“Mommy let me live!” screams the tasteless headline of a pro-life ad, complete with scary pictures of a baby’s diary; “May 1; Today my parents gave me the gift of life. . . . One week has passed and look, I’m no longer a single cell,” and so on through the year. Here are the concluding entries:
July 24: Today I went with my mother to the abortion committee, and within minutes my fate was sealed. At the committee no one attempted to explain to my mother the significance of the act she is about to perform. I am convinced that if they showed her a picture of me, and she knew that I am essentially complete in all aspects, she would not think of killing me. July 25: The date when I am to die has already been set. But perhaps someone with compassion will still come and explain to my mother what she is about to lose and give her and me true happiness. July 26: My mother received the notice to come to the hospital tomorrow to perform the operation, and my life in the last hours which remain is to be ended with horrible instruments. There is nothing left but for me to plead to my mother for my life: Mommy! Have pity on me! Spare me my life! I want to live.
Here is uncompromising, brutal, powerful pro-life advertising—four pages of it, in color, with photographs of the living baby in the mother’s womb—in a mass circulation newspaper.
Now, this is what we expect to find in Christian Coalition or in traditional Catholic newspapers, but where did I find it? In the Jerusalem Post, the English-language daily published since pre-state times in Israel. This means that a powerful, forthright, and unapologetic pro-life voice has emerged within Judaism too, not on the fringes, but at the very center, in Jerusalem (with representatives throughout the world) and at the heart of Orthodox Judaism. The organization is called Efrat, “The International Organization for Saving Jewish Babies,” and according to the paper the organization is “engaged in a struggle to prevent the intentional termination of pregnancies . . . the story of Efrat is a wonderful success story of saving Jewish babies.” The Jerusalem Post‘s piece included stories about mothers who took risks to have their babies, and how glad they are they did; about the power of persuasion, with Efrat representatives arguing in favor of life; about Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the Jewish gynecologist and abortionist who repented and whose story is told in The Silent Scream.
True, Efrat prefers information and guidance to demonstrations and violence. Its members—doctors, psychologists, social workers, rabbis, and public figures—approach mothers in the State of Israel who are considering abortion and who have come before hospital committees for permission. Their policy is simple: “We cannot prevent a woman from having an abortion if she really wants one and is determined to go ahead. But it is our humanitarian and professional duty to explain to her all the repercussions of her actions. Knowledge of all the facts will allow the woman to make the right choice.”
Efrat (which is located at 10 Halluy St., Jerusalem 91062, Israel) not only saves fetuses from abortion but supports expectant mothers who find themselves constrained by poverty to abort their babies: “Efrat is certain that it is possible to greatly reduce the unjustifiable slaughter of fetuses, if we all support this important institution whose sole aim is the rescue of Jewish children. When women give birth, Efrat is there with food, diapers, encouragement, and allowance.”
What is quite remarkable about Efrat is what it does not do: it does not appeal to that eternal presence in Jewish life, the holocaust. Efrat does not tell the stories of the million Jewish children put to death in the German catastrophe, nor does it formulate its message in the language of “not handing Hitler any more victories,” even though voluntarily killing Jewish children is precisely what the Germans of that period undertook. Its purpose is stated plainly in positive language: “to rescue Jewish children.” But in the present context, the language of “rescue” bears its own subtext. Even more remarkable is that its leadership encompasses Orthodox Rabbis and lay people throughout the world, and the organization clearly calls for its deepest rationale upon the sanctity of life that marks the religion, Judaism. This is not the face that much of Western Judaism shows the world, but the fault does not lie with Judaism.
The religion makes its statement, and appealing to the Torah—not merely to worldly utility or to secular memory—Judaism motivates Efrat and similar organizations to do the work that the faith must deem sacred: a true mitzvah, an act of religious piety. And then, speaking for themselves as individuals, numerous Jews will gladly tell you, “Judaism is pro-abortion,” though the language they prefer is “pro-choice.” National Jewish organizations, both secular and religious, align themselves with the abortion cause, and the single most powerful branch of Judaism in the United States, Reform Judaism, is explicit on the matter. Secular organizations take the same view. Ethnic Jews take an active role in the entire phalanx of abortionist organizations and institutions, and in many cases they appeal to their ethnic origin as an explanation for their devotion to “choice.”
How are people to make sense of these contradictory facts? First, not everybody who identifies himself as ethnically Jewish practices the religion, and in the United States many do not. Second, just as there are many Christianities, which intersect in a few things but part company in many, so there arc diverse Judaisms, each with its own account of what the Torah requires of holy Israel, God’s first love. Some of the several Judaisms present the Torah in its classical formulation, others do not.
But if people want to know the view of abortion that Judaism has set forth through the ages and that today shapes the aspirations of the vast majority of Jews who practice Judaism in the State of Israel, Europe, and the outlying Diaspora, listen carefully to Efrat. The Torah of Sinai speaks through them—and pleads, along with them, “Mommy, let me live!” But the language is its own: “Choose life.”
Christians can make sense of the diversity of Judaisms when they compare Catholic Christianity’s understanding of the task of Peter with that of Unitarian or Mormon Christianities, Anglican liturgy with the evangelical, the doctrine of the Church put forth by Pope John Paul II with that of Billy Graham, and the Christologies preached in any ten churches chosen at random in St. Petersburg, Florida, with those set forth in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Church’s one foundation may well be Jesus Christ the Lord, but in everyday life, many Christianities compete, and the same is true for Judaisms. That is why, when proabortionists claim to represent and reflect “the Jewish” or “the Judaic” view, the right questions are, “Which Jew?” and “Which Judaism?”
I offer the prayer that, when God sorts matters out. He will hear the unborn child whose still small voice Efrat hears, as Elijah heard God’s voice in the silence of the storm—arid whose life and whose mother’s life and happiness Efrat deems holy. And that is the commanding voice of Sinai that, for here and now, we must call the Torah. If, as the Torah teaches, ours is the God of mercy, then that prayer must find its way to God’s ear.