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August 2, 2021

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Exodus 21:22 Does Not Condone Abortion

4 min read

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 related the verse

“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.”

and commented,

“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 Rabbi Brickner simply assumed “no harm” referred only to the mother and not the child.  As we all know, it is possible for a child to be born early and survive.  The verse refers to monetary compensation only if no harm was done and could be referring to a birth where the child survived.

In fact, verse 23 goes on to say – “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, however, went on to say

“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 also said 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 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 some were not even pure of heart. Their extra-Scriptural religious law is NOT our law.

A common practice on the left is to twist actual words of Scripture to suit one’s agenda as well as to pick and choose which verses to quote.

The use of Exodus 21:22 is a clear cherry picking.  Note some of 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.”

Are we to obey those verses, too?  Or just the one concerning the premature birth of an infant?

Old Testament laws were 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.

Our saviour, the one who requested the children to come unto him – is the Lord Jesus Christ, son of God – God the Father, God of my ancestors, God of Abraham, God of Israel: Yahweh. Adonai Eloheinu.  We do not believe he ever condoned the murder of children within – or without – of the womb.

Originally published January 6, 2009


Rabbi Balfour Brickner at the time of this writing was the senior rabbi emeritus at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York, NY, and a member of the PPFA Clergy Advisory Board.