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Does life begin at conception, or does Judaism take a different view? At what point does life begin?

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Issac the question seems a little sparse now –  simchastorah Sep 4 '11 at 6:07
    
And leaving the word different and not saying different then what seems odd –  simchastorah Sep 4 '11 at 6:20
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avi thats an answer no? –  simchastorah Sep 4 '11 at 7:03
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@avi I have no such desire, but I'd request sources on principle. –  Isaac Moses Sep 4 '11 at 8:14
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This question seems very vague right now. Who cares when "life" begins, unless there's some practical outcome of having that definition? Surely the classical sources don't talk about "life", even if they do talk about chay or chiyus, and I doubt that even the latter is discussed out of a specific context (though I don't know). I suggest this question be closed or edited to ask "from what point in the ovulation to childhood spectrum does the requirement for shiv'a begin" or "does the chiyuv chinuch begin" or "does the prohibition of murder begin" or the like. –  msh210 Sep 4 '11 at 15:19
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For most halachic purposes, life begins at birth - to be exact, at the emergence of either most of the head for a normal birth, or most of the body if it's a breech birth (Niddah 28a). For that reason, if a pregnancy is endangering the mother's life, an abortion may be performed (see Shalom's answer here), whereas once the head has emerged we may not do so, because that would be outright murder (Sanhedrin 72b).

Generally, though, a baby less than 30 days old is considered possibly non-viable; for that reason, if he dies (G-d forbid) during that time, his parents don't sit shiva for him (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 353:4).

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Beginning at the time an embryo is implanted in the uterus, we have a "potential life." If a woman is pregnant at a very early stage (even between implantation and forty days), Shabbat or Yom Kippur may be broken for the needs of her pregnancy. (Now practically anything that puts the fetus at risk is putting the mother at risk too, as it's far more dangerous for the mother to birth a stillborn than a live child; but the medieval commentaries made it clear that this was even true theoretically, to allow a potential life to come to fruition.)

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You never answered the question. "potential life" is not the same as 'life begins'. –  avi Sep 4 '11 at 9:16
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