Cover Story

Weeping about our families

Issue: "Life Issues," Feb. 24, 2001

Jan. 1, 2073

This yellowed piece of paper has been in my family for nearly 100 years. It is a letter that my great-grandfather, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, wrote in the late 20th century on the occasion of the birth of his first child, my grandmother.
-Susan Weinberg, Seattle

Welcome to God's beautiful world, my little one. I cannot believe how perfectly formed you are or how quickly I have fallen in love with you. I am enchanted by your dark hair, your little nose, and how you yawn. I hope I am not boring you already. You understand that as a rabbi (which means teacher), I am sensitive about boring people, especially you. It frightens me to think that your mother and I were entrusted with deciding whether to snuff out your life or bring you into the world. What might we have done had we felt depressed or frightened some time during the past nine months? But here you are, an addition to our family. Suddenly I feel bound to the future in a way I have never felt before. I understand for the first time what Whittaker Chambers meant when he wrote about his new daughter in Witness: "She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life." Now I understand how that little baby changed Chambers's life and American history. Now I understand that newborn children are far more than merely God's way of assuring posterity. They are also God's way of bringing about spiritual growth in adult humans and tying us to the future. We are not even sure yet of what we shall call you, but your name will certainly be a Jewish name from the Bible. You will quickly discover that your parents are devoutly Jewish, striving to understand the mind of God as He revealed it to us through His written and oral Torah. Your mother and I are convinced that Jews are obliged to do their best to live their lives according to God's special rules for the Jews. Among those rules is a very unambiguous instruction from our God-choose life. Yet you will one day encounter a mystery: Many Americans who think of themselves as Jewish disagree with us. You will also soon discover that during these closing days of the 20th century, Jewish organizations are disproportionately represented among those religious organizations that fraudulently attempt to provide a moral endorsement to the practice of abortion. You will discover that organizations such as Planned Parenthood that attempt to legitimize the primitive practice I write about have such disproportionate Jewish membership that they all but shut down for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. How can this be? How can the descendants of the people who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, and Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations apply kosher certification to the killing of tiny but perfect little human beings? The Talmud teaches us that the two Jewish midwives described in Exodus, who refused to obey Pharaoh's demands to kill the male babies, were none other than Moses' mother and sister. How can their heirs, the middle-aged Jewish matrons of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, and the Hadassah organization, try to sanctify feticide upon demand? Clearly the officials of the organizations I have listed do not regard themselves as advocating murder of innocent human beings. They think of themselves as good people. Yet one of the greatest sages of Jewish Law of the late 20th century, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (from whom I was privileged to learn during the last 10 years of his life) unequivocally described abortion as a form of murder, albeit a form that is exempt from capital punishment. But those of us faithful to our tradition have obviously failed to persuade our fellow Jews that abortion equals murder. In order to understand apparent Jewish enthusiasm for abortion, I must do what you will often come to hear me do. I must turn to an appropriate and puzzling verse in the Torah. In Numbers 11:10, we read, "Moses heard the nation weeping about its families." During our 40 years in the desert, we unfortunately did a fair bit of complaining and crying. There was nothing new about crying, except the phrase "about its families." During the 11th century, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki wrote down the explanation. I say "wrote down the explanation" because he was not merely interpreting, he was transmitting. You see, from generation to generation, the truth and the sense of the Torah have been transmitted orally. Concerned about the possibility of loss or corruption of the holy material, Rabbi Yitzchaki recorded much of it for future generations. "Crying about its families" turns out to be a Mosaic euphemism for crying about the laws regulating sexual behavior that God had just issued at Mount Sinai. The euphemism makes sense. After all, what is more indispensable in preserving families than the laws constraining sexuality? Men may not sleep with other men's wives. They may not sleep with any woman before marriage, and only with their wives after. Men may not sleep with men or marry their own sisters, mothers, or daughters. Without these laws there could be no such thing as a family. These new laws may have made families possible, but for the shortsighted they really were a bit depressing. They certainly did limit the recreational possibilities for our ancestors after the Exodus from Egypt, where, apparently, such behavior was quite common. It is not at all surprising that once they realized the profound effect these laws would have upon their night life, the nation cried. Sex without consequences, they felt, was just plain fun. Then along came God with His faithful servant, Moses, to spoil it all. No wonder they cried. There you have it, my child. Some of the ancient Israelites cried about God making sex ultimately significant and now, 3,000 years later, their descendants are still crying. They feverishly devote their institutional energies to keeping sex just plain fun. Legitimizing easy contraception was stage one. That took place years ago. No longer was contraception to be found only in the dark corners of the drug store. It was to be out in the open. What is more, it was eventually to be distributed even to schoolchildren as if it were candy. But preemptive contraception was not enough. Abortion-a sort of post-event contraception-also had to be taken out of the dark corners. It, too, was eventually made available to schoolchildren. There has always been a tension within the Jewish people between those who embrace God's laws as benevolent and those who vigorously reject them as oppressive. And until the Messiah comes, this tension will always exist. There is not one Jewish people, there are two. We celebrate a Jewish holiday called Chanukah, which you will come to love when you are older. It's all about the conflict between these two groups of Jews, those who love and attempt to preserve the Law and those who hate and attempt to distort it. One searing truth of the Law is that the past and the future are every bit as important as the present. For instance, everyone knows Judaism's golden rule, as enunciated by the great Rabbi Hillel: What is hateful to you, do not inflict upon others. Everyone understands how this applies in the time we call the present. But not everyone knows that Judaism applies this rule just as surely to the past and to the future. Here's an example: You should not betray the memory and the values of your parents, because you would find it hateful were it done to you. Furthermore, you ought not take the lives of beings that could become humans in the future because you would find it hateful were it done to you. This emphasis on the unity of time is what allows us to always link cause and effect. It insulates us from the seductive lie that everything in life is just random. We must always remember that every instant, along with its events and happenings, is linked to earlier events that brought this one into being. Inevitably today's actions will impact future events in coming moments or coming months. Today we eat because yesterday we acquired skills; we worked, earned, saved, and invested. Today we should conduct ourselves responsibly and wisely because all we do will impact our tomorrows and those of our children. Those of our fellows who hate our Torah attempt to distort it by stripping it of its timelessness. Their utopian dream is to fashion a world in which each moment is a fresh new bubble in which to play. We may have played and danced our youth away while others wisely prepared for life. No matter; the government can (and should) level the playing field. We may have frittered away our health in self-indulgent and self-destructive lifestyles. No matter; the government can (and should) provide all necessary recompense. In this way, each day is viewed anew with nary a glance over our shoulders to inquire as to how we came to this. How utterly appealing. How very seductive. But one day Americans will come to see that abortion is a dramatic and fateful interference in God's plans. They will come to see that it dooms an entire culture and civilization because it helps to sever the link between action and consequence in a particularly brutal and callous way. I hope and pray that this realization comes to our land before we run out of time. If it doesn't come during your time, my precious little girl, it will happen during the time of your children. I believe this because I know that God had everything to do with the founding of America. And I do not believe He will let us destroy ourselves by continuing to destroy our children. God bless you, my child, and may He bless this land of your birth.
With great love, Your Daddy

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