What do Jewish tradition & Israeli law say about abortion?

It was You who created my conscience; You fashioned me in my mother's womb.




(the israel bible)

March 5, 2023

5 min read

Abortion is a highly charged subject but for Orthodox Jews, the moral dilemma may be more uncomplicated as they rely on the well-established guidelines of Halacha (Jewish law). 


Abortion is legal in Israel after consultation with a medical board. According to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Health Ministry’s pregnancy termination committee received 16,591 requests to terminate pregnancies in 2021. 99.5% of the requests were approved.


The traditional Jewish view of abortion does not fit conveniently into either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” camps in the abortion debate. Judaism neither bans abortion completely nor does it sanction indiscriminate abortion “on demand.”

Exodus 21 is the only place in the Torah that discusses the loss of a fetus. As such, its relevance to a discussion about abortion needs to be understood in its proper context.

When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25

Some rabbinic authorities question the relevance of this verse to abortion as it specifically deals with the penalty for inadvertently harming a pregnant woman but does not relate to the intentional killing of a baby in the womb.

Rabbi Avi Grossman, an associate rabbi at Machon Shilo, explained this distinction to Israel365 News.

“Technically speaking, Torah law recognizes the fetus in the womb as life, though it doesn’t necessarily grant personhood,” the rabbi said. “This is true in biology, which views the fetus as alive. The Torah recognizes life even among animals, and we are restricted in how we treat animals. Based on the Bible, the fetus does not have full personhood until it is born. That does not permit abortion, but the abortion does not constitute homicide.”

The distinction is significant. The Noahide laws prohibit all nations from spilling blood. If abortion is classified as murder, the prohibition would be applied universally

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 79a) interprets this verse as meaning that if the woman miscarries but suffers no other injury, the person responsible must pay compensation for the loss of the unborn child, but suffers no other penalty. If, however, the woman dies, he is guilty of a much more serious offense

As a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth. In such a circumstance, the fetus is technically considered a “pursuer” who is threatening the mother’s life, and so the fetus may be terminated in “self-defense.”. Despite the classification of the fetus as a pursuer, once the baby’s head or most of its body has been delivered, the baby’s life is considered equal to the mother’s, and we may not choose one life over another because it is considered as though they are both pursuing each other.

No rabbinic authority permits intentional abortion when the mother’s life is not in danger. Some rabbinic authorities attribute this to the prohibition against murder, others prohibit optional abortion on the basis of the value of the potential human life of the fetus.

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Halperin, head of the Machon Madii Technology Al Pi Halacha (the institute for technology according to Torah law), is an expert in medical ethics in the framework of the Torah. He explained the Torah’s position on abortion to Israel365 News.

“There is no credible rabbinic opinion that permits abortion on demand,” Rabbi Halperin said. “There are conditions under which it is permitted to abort the pregnancy. Of course, if the mother’s life or health is endangered, abortion is permitted. If the mother believes it will harm her psychologically, this requires consultation with medical and religious professionals. This is considered saving a life, but each case must be considered separately. Monetary hardship is not a reason to justify murdering an infant. ”

“Until the 40th day, it is permitted under some specific circumstances to end the pregnancy if it is clear the baby has no chance to survive. There is one opinion that if it is determined that the infant in the womb has Down’s Syndrome, it is permitted to abort the pregnancy up to the third month of pregnancy. But this opinion has been decried by major halachic authorities.”

“Ending the life of a fetus, according to some opinions, is murder,” Rabbi Halperin emphasized.


Abortion was officially legalized in Israel in 1977. In order to carry out an abortion in Israel, approval must be given by a pregnancy termination committee that has been given said authority. Approval is granted in the following cases:

  • if the woman is younger than 18 or older than 40
  • If the woman is not married or the pregnancy is not from the marriage
  • If the pregnancy is the result of relations which are illegal according to criminal law, or are incestuous.
  • If the child is liable to be born with a physical or mental birth defect
  • If continuation of the pregnancy is liable to endanger the life of the mother or cause her physical or emotional harm

The form to require approval for an abortion has been digitized so that committee members will receive the full information in advance, and the woman applying will be able to submit the referral remotely and not have to go to the committee meeting in person.

The committee may only make decisions regarding requests where the pregnancy is less than 24 full weeks according to an ultrasound confirming the stage of the pregnancy. When the pregnancy is further along than 24 weeks, the case is passed on to a special committee. 

Until recently, Israeli women were required to go to day-surgery units in hospitals or special surgical clinics to terminate a pregnancy. Israeli women are now allowed to have a medical abortion at their health maintenance organization clinic rather than in a hospital. 

Compared to the rest of the world, abortion rates in Israel are moderate. According to government data, the rates in 2016 dropped steadily to nine per 1,000 women of childbearing age despite the significant increase in the population – lower than England (16.2) and the US (13.2). Fully 99% of abortions are carried out in the first trimester. 


Efrat is an Israeli organization that works to prevent abortions. Since 1977, the EFRAT Organization has helped over 75,000 women choose to give birth over abortion by offering counseling and concrete assistance to women who were considering abortion because of financial difficulties.

Dr. Eli Schussheim, a highly regarded Israeli surgeon who founded EFRAT, eschewed efforts to change the legislation. 

“The answer isn’t in politics or laws, which is a game that in Israel as in America, the left-wing is far too good at,” Dr. Schussheim said. “The answer is in the spirit and in the heart.”

He explained that in his many years of experience as a physician, he could not remember a single case in which an abortion did not take a harsh spiritual toll on the woman.

“Most operations leave a physical scar but leave the soul and heart untouched,” Dr. Schussheim explained. “An abortion is precisely the opposite. It leaves no signs on the body but leaves a scar on the soul. If you don’t believe in God, if you do not believe in the soul, if you only think of how an operation affects the body, then you would not understand this.”

If you would like to save unborn children in Israel, donate here.

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