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Israel's chief rabbis back anti-abortion group: 'Killing fetuses is murder'

Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger issue letter of support for Efrat organization, which works to prevent abortions in Israel; letter follows a tragic shooting last year to which Efrat was indirectly linked.

A sign by the anti-abortion group Efrat in Tel Aviv.
A sign by the anti-abortion group Efrat in Tel Aviv. / Photo by Moti Milrod
By Yair Ettinger
Published 21:58 02.01.13

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Israel’s chief rabbis Wednesday issued a letter of support for the Efrat organization, which works to prevent abortions in Israel and has recently been the focus of public controversy.

In their letter to synagogue and community rabbis, Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger said “we see great importance in the work of the Efrat association to save the lives of Jewish children; over its 30 years of activity, tens of thousands of fetuses were saved, and in the past year alone, the lives of 4,000 children were saved.”

This is not the first time the chief rabbis have expressed support for Efrat; in recent years, they have adopted the custom of issuing a letter of support during the week that congregations read the Torah portion of Shemot, which describes the Egyptian murder of Jewish newborns and the efforts made by two midwives to save them. Some synagogues make appeals on behalf of Efrat on this Shabbat.

This time, however, the rabbis’ letter follows a tragic shooting last year to which Efrat was indirectly linked. In October, 18-year-old Raz Attias was killed in a shootout with police, who were trying to prevent him from carrying out his plan to commit suicide with his girlfriend after the couple found out she was pregnant. The young woman’s family later claimed she had been pressured by volunteers from Efrat to forgo an abortion. Efrat vehemently denied ever having contacted the girl.

The rabbis’ letter issued Wednesday uses much stronger language than in the past. Last year the rabbis wrote they were working to “encourage births among the Jewish people and to prevent unnecessary abortions.” This year they called for “making the wider public aware of the extreme seriousness involved in killing fetuses, which is like actual murder.”

The letter also expresses support for Schussheim, whom they describe as “the noted physician who works unceasingly to save the lives of fetuses.” The Chief Rabbinate Council maintains a committee that works with Schussheim to try to reduce the number of abortions.

In the letter, the rabbis instructed the marriage departments in the country’s religious councils to continue distributing the booklet “For a Happy Marriage” that was produced by Efrat, due to “its great importance and necessity.” They also wrote that “every rabbi who holds a conference on abortion or birth, or acts on this issue in any forum, should invite Efrat chairman Dr. Eli Schussheim to participate in the event, or consult with him as the country’s leading expert in this field, since it has been proved that [the organization] actually saves lives."

A demonstration is being organized against next week’s Jerusalem Conference and the weekly Besheva to protest their awarding of the Jerusalem Prize to Schussheim, Efrat’s founder and director. By Wednesday evening, more than 400 people had gone to the demonstration’s Facebook page and pledged to attend next Monday’s protest.

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