As of the result of a leaked draft majority opinion of an ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) suggesting that the high court may strike down the infamous Roe v. Wade decision which established a constitutional right to an abortion, the controversy of societal acceptance of abortion as birth control is back in the news.
The majority of abortions are not the result of rape, incest, avoiding physical harm to the mother or preventing the birth of children with severe deformities. The truth is that it is a common form of birth control—nothing more than a social eraser for embarrassing or unwanted situations. To give us an idea of the scope of what we are dealing with, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 73 million babies are deliberately aborted worldwide each year. That is more than the total population of the United Kingdom! In the USA alone, there have been over 62 million known legal abortions. Another way of looking at it is that approximately 20% of all pregnancies in the USA terminate with a voluntary abortion. The situation in Israel is not much better. Although abortion is technically permitted only upon review by a “termination committee”, well over 95% of cases are approved. In Israel, although the overall abortion rate has fallen over the past 40 years from about 15% to about 9% currently, in 2019 alone 17,580 abortions were reported. That is equivalent to one aborted baby for every 10 live births.
How did abortion as birth control become so widespread in our world today? Let’s start with three fundamentals: (1) ideas have consequences, (2) society is molded by the ideas that it values, and (3) almost all social change is engineered. For example, dehumanization as a social ideal was widespread even in pre-Nazi Germany. The fact that euthanasia was considered an acceptable procedure for the mentally sick, that death was an optional medical “treatment”, did not appear out of nowhere. Dehumanization had already become an acceptable intellectual philosophy after the publication in 1920 of The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value by Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding. It is from there that we can trace the origins of phrases like “absolutely worthless human beings,” phrases which also began to circulate in the medical and psychiatric literature of the 1920s and 1930s. But even Hoche and Binding were not that innovative in their thinking. They were merely writing out explicitly the implications of the teachings of the 19th century German philosopher George W. F. Hegel. At the core of Hegel’s thinking was the idea that the rational is the actual and the actual is the rational. What does this mean? It means that every action, regardless of its immediate purpose or its long term consequences, is justifiable and logical. If something is possible, then it is rationale to act upon it when deemed necessary. Morality, eternal truths or even ethical principles become antiquated and irrelevant, removed from serious consideration. So Germany’s nationalist socialist philosophy was just a natural outgrowth of an idea planted by Hegel, i.e. equating usefulness with good, possibility with acceptability.
And so it is with abortion as birth control, i.e. the killing of babies as a viable medical option. But babies are minds and talents and potential waiting to blossom and they are not to be labeled capriciously as worthless. We must understand where our ideas come from, how they have advanced and where they will lead us. As James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and a recipient of the Nobel Prize said in May, 1973: “If the child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice that only a few are given under the present system. The doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so chose and save a lot of misery and suffering. I believe this view is the only rational, compassionate attitude to have.” Notice his use of the word “rational.” That should tell you where he got his ideas from—straight from Hegel. And just in case you’re thinking that no one could possibly take Watson seriously, it may have taken a while but the seeds of this corruption have sprouted. California has introduced bill AB 2223 which would legalize infanticide for months after a child is born. And if that’s not bad enough, Colorado already passed House Bill 1279, possibly the most extreme abortion law in North America, written so vaguely that legal scholars acknowledge that it allows for infanticide up to 28 days after birth. Other examples could be given, but this will have to suffice to illustrate what we have written.
But what does all of this have to do with us? President Ronald Reagan provides us with a poetic type of answer. He wrote in Abortion and the Consciousness of the Nation (1983): “Abortion concerns not just the unborn child, it concerns every one of us. The English poet, John Donne, wrote: ‘…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’” However, former U.S. Surgeon General Charles Everette Koop provides us with a blunt matter of fact answer. He said in an address entitled The Slide to Auschwitz (1977) that the history of civilization has shown us repeatedly that “destructiveness eventually is turned on the destroyer and self-destruction is the result.”
So are we doomed to destruction, to cataclysm and to disaster? Perhaps we are. But surely, we are not to blame. We do not condone this horror. We oppose this depravity. Why should we suffer for the sins of others? But think about it. There were some good, honest Germans who opposed what the Nazis were doing and yet Germany was still destroyed, and everyone suffered. Therefore, we need to understand this topic further.
In a lengthy section from Parashat Acharei Mot dealing with forbidden relations (Vayikra 18:6-24), one verse stands out seemingly out of context (18:21): וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת־שֵׁם אֱלֹקֶיךָ אֲנִי יְיָ (And do not give any of your children to be passed through [fire] to Molech, and do not desecrate the name of your G-d: I am Hashem). What’s the connection between Molech and forbidden relations?
As is well known, there is a long-standing debate among the Jewish commentators relating to the nature of the sacrifice to Molech, i.e. whether the child was actually killed or not. The purpose of this article is not to go into this question in detail, but rather to be aware that two main opinions exist. According to the opinion that the child was literally killed, let us examine Yirmeyah 7:31: וּבָנוּ בָּמוֹת הַתֹּפֶת אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם לִשְׂרֹף אֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם וְאֶת־בְּנֹתֵיהֶם בָּאֵשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי וְלֹא עָלְתָה עַל־לִבִּי (And they built altars of Tofet which were in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom to burn their sons and their daughters with fire, which I did not command and which did not enter My heart). Rashi wrote: במות התופת. הוא המולך שהיה של נחשת ומסיקין אותו מתחתיו וידיו פשוטות וניסקות ונותנין את הילד על ידיו והוא נכוה ונוהם והכומרים היו מקישין בתופים שלא ישמע האב קול הבן ויכמרו רחמיו. תופת על שם התוף. הנם על שם נהמת הבן (Altars of the Tofet: that is Molech, which was made of copper, and they would heat it up from underneath it, and its hands were spread out and heated. And they would put the child on his hands, and he would be burnt and shriek. And the pagan priests would beat drums so that the father should not hear the voice of his son and take pity. Tofet: because of the drum [tof]. Hinnom: because of the child’s shrieking [nahama]) According to Rashi, Yirmeyah is castigating the Jews, if not for outright idol worship, then certainly for infanticide. And if so, we have an explanation for the seemingly out of context prohibition against passing one’s children through the fire to Molech in the midst of the Torah’s prohibitions against forbidden relations. Forbidden relations inevitably lead to unwanted pregnancies and children.
What about the other opinion, the one that says that the child was not literally consumed in the fire? That opinion holds that the child was made to pass between two bonfires, or that his father held him as they jumped across a raging fire pit (Sanhedrin 64b). What can we say? In such a case, the child might not have been killed outright, but he was no doubt traumatized and potentially mentally scarred for life. And so, it is still called a sacrifice. In other words, there are more ways than one to sacrifice a child to Molech. Molech worship is a spectrum where the most extreme form is literal infanticide. But, thank G-d most of us are not so extreme. Nevertheless, we should realize a truth: whenever we act in a way that is not in the best interests of our children but rather in our best interests (whether it is for financial, professional or social benefits to ourselves) we are sacrificing our children. And that’s the point. It still falls under the category of Molech worship. Parents are supposed to sacrifice themselves for their children, not the other way around. And for this sin—that stretches all the way back to the days of the Judges and the Kings—we have yet to do national repentance.
So we should examine ourselves. Are we guilty of transgressing the prohibition against Molech worship—in whatever form? We will have to decide, individually and collectively. And the future will depend on how we answer that question and what we do about it.