✡︎ Shalom and Good Shabbos, Friends ✡︎
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim: Exodus 21:1 - 24:18, includes Torah laws related to crime and punishment. Exodus 21:12-17 declare that murder is a capital crime punishable by death, as are premeditated murder, cursing or striking a parent, and human trafficking.
Exodus 21:22-25 follows with laws about involuntary manslaughter and fines levied for harms done. A scenario features two men fighting who accidentally harm a pregnant woman in the area. If the woman dies, the men incur the death penalty. According to one translation, if the pre-born baby is born prematurely and survives, the men only pay restitution. This interpretation comes from the understanding of the word in the text, יָשִׁ֤ית 'yashas.' This Hebrew word means to save, be saved, or be delivered. See definitions here. It does not mean death or miscarriage.
According to another translation, if the mother miscarries, ie., the baby dies, the men only pay restitution. Jewish abortion advocates use this alternative interpretation to claim that the unborn child has no value or protected legal status in Judaism, helping bolster the lie that torturing a baby to death in the womb is a Jewish value and a religious right/rite.
This particular misuse of Torah has resulted in many Jewish generations lost. It calls into question the foundations of Judaism as a moral and just system. It also causes born Jews to convert out of our faith in order to resolve a seemingly impossible moral dilemma.
This difference in translation is one of many others found in the Bible because the pure word of God given to Moses at Mt. Sinai was transmitted orally for generations and written down over many centuries. Another source of variation is the rabbinic opinion and commentary on the oral Torah compiled in the Talmud over several hundred years and after countless edits. The Talmud was completed in 475 AC.
JPLF board member Rabbi Shlomo Nachman summarizes the language differences in his essay, Abortion and Related Issues. Rabbi states, "this verse must be carefully understood. Many translations read “and a miscarriage occurs” rather than as “a premature birth results” as I have it here. The passage, in my opinion, is to “a premature birth” when the context is considered. The text actually says that if the child “departs” [“yasa”] the womb and no other damage ensues from the event. In other words, if because of the struggle the baby is born early but is otherwise fine, then the men may be required to pay damages for their carelessness but no more. “But if other damage ensues,” i.e. the baby is born with some deformity or born dead, then the standard penalties will apply, 'an eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. If the child dies as a result the men are guilty of the murder, a life for a life. The text makes no sense any other way. The Hebrew term shachol references an abortion or miscarriage. That word is not used here. There is conclusive evidence that both Torah and Rabbinic halacha regarding the pre-birth child as fully human and subject to the same protections and respect as all other people.”
Please visit http://learnemunah.com/being/abortion.html to read the entire article.
In Exodus 23:7, God makes sure we understand the penalty for killing innocents, "Distance yourself from a false matter; and do not kill a truly innocent person or one who has been declared innocent, for I will not vindicate a guilty person." Innocents include the most innocent, the baby in the womb,
Other significant verses in the portion include Exodus 23:26, where God promises that no Israelite women will suffer from infertility, and Exodus 23:30 where God promises to safeguard the territory from hostile tribes until the Jews reproduce in sufficient numbers to protect their land.
Rabbi Nachman's examination of the text, and the supporting verses in this Torah portion harmonize beautifully with Judaism's life affirming essence, as reflected by the psalmist, "For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Not surprisingly, it is in accordance with the science-based reality that life begins at conception. It assigns value and dignity to the unborn child, making endorsement or practice of death of an unborn children through excruciatingly painful abortion procedures unthinkable.
Indeed, we can rest assured that Torah expresses a life affirming view of the unborn child, pointing the way to solutions for unplanned pregnancy that support a mother's life, full term birth, responsible fatherhood or single parenting, and adoption.
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May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and good life upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.