The Washington Post calls Shmuley Boteach “the most famous Rabbi in America.” If that’s true, we’re kind of in trouble.
Because he hung out with Michael Jackson for two years (as his “personal rabbi”), I am tempted to add a grain of salt to the rabbi’s opinion on, well, everything. I love “Billie Jean” as much as the next guy, but for me personally, being an alumnus of the Neverland Sleepover Club goes a long way towards disqualifying you as a great moral authority.
Rabbi Boteach is not fond of “extreme” positions on abortion, such as being pro-life. He claims that Republicans lost the 2012 elections in large part due to these positions. Maybe he’s right. Even if he is, does that mean we should change our positions if we believe they’re right? I personally don’t think pro-lifers should get into the business of lying or pandering to voters. But hey, that’s just me.
The subject of the rabbi’s latest post in the HuffPo Religion blog is this: “Is Abortion in Christianity Based on a Mistranslation of the Bible?”
Here’s your answer, Rabbi: no! It isn’t!
He relies on what he calls the only reference to abortion in the Hebrew Bible to make his argument, and, in so doing, ignores everything else all Christians know about Christianity. Find a Christian who answers “True” to this statement: “Christianity teaches us that it is okay to kill innocent people.” Find me that Christian, please, and let’s investigate with great haste the church where he went to Sunday School.
There is no one specific Bible verse that encompasses Christian moral teaching on when it is and is not okay to kill. Even the Sixth Commandment, say many Hebrew scholars, has been mistranslated, and would more accurately read, “Thou shalt not murder.” The Bible and early Christians have no problem with killing animals for food or sacrifice, or executing criminals. I’m as pro-life as they come, but if somebody breaks into my home in the night, they’re getting ventilated with a .357 Magnum, and I won’t feel bad about it. Self-defense is not murder. Executing murderers is not murder. Shooting a deer is not murder.
There’s a difference between murdering and killing.
Thus, the rabbi’s argument boils down to what arguments about abortion always boil down to: whether or not killing an embryo or fetus is just killing, or is in fact a murder.
Nobody with a basic grasp of human biology can argue that after conception, the fertilized ovum – the zygote, the embryo, the fetus – is a human being. The only argument is whether or not that human being is a “person.” In other words, it is a whole living human, but does it have human rights?
We answer yes. We say all humans have human rights.
Our detractors scoff and say, “Oh gimme a break! How can an embryo have the same rights as me?”
Well, think about it for a second, if you can be bothered: the embryo can’t have the same rights as you, and we’re not asking for that. An embryo can’t have the right to, say, bear arms. It doesn’t have arms. It can’t have the right to vote yet, or testify in its own defense. It’s, um, a freakin’ embryo.
But there is one right it can be granted – the most basic human right, the right to life. That’s the one we’re concerned about here. The silly leap to “oh, so I guess we should give fetuses voting ballots and driver’s licenses” is a way of avoiding the real argument.
The rabbi, in focusing on one verse, doesn’t make a really good moral case for abortion in his blog.
As a Christian, I rely on that old, cheesy-sounding stand-by when I consider a moral problem: what would Jesus do? Or, more accurately, what would I do in front of Jesus? I don’t 100% always abide by what I know is right, because I am a sinner. But when it comes to abortion, we can ask ourselves: would we do this with Jesus in the room? Can we imagine Christ watching a doctor dismember a woman’s fetus in her womb and suck it out with a vacuum machine and feeling really okay about it? Can we imagine a doctor who claimed to be Christian doing that in front of the Lord? Can we imagine a woman who claimed to be a Christian allowing that to be done to her and her child in front of Jesus?
I think if we ask ourselves those questions, deep in our souls, we know the answers.