Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Killing Doctors Who Perform Abortions: A Jewish Perspective

Dr. George Tiller was murdered, it seems, because he performed abortions. Those who defend such actions justify them by claiming that it is entirely appropriate to kill a person in order to prevent their killing others. Are they right?
It’s important to ask this question, upsetting as it may be, because the fundamental claim (no pun intended) made in defense of Dr. Tiller’s murderer does follow a certain logic, which if correct, might justify the actions of his actions. They claim that killing Tiller saves many lives and is therefore justifiable.
According to Jewish law, the principle which they argue is, in fact correct. It’s called the law of the rodef, or pursuer. Based on a rule found in Exodus 22 and explained by the Babylonian Talmud on page 73a, this law actually demands that one preempt a murderer by killing them before they commit their crime. So again, one might come to the conclusion that the events in Kansas actually have the biblical and religious grounding that supporters of accused murdered, Scott Roeder, claim. They are wrong, at least from the perspective of Jewish law.


Under no circumstances is a fetus considered a human life, according to Jewish law. Ironically, Maimonides, calling a fetus a rodef, uses this law to explain why a baby must be aborted if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. While Jewish law is no fan of abortion, and does not sanction abortion on demand under all circumstances, it is never murder.
Now, I have no expectation or desire to see Jewish law become the law of the land. Nor do I expect to convince radical Christian murderers to change their ways because of a Jewish reading of scripture. But I think that all of us who want to see Dr. Tiller’s murderer prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and even more importantly, bring about an end to such murders, consider the claims made by the murderers. We must, because actually our views are ultimately not so different. Yes, I really mean that.
If we truly believed that abortions were murder, and had the ability to stop someone from performing them, would we not be justified in using all available means to do so? Would we not want someone to do just that if a person was heading off to kill one of our kids?
So how would you respond to someone who genuinely believes that is the case in this case? What arguments can be used to dissuade the future murderers from following a path to what they imagine to be a justifiable homicide and most of us know to be murder?

  • Paul Oakley

    How do you respond to someone who genuinely believes that Taliban-style enforcement of sharia is what God requires? (Isn’t this essentially the same question?)

  • http://Confusion Boruch N. Hoffinger

    Generally there seems to be confusion regarding the requirements of non-Jews vs. Jews.
    The non-Jew is only responsible for The 7 Noahide Laws.

  • Papper

    You are wrong that under no circumstances is a fetus considered a human life. For example, we are mechallel shabbos to save a fetus because of the rule that pekuach nefesh takes precedence over the other laws of the Torah. Also, by way of example, R’ Moshe Feinstein ZT’L wrote in his Igros Moshe that someone who performs an abortion commits the aveira of “Lo Sirtzach”. It may be that a fetus is perhaps not a complete life and therefore the mother’s life takes precedence, but your statement is far too absolute. There may be some minority Jewish views that agree with your views, but you are not expressing the normative Jewish view.
    This is not to say that Judaism condones the murder of abortionists, but your analysis as to why is suspect.

  • Infidel

    George Tiller was assassinated for two reasons. To stop his own (LEGAL) practice AND to alter the behavior of others. That’s why it was an act of Terror.
    So far eight people (mostly doctors) have been slain by our own local version of the Taliban. This was a message for people like me, a volunteer clinic escort like James Barrett, who was killed alongside Dr. John Britton in 1994.
    They are after our freedom. And our lives.
    This is a one sided war. The left has killed no one. The right have killed eight.
    How many more before we do something about it?

  • Larry Lennhoff

    The din of rodef is very clear. It only applies when the murder is in the act of being committed, and it only allows the use of the minimum force necessary to stop the murderer. Since Dr. Tiller was not performing an abortion when he was killed he was not a rodef at that moment. What was done was murder, pure and simple.

  • Zevulun

    Abortion is still a legal medical procedure. That is what I believe is the most important fact here. We cannot function as a civilized society if we don’t submit some authority to well-established laws. If religious fundamentalists don’t like abortion, they have the opportunity to influence lawmakers. More importantly, and perhaps more effectively, they could work with everyone else to make abortions less common. Isn’t that our common goal here?
    By the way, Rabbi, I heard you speak on my favorite radio program, To the Best of our Knowledge. Interesting segment.

  • Your Name

    Abortion is more than a murder,no word can describe the evilness of
    this act.An innosent child without any strenght or power to save
    himself is mercilessly removed and killed by heartless abortionist.
    While a fetus have no strength to make his right of life be heard,
    may a picture of a baby smile is enough to bring light to the minds
    of all women getting pregnant.May all the men and women take responsibility of thier actions,remembering God who have plans and
    purpose to each one of us,abortion is indeed an abomination of God’s wonderful plan,a clear evidence of dishonoring the creator.

  • Your Name

    Abortion is not murder (a fetus is not a person) according to Jewish law? Rabbi, have you examined all aspects of abortion? I am not arguing for the fundamentalist view of all abortions being murder, but against the selfish use of abortion as birth control, not convenient or whatever crude reason people choose for their own irreligious reasoning. Please — look at the horror of late term abortion in its detail. If you cannot call that procedure horrific and inhumane, I would not want your counsel as my rabbi.

  • yochanan

    Rabbi Brad notes that he has “no desire or expectation to see Jewish law become the law of the land.”
    Well and good; but as patriots and good citizens, Jews have the obligation to share what wisdom our tradition may possess with our fellow Americans.
    The only cogent scriptural text is the one in Exodus 21, which recounts an incident when a pregnant woman, caught in the middle of a fight between two men, is struck and miscarries. The culprit pays a monetary fine for his action: if the fetus were considered a full human being, he would have been charged with murder (and if the fetus were worthless, he would get off only with punishment for striking the woman).
    (The stray comment in Jeremiah which is often cited in this controversy is poetry, and thus unactionable hyperbole. For the Hebrew Bible, only legislative material is deemed authoritative, i.e., prescriptive for righteous behavior.)
    In short, the Hebrew Bible takes a “middle view” on this matter, which is the position upheld by Jewish tradition: the fetus is ‘something’ but not a full human being. It has property value and potential as life; but, in and of itself, is not life. And thus, abortion is not murder- it is, at best, a tort issue.
    (Indeed, in Jewish law, when the mother’s life is medically at stake, abortion is not merely allowed, but actually REQUIRED.)
    I would argue that the MAJORITY of Americans, pragmatic as ever, prefer something more along the lines of such a nuanced ‘middle view’ !!
    Part of Christianity’s problem arose when the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Bible) misunderstood the Exodus material, and, in translating it, mangled it. This misreading was then picked up in the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible), which is the text that is doctrinally binding for Catholics- not the original Hebrew spoken by God.

  • Infidel

    Until your “God” shows up and backs up what you fundamentalists put up, I think it’s best to assume for all practical purposes that there is no “God” and work this out amongst ourselves as human beings.
    Abortion is legal as it well should be.
    I will not be cowed by terrorists like Roeder. I’ll shoot back.

  • Your Name

    I am not sure why so many want to play GOD. To state an opinion about any subject is OK. But to sit in judgement is just wrong. You and I are not the ones who will pick who will walk with God in this house. To all the people who wish to tell others about what is going on with their bodies – stop and think.
    Do you really want to tell GOD that you are going to take responsiblity for all those sins that ours committed. Just so you can beable to tell other want they should do with themselves.
    The teachers of the words or laws of GOD was never told to kill all that does not follow them but set a good example. If you in the time of not knowing who is close to God because no one really knows. If any one really want to sit in GOD’s chair and tell GOD how to so his job on a head if you want to be more that the falling one.
    God have always say “That I can make you but I will not make you love me. Yet, I will aways love and be there when you ask of me.” Like a true father he will be the only one who knows all the truths so when death is what you wish on one will you not be wish some type of ill on yourselve. It seem to me that I read read some ware that we all must love even one that wish harm on us.
    I am never sure of any of my whys in my life. But I am sure that I do not want anyone with my sins sence I do not want theirs. Sins and judgment are GOD’s department so why is abortions still being treated like it is a not on the head of the one who choose to look into it. To do or deal will be on their head and not the worlds. Like I said “MY SINS ARE MINES AND YOURS ARE YOURS AND THEIR ARE THIERS. WHY ARE YOU TRING SO HARD TO MAKE ALL SINS YOURS. YES, THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING WHEN YOU SIT IN JUDGMENT ON THE SUBJECT OF abortion.” Beleive in GOD or not you will not be the one to feed the world and if you can why haven’t you done so.

  • Dennis

    God talk is a cop-out from taking full responsibility for our human actions. It is manipulative and deceptive. It is used to silence debate. Women alone should should determine what they allow to grow in their bodies, not men.

  • Christoph Rebner

    Excerpts from the Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal on November 21, 1945, in the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg, Germany, Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States:
    The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.
    Some of the defendants were with it from the beginning. Others joined only after success seemed to have validated its lawlessness or power had invested it with immunity from the processes of the law.
    Some of its purposes would commend themselves to many good citizens, such as .. “raising the standard of health.”

  • Flayer

    Some musings:
    Don’t forget that there is more than one person involved in abortion: the “fetus” who is unable to speak for himself, the father who also has no “rights,” and the medical providers.
    The abortion issue is presented as “choice” for the pregnant woman (can we call her that?) but she has an expectation for others to assist her in her “choice.” She needs the involvement of doctors, nurses, legal systems and often welfare (tax) money.
    What if nearly all doctors and nurses refused to perform abortions? Since it is a “right” would they then be prosecuted?
    Does your “choice” necessarily become my responsibility?

  • Anne

    To all of you concerned about abortion being a religious issue. On what do you base your beliefs, then? I believe that one can be secular or atheist and still be anti-abortion simply on the basis of science that shows a life in the womb, if your beliefs are that life should be protected. If of course you do not believe that life is to be protected, as do many societies, then abortion and other acts may be justified. Perhaps one day someone will find a reason that YOU should be eliminated for everybody’s convenience and since it is LEGAL, then it is correct!

  • Lee

    Exodus 21:22
    If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
    Murder is murder whether it is committed against an unborn child or a baby-killing abortionist. Governments are tasked with making and enforcing the laws to protect the innocent and the defenseless and both Governments and men are held accountable to God for their actions, or their inaction’s.
    Jeremiah 1:5
    Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
    Only God creates life and only God can ordain the taking of life.
    If you knew God then you would know these things.

  • tom

    Didn’t you read Yochanan’s posting?
    It destroys your argument. Or don’t arrogant Bible-thumping fanatics such as yourself care about the truth?
    Next time, at least make an effort to listen to other views, before pontificating on what God does and does not desire!

  • Paul K. Fauteck, Psy.D.

    Lee is quoting the confusing King James version of this scripture and drawing the exact wrong conclusion. Killing the mother is considered murder. Killing the fetus is considered a property crime.
    By definition, murder is killing a human being by another human being, and by definition, a human being is a living organism. A fetus is a potential human being, but not a self-sustaining organism, therefore not a human being. Therefore, terminating its existence is not murder.
    In the past the Christian Church equivocated on this, considering abortion unforgivable only after the fetus was “ensouled,” i.e., after it started to move within the womb. When the Church began to propagate the doctrine that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without sin, it had to revise its doctrine and declare that human life begins at conception. I.e., a fertilized egg is a human being.
    Ironically, since many fertilized eggs never attach to the uterine wall and are flushed down the toilet with the tampon, this doctrine would lead to the conclusion that Our Creator is a mass abortionist.
    I would like to think the best of all sincere believers, no matter how much their religion differs from my own. Yet, one has to suspect that this anti-abortion bandwagon has come about largely because it is a) so profitable and b) so useful as a recruitment tool for conservative forces.

  • Your Name

    Don’t you know that abortion is a very profitable (often cash) business? Pro-life is not profitable and I would argue it actually incurs a net loss financially. Plus it is easier to win over people with the promise that their desires and urges are more important that restraint and responsible behavior. So, no, the pro-life path is more difficult and expensive. Make no mistake: many are motivated by profit in Big Abortion.

  • Lee

    I read Yochanan’s statement and I totally rejected it. I noticed that he did not actually give the scripture, I referenced it so that the readers could see for themselves what it says. In Exodus 22:21, the way that I read it is that; if the death of the child is accidental or incidental then it is treated like manslaughter, but if it is directed and purposeful then it is murder. If you don’t see it that way then that you have your own interpretation and you will have to answer for yourself.
    Who is arrogant here? I was not addressing you, I never called anyone derogatory names and I never stated what God desires. I simply quoted some scripture, gave an opinion and gave the writer a couple of simple facts to think about.

  • Stephen Mendelsohn

    While abortion is not considered exactly the same as murder, the Torah clearly forbids abortion in all but the most extreme of circumstances (e.g., saving the life of the mother) based on Genesis 9:6 which can be translated, “Whoever sheds the blood of a person within a person (adam ba-adam), his blood shall be shed, for in the image of G-d made He man.” Rabbi Ishamel notes in Sanhedrin 57b that adam ba-adam refers to a fetus inside his or her mother. This general prohibition of abortion is among the sheva mitzvot b’nei Noach, incumbent on non-Jews as well. Significantly, unlike the prohibition of murder contained when the same verse is read with the prefix “ba-” as “by” rather than “within,” the punishment for abortion is meted out by G-d Himself and NOT by a human court as is the case for murder. There is no room for vigilantism here!
    Sadly, the effect of this cold-blooded murder has been to harden the hearts of those insensitive to the suffering of fetuses through abortion. So even from a purely practical viewpoint, din rodef does not work here. Better to follow the advice of Beruriah, who told her husband Rabbi Meir that the verse from Psalm 104:35 should be understood that sins (rather than sinners) should disappear from the Earth (Brachot 10a). We should pray and act to ensure that those who do not properly respect the sanctity of life see the light and do teshuvah.

  • Stephen Mendelsohn

    One additional point. While abortion per se is not murder, the procedure the abortion profession calls “intact dilation and extraction” and which critics call “partial-birth abortion” may well be murder according to halacha. According to Mishna Ohalot 7:6, we can dismember a fetus limb by limb if necessary to save the mother’s life, but once the greater part has been born (either the head, or as in this case, the majority of the body), we may not distinguish between one life and the other. This also pertains to induced labor abortions where the baby, now fully outside the body and domain of the mother, actually survives the attempted abortion and unfortunately, is often denied even comfort care and is left to die. This controversy came up in Illinois several years ago, and President Obama’s actions when he was a state senator there repeatedly blocking legislation to save these born alive babies is a good part of what has made him such a lightning rod on the entire abortion issue.

  • Your Name

    It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion destroys human life and is thus, murder. Do you really see a difference between someone murdering your 1 yr. old child at his/her daycare and abortion? The only difference is that you are choosing the abortion yourself (may God have mercy on your soul if you do).
    Why are the recent crimes where a mother is cut open and her baby stolen from her prosecuted as two murders? Because two human lives were taken (in cases where the unborn baby dies). For some reason, our society does not clearly see the truth that an unborn baby and a born child should have the exact same rights. The same rights as you and me.

  • DICKSONLynnette24

    People in all countries get the loan in various creditors, because that’s comfortable.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ruth

    Stay out of it. No one has the right to make a decision for another person. You do not know the circumstances involved. The man who killed Dr Tiller deserves the death penalty. He is not God.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Monk21

    My landlady just delivered a baby at 23 weeks. The baby was just over one lb. The Baby (not fetus) is 10 lbs today and doing fine. To say that the baby was not human is the words of idiots who only want control for selfish reasons.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Monk21

    Stay out of it. No one has the right to make a decision for another person.
    That’s what the Nazis told everyone.

    Read more:

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