Rabbi Chanoch Teller makes quite a spectacle when he travels with his family. The Orthodox Jewish scholar and author has 18 children-enough to fill three full rows in coach. Once, Teller was traveling with 16 of his offspring, the girls in matching dresses, the boys in matching suits. While changing planes in Frankfurt, Teller noticed a German woman gaping.
"Are all of these your children?" the woman asked. "From one wife?"
"Yes, God has blessed me with all these children," the rabbi replied.
"Haven't you heard about the population problem?" the woman sniffed. "How many more children do you want to have?"
Rabbi Teller paused and looked the woman in the eye: "About 6 million," he said.
The story illustrates a crucial point with respect to Jews and the abortion debate: Hitler's henchmen murdered 6 million Jews, including 1.8 million children, giving their survivors and descendants what conservative commentator and author Michael Medved calls "a unique witness to the importance of life."
Sadly, though, most American Jews are pro-abortion, mainly muting what could be a powerful voice in the fight to save the unborn.
"What's horrifying is the idea that we would voluntarily consign other Jewish children to nonexistence, particularly only one generation after the Holocaust," Medved said. The abortion debate "is an area where Jewish people must get involved."
Medved and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, an educational organization advocating traditional Judeo-Christian values, are among a number of Orthodox Jews who are taking that message forward. Both often speak to evangelical pro-life groups, to multi-faith groups, and to Jewish groups willing to hear them.
Only about 15 percent of America's 7 million Jews are Orthodox, meaning they believe God gave the Torah to Moses 3,300 years ago on Mt. Sinai as a binding message to humanity. "Those who believe that know that, according to Jewish law, abortion is completely prohibited" except to save the life of the mother, said Lapin.
But most Jews in the United States have adopted a new faith Lapin calls "secular fundamentalism," which holds as a key doctrine abortion-on-demand. Their sentiments play out politically, explaining presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's popularity among Jews: He supports Israel, yes. But he is also "pro-choice."
Secularized Jews have proven very susceptible to the pro-abortion argument, Lapin said-that "it's only a short skip from denying women their 'reproductive rights' to denying Jews any rights at all."
Jewish opposition to the pro-life movement is also based in part on opposition to Christian conservatism. "The left has managed to convince Jews that evangelical Christians are a bigger threat to them than frenzied and fanatical Muslims," Lapin said. "If evangelicals oppose abortion, the thinking goes, then defending abortion must be the right Jewish thing to do."
In a May 2006 statement, the liberal American Jewish Congress (AJC) inched toward Christian conservatives, recognizing "increasing common ground" between evangelicals and Jews on issues such as support for Israel. But AJC also noted a "growing divergence" between the two groups on social issues and vowed emphatically to fight all attempts to outlaw abortion.
Lapin said evangelicals can have an effective pro-life dialogue with secular Jews if they can demonstrate the cultural collapse that follows when a civilization popularizes abortion. Evangelicals "have to go out with the message that whether you are religious or not, if you are an American, you have a stake in the future vitality of American society," he said. "Abortion undermines that, steering us toward a satanic abyss from which there is no escape for anyone."
Orthodox Jews like Lapin are making inroads by helping Jews examine the consequences of a secular fundamentalist America. "I tell them, you've really got to ask yourself, do you want an America in which young males are raised never knowing their fathers, never having been exposed to the phrase 'thou shalt not'? Or do you want an America that has returned to its founding vision of 20 centuries of Judeo-Christian law and morality?" Lapin said. "As soon as they see it in stark terms that have to do with their children's and grandchildren's futures, they see that saving the unborn is saving all our futures."