When the late Ronald Reagan assumed the office of the presidency in early 1981, one of the first groups clamoring for a meeting was a panel of Reform rabbis who wanted to discuss abortion.
Now, this could have been a beautiful moment in both American history, the U.S. then at age 205, and in Jewish history, then at age 3297. The Jewish People have fought for the rights of babies in the womb and after birth since the days of the Romans who allowed the father, as paterfamilias, to kill an unwanted baby within the first month of life. Back in those days, it took heroism to oppose this, yet the Jews, despite being newly exiled, disenfranchised, and seeing their Holy Temple burned to the ground, did not hesitate to risk their safety by sticking up for little Roman babies.In a 2003 article in Commentary magazine, Natan Sharansky, himself a living symbol of the Jewish quest for freedom, cited this quote from on of the great Roman historians, Tacitus:
Among the Jews, all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral … The rest of the world they confront with the hatred reserved for enemies. They will not feed or intermarry with gentiles… They have introduced circumcision to show that they are different from others… It is a crime among them to kill any newly born infant.
What a beautiful thing that would have been, for the heroic compassionate Jews of yore to stand up to the “big bad Republican” to show that even Reform Jews, who only accept the “social justice” section of the Torah, will fight for the helpless unborn child against every hard-hearted tyrant, from ancient Rome to contemporary America! Except, oops, they actually wanted to address Reagan in favor of continuing the genocide, to keep killing the children.
But Reagan knew his Judaism better than they did. He refused to meet their delegation on the grounds that they did not speak for the Torah, which forbids abortion except in rare cases. They huffily put out a press release, characterizing his act as anti-Semitic. In fact, it ranks among the most philo-Semitic statements by an American president, and there have been, to the credit of our marvellous republic, a great many of those over two-plus centuries. What they did manage to accomplish was to give Orthodox Jews some free publicity of the sort they rarely manage to cultivate on their own.
So it turned out that Reform Jews, in addition to boiling Judaism down to the “social justice” segments, actually disregard the Torah itself as the defining document of social justice. What they adopt from the Torah is only the principle of fighting for social justice, but they leave the definition of that trope to the contemporary, ever-shifting Democratic Party platform.
Indeed, during the Reagan administration Orthodox Jews had the rare experience of being recognized by the White House as the authoritative arbiters of Jewish Law. The great Talmudic and legal scholar, Rabbi Moses Feinstein, was consulted whenever the Administration wanted clarity on the traditional Jewish position. In one instance, Rabbi Feinstein surprised the Republicans when asked the Jewish position on capital punishment. He said that although in theory Judaism believes a society should punish murderers by putting them to death, the American legal system cannot be trusted to administer that position, since it accepted testimony of criminals and people who are offered to have their own sentences reduced in exchange for testimony against others, including against their own accomplices – all arrangements rejected by Jewish law.
This rare relationship between secular government and scholars of the Torah’s legal system represented an ideal that is envisioned by Biblical prophecy. The prophet Jeremiah instructed the Jews in God’s name (Jeremiah 27:22) that they “should go to Babylon, and they will be there until they day I shall redeem them, says God, then I will raise them up and bring them back to this place (Israel).” Afterwards the prophet adds (ibid, 29:7): “And seek out the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray to God for its peace; with its peace you will have peace.” The Talmud (Avot 3:2) deduces from this (per commentary of Rashi, 1035-1105): “Rabbi Hanina said to always pray for the success of the government, because if it is not respected people will swallow each other alive.”
The recent article in the Atlantic by a Reform rabbi shows they are still up to their old tricks. This time they are making more of an effort than in the past to substantiate their arguments with Biblical texts, and it would take a legal brief to show where the fault lines in their arguments lie. Suffice it to say that these arguments were countered and debated thoroughly in the period immediately preceding and immediately following Roe vs. Wade. There is no need to relitigate that here, although there are some Orthodox Jews who would be happier to let sleeping dogs lie than to answer the historic call of Moses, “Who that is with God, join me!”
One of the greatest warriors on behalf of the unborn child has been my dear friend (and co-host of our Thursday night radio program at 11 p.m. on 620 AM in the New York metropolitan area), Rabbi Yehuda Levin. He was an annual speaker at the rally against the Roe vs. Wade decision, and some of his fabulous, rousing orations can be seen at YouTube. He is struggling somewhat with his health right now, and he asked me to write this article. Loyal Jews who seek the Word of God and answer the call of Moses will always be at the front lines, fighting for every one of God’s children and loving each child fashioned in the image of the Creator.