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Conservative Judaism on Abortion and Related Issues

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Grounded in its commitment to be historically authentic in integrating tradition with modernity, the Conservative movement, like the Torah and Rabbinic sources, sees the fetus as “simply liquid” during the first forty days of gestation and “like the thigh of its mother” from then until birth. As a result, the Conservative movement generally forbids abortion as an act of self-injury. At the same time, when the woman’s life or physical or mental health is at stake, an abortion may be required or permitted, depending on the circumstances. Furthermore, now that we know significant facts about the status of the fetus in the uterus, abortions are also permitted if the fetus has a lethal or debilitating disease and the mother responds to that news, after consultation, with an assertion that she cannot mentally tolerate carrying the fetus to term and then either raising it or giving it up for adoption. Non-Orthodox Jews, however, commonly misunderstand the tradition to permit abortion whenever the mother wants one, leading to far too many abortions among Jews, especially in light of the demographic crisis in which Jews currently find themselves.

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  1. 1.

    The one exception to this is a Standard of Rabbinic Practice, which all Conservative rabbis and synagogues must obey, but there are only three of those as of this writing. For a description of those and a more detailed description of how the CJLS works, see Dorff 1996, 151–162.

  2. 2.

    A few contemporary Orthodox rabbis have also reasoned and ruled this way – for example, Eliezer Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 9:51 (1967) and 13:102 (1978) [Hebrew]; S. Israeli, Amud Hayemini, no. 35 cited in No′am, 16 [K.H.] 27 (note) [Hebrew}; Lev Grossnass, Responsa Lev Aryeh 2:205 [Hebrew].


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Correspondence to Elliot N. Dorff .

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Dorff, E.N. (2021). Conservative Judaism on Abortion and Related Issues. In: Bagheri, A. (eds) Abortion. Springer, Cham.

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