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Abortion has been in the news recently, and I would like to know what the Tanakh has to say on the matter. While I don't believe that the Torah in particular or the Tanakh in general addresses abortion by name, what passages from the Tanakh are used in discussions of this matter?

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  • @rosends I'm asking specifically for what's said in the Torah/Tanakh, not what sources outside the Tanakh say.
    – The Editor
    Jun 14 at 17:19
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    The Torah describes the financial compensation for destroying a woman's fetus. We see it's considered related to the laws of damages, yet the one who did it isn't liable to the death penalty. Although it could be dependant on what his intent was.
    – robev
    Jun 14 at 17:24
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    @TheEditor yes and that answer begins with a biblical verse.
    – rosends
    Jun 14 at 17:27
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    Apologies, everyone. I hope the question is clearer now.
    – The Editor
    Jun 14 at 23:56

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The key passage here as far as halacha is concerned is Exodus 21:22. Very important to get use an accurate translation here (this is Metzudah's):

וְכִֽי־יִנָּצ֣וּ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְנָ֨גְפ֜וּ אִשָּׁ֤ה הָרָה֙ וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א יִהְיֶ֖ה אָס֑וֹן עָנ֣וֹשׁ יֵעָנֵ֗שׁ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָשִׁ֤ית עָלָיו֙ בַּ֣עַל הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֖ן בִּפְלִלִֽים׃

If men will fight and they strike a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry, but there is no fatal injury [to the woman], he [the guilty one] is to be punished with a [monetary] penalty when the husband demands compensation. He shall pay as determined by the judges. וְאִם־אָס֖וֹן יִהְיֶ֑ה וְנָתַתָּ֥ה נֶ֖פֶשׁ תַּ֥חַת נָֽפֶשׁ׃ However if there is a fatal injury, you shall give [up] a life for a life.

The Talmud also references Genesis 9:6, as an additional level of interpretation. (It's totally lost in the English, as ba'adam can mean "by a human" or "inside a human.")

As Moses was the highest Jewish prophet, halacha gives the first five books absolute primacy on Jewish law. No future prophet or prophecy can contradict it. THUS, later books in Tanach may provide context to the existing laws, but not create new ones.

Some Christians (and recently, some Jews who've decided to throw in with their camp) will point to non-legal verses later in Tanach, like King David saying in Psalms "God you took care of me when I was in my mother's belly", or similar language in Jeremiah. Halachic Judaism views all of those as unable to override the law given in Exodus -- nice figurative expressions of importance, but not law.

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  • Thanks for your reply. Contrary to what some say, I agree that figurative language should be read in light of more pertinent passages. In light of Genesis 9:6, would the general principle be that abortion is prohibited? And in light of Exodus 21:22, would negligent death to the fetus be regarded as less severe than negligent death to the mother? It does appear that the fetus is still called a "child" (yeled), so perhaps it's similar to how the negligent death of a slave is less severe than the death of others per Exodus 21:29-32, yet both slave and master are living persons. Is this correct?
    – The Editor
    Jun 15 at 22:16
  • Also, your reference to Genesis 9:6 gave me another question, posted here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/129713/…
    – The Editor
    Jun 16 at 13:24
  • @TheEditor at face value, the Talmud implies that Genesis is addressed to all humans, but Exodus only to Jews; thus the penalty is greater for non-Jews than Jews. At least that's how many read it. But yes, Exodus is saying loss of the fetus is less than loss of the mother. (In any case where a death penalty might have been at stake, there is no monetary penalty.) Fetus is less than slave: a master who kills is a murderer, the verse says "it shall be avenged"; the exemption is for a miscalculated beating. With a fetus, Exodus seems to be saying as long as mom is alive, there is no murder here.
    – Shalom
    Jun 17 at 1:07

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