Culture, Identity, Justice, Politics, Sex & Gender

Dr Tiller

It has been over a week since an act of domestic terrorism. At the funeral of Dr. Tiller, protesters waved signs, including “God Sent the Killer!” Hate begets hate, and I would like to see talk radio hosts, Fox news personalities, and others who encouraged and incited the murder of Dr. Tiller charged under the law. If people who play “supporting roles” in other acts of terrorism can be arrested, they should be too.
While the halakhic parsing of abortion is complex, Jews do not have the same definition as Christians: life does not start at conception. For a week now, I’ve been wanting to post about the Jewish understandings of abortion. A counter to the “religious right’s” view. Each time I’ve started to write that post, I’ve become too saddened and angered by the rampant infringement of women’s rights to their bodies in the US. So instead, I will share Rabbi Young‘s personal Eulogy for Dr. George Tiller:

I have been to Wichita only once—April 9th to 15th, 2006. Natalie and I met Dr. Tiller, and spent time with him in his clinic for a week. We did not want to go, but to us there was no real choice. About a month before our ordination and investiture from HUC, Natalie was 34 weeks pregnant, and we discovered that the baby had microcephaly and lissencephaly. In plain English, the head was too small, and the brain was not developing. The first, second, and third opinions all told us the same thing. Our baby would not live outside the womb. So Natalie and I made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Throughout our week there, Natalie spent a lot of time asleep or in a drug-induced haze, so I had a lot of time to sit in our hotel room and think. I kept a journal when I could handle it emotionally, and I read. I read emails and magazines, and studied a little Mishnah. I took in the words of Tractate Niddah (5:3) which says, “A day-old son who dies is to his father and mother like a full bridegroom.” This phrase stuck in my mind, especially the use of the word “bridegroom.” There are many words the Talmud uses to distinguish different stages of life. It could have said elderly man, full-grown son, or young man with equal gravity to describe a parent’s loss. Using “bridegroom” must be intentional, and it works on two fronts.
The first is independence. A bridegroom is clearly of an age where the parents have completed raising the child until he is ready to be on his own. They know who he is, the kind of person he is, what interests he has, and what his aspirations are. Their loss equals the loss of a fully developed human being, no matter what age he is.
The second speaks to emptiness. Even before a woman gets pregnant, she is making plans for the child’s life. When a couple discovers that they are going to have a child, the plans begin. If this is the birthday, then this will the Bar Mitzvah. This will be graduation, and hopefully around here is the chuppah. Who knows, maybe by this year we’ll be grandparents! Describing the loss as “like a full bridegroom” reminds us that we are going to miss out on every simchah that might have been, from birth to the wedding and beyond.
[Read the full post here.]

May his memory be a blessing. And may the two remaining late-term abortion providers in the US be protected.

6 thoughts on “Dr Tiller

  1. thanks for posting this. i am going to go read the full post you linked to, but would also love your & jewschool’s perspectives on abortion & jewish laws around that.

  2. While the halakhic parsing of abortion is complex, Jews do not have the same definition as Christians: life does not start at conception.
    Many Christians don’t hold this view, and some Jews do. Also, just out of curiosity, if halakha more clearly prohibited the practice, do you think it would make much of a difference in your feelings about abortion?
    I ask because I’ve noticed a lot lately that Jewish reflections on abortion and Dr. Tiller all seem to center around the fact that abortion doesn’t seem to be entirely prohibited under halakha.
    But none of the people (that I’ve seen) pointing this out are usually big sticklers for the complexities of Jewish law as it relates to their behavior. So I admit to being somewhat suspicious of this sudden reliance on halakhah. Why don’t we just say what we support or oppose without pretending that our main reasons are halakhic ones?

  3. My main reason is personal: I believe women should have a choice. I am pro-choice. But I also believe that for parts of our community, the halakha is important in showing reasoning. I look to halakha to help guide other parts of my life, why wouldn’t I look to it here too?

  4. Well, I’m really ambivalent on this point. On the one hand, I can certainly see why we would want to use all the persuasive tools available to us, even if they aren’t the reasons why we ourselves believe something.
    On the other hand, there seems to be something sort of disingenuous about invoking as authoritative texts and traditions which don’t actually express our own reasoning. It seems to make the text into just a tool for our use, which can be discarded if it’s not effective.
    It might be that this is always the case. (I remember a previous post where a poster talked about his rabbi admitting that he finds sources which agree with his argument and ignore the rest). But it seems like a dynamic we could be more aware of overall. For myself, I’ve been trying to think a lot more about how I make arguments, what my goals are, and how I use sources in making them. I’m finding it pretty complicated.

  5. This is always going to be a tough one, forever uncomfortable. Many of the anti-abortion crowd base their sentiments on a sincere religious belief, which they believe they are obligated to spread to others (regardless of the others’ personal beliefs). The First Amendment will always protect those sentiments, and the pro-choice crowd’s right to take the opposite position. Perhaps the bigger problem, sadly, is the fundamentally weak legal reasoning used in Roe. The fact of the matter is, the constitution does not enshrine a right of privacy. There are no “penumbras”. A constitutional amendment could change that, but it doesn’t stand a chance. And since no U.S. legislative body at the State or Federal level has the intestinal fortitude necessary to enact the necessary reasonable legislation, we’ll be left as we are.

  6. I am anti-death. as for Halacha it is not as complex as it seems. Goyim are not allowed to have abortions. One mitzvah is to establish courts to enforce justice in your land. Justice is following Jewish law, which is, if for certain you know the Jewish mother will die, you may have an abortion, however i you think the baby will die anyways? There is no precedent for this. One should pray for a miracle. Also admitting you ignore Halacha is disgusting, and it breaks my heart that a Jew should adopt a new religion, American liberalism, while only maintaining the racist and seperatist Judaism that is liberal Judaism.

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