Does the Hebrew Bible deal explicitly with the subject of Abortion in Exodus 21:22?
Rabbi Balfour Brickner of New York once claimed that it does. He relates the verse and comments, "If men strive, and wound a pregnant woman so that her fruit be expelled, but no harm befalls her, then shall he be fined as her husband shall assess, and the matter placed before the judges...." The meaning of this text is straightforward. Only monetary compensation is exacted from whoever causes a woman to miscarry. Since the unborn fetus is not considered a person, the one responsible cannot be held liable for the taking of human life and certainly not for murder."
But no where does it refer expressly to the woman and not the child. In fact, what the verse actually says is "When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, [or are born prematurely] but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine." Verse 23 goes on - "But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Rabbi Brickner believes that Jewish Scholars have proved it was only the woman being refered to, and he goes on to say that "Jewish Biblical commentators examined the ramifications of this text and in every instance based their rulings on their conviction that the fetus is not a child. In rabbinic terms, "it is not a living soul." One example of this thinking will suffice. It is drawn from the Mishnah, Judaism's earliest post-biblical authoritative interpretation of scripture. "A woman who is having difficulty giving birth is permitted to cut up the fetus inside her womb and take it out limb by limb because her life takes precedence. ..." (Mishnah Ohalot: 7.6)"
He says that political actions to make "the fetus equivalent to a living, breathing human being [are] clearly unbiblical, un-Jewish, and if Christianity claims to be based on Biblical tradition, un-Christian. Political actions against abortion are even "harder to understand as they emanate from an administration whose leaders make a fetish out of their devotion to " Christian religious values." Instead, they have demonstrated their ignorance or their willingness to ignore religious law."
What Rabbi Brickner is ignorant of or willing to ignore is the fact that Christians do not base their theology on Jewish teachings and writings outside of the Old Testament - the Hebrew portion of the Bible. We don't ignore, but very pointedly don't give top credence to extra Biblical writings. Jesus himself made reference to the Pharissitical use of extra-Scriptural writings as being more about what man wants then what God requires. (Mark 7:10-12) The Pharisees and Sadducees weren't always correct and we Christians recognize that. Their extra-Scriptural religious law is NOT our law.
Further, the twisting of actual words of Scripture to suit ones own agenda is further aggravated by the picking and choosing of which verses to quote. Isn't it interesting that those that choose to use this verse as an argument against abortion choose to ignore the verses surrounding it, such as Ex. 21:20-21, "When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money." and verse 17, "Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death." How does the Rabbi explain the present day use of those verses, which come immediately prior to the verse he chose, the one whose misinterpretation he would like all Christians to follow in respect to abortion? I'm guessing he chooses not to address them.
(Christian response - these were Old Testament laws set up for the Israelite community for the purpose of showing them the need for law, their inability to follow law & remain sinless, and their need for an atoning savior to bring forgiveness to them for these sins - which they are unable to escape on their own. The Passover lamb and scape goat, as well as other parts of the law and atonement festivals were a fore-shadowing of the ultimate Passover lamb who would truly be able to bring them forgiveness for their sins. The Messiah. The stories told at Passover are also fore-shadows - a testament to the coming Christ ie the three Matzas, hiding the middle one, etc.)
I don't say that out of disrespect for the Jewish Community. My paternal family had historically been part of the Jewish community - up unitl Germany in the mid-30's. My father and his parents fled Germany at that time. Some of my relatives that stayed were shipped to Auschwitz in Poland and Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic. The rest we have not been able to trace past 1943.
I say that the Pharisees and Sadducees weren't always correct out of respect for the truth and my Lord Jesus Christ, son of God - God the Father, God of my ancestors, God of Abraham, God of Israel: Yahweh. Adonai Eloheinu.
Rabbi Balfour Brickner, addressed in this commentary, was senior rabbi emeritus at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York, NY, and a member of the PPFA Clergy Advisory Board.