Where you stand on most issues depends on where you sit. It's a truism that dates back far before our polarized age. Women's issues tend to pose this problem with particular clarity; you might say that it's not so much where you sit as what set of organs you sit on. The Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who if confirmed could provide the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, has twisted the volume knob back to "high" on one of the debates that most vividly demonstrates this phenomenon--the debate over abortion. And nowhere is it clearer than in a recent column by an Orthodox rabbi, Shlomo Brody, seeking to reassure rightward-leaning readers that, despite some inconvenient texts, Jewish law cannot be used as a reason to be pro-choice.
Gloria Steinem has famously said that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. This obviously oversimplifies; many of abortion's most passionate opponents have been female, including, notoriously, the Roe of Roe v. Wade. And yet there are few debates whose framing is more dependent on the debaters' identities and assumptions. My new favorite example is the recent Jerusalem Post column by Brody, who offers a thoughtful and scholarly exploration of the ways in which the abortion debate would look different if religious Jews, rather than religious Christians, were conducting it--along with an almost-successful attempt to debunk the idea that the actual answer might come out differently. Just when he's about to close the sale, Brody inadvertently proves yet again that the abortion issue would look totally different if it were debated with women in the room rather than men.
Brody, a doctoral fellow at Bar-Ilan University Law School in Israel and the author of A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates, has been writing about this topic for a while. The Jerusalem Post column condenses a long 2016 piece in The Federalist. He seeks to combat--or at least, as the academics say, to complicate--the argument that Jewish law does not equate abortion with murder and therefore aligns more with the pro-choice than the pro-life position.
"Pro-life" efforts to ban abortion, according to this view, impose a specifically Christian framework on a body of Jewish law to which it is alien. The stakes are high, since by this logic even Orthodox Jews, who trend conservative, should oppose overturning Roe v. Wade--since doing so would remove the protective umbrella that allows different religions to...