbids abortion unless the mother's life is at stake, not her health as well, as is the sentiment among many pro-abortion groups. "But in every other situation," when there is no such mortal threat, abortion is prohibited," said Rabbi David Novak, a Conservative clergyman teaching at the University of Toronto. This, he added, would cover almost all of America's 1.4 million abortions a year that are for birth-control reasons.

However, this is not the message being proclaimed from the country's pulpits, even the most conservative ones, rabbis said.

"The Orthodox Jewish community is not doing enough in getting the message out," said Rabbi Yehuda Levin of Brooklyn, N.Y. "If the Jewish community felt it was faced with a crisis, our level of getting out the message is second to none. It's the world's greatest secret that we care about [the right to life]."

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