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The Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis of Israel stepped up their campaign against abortion in recent days, sending a letter to local rabbis employing religious arguments to encourage them to dissuade women in their communities from terminating pregnancies.

In their letters to the chief rabbis of several cities, neighborhoods and communities across the country, rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar cited a study conducted two years ago by the non-profit group Efrat showing that 50,000 abortions were carried out annually in Israel - 30,000 of them in violation of government regulations.

According to the rabbis, the data point to "a real epidemic, as tens of thousands of Jewish souls are being lost each year ... In addition to the enormity of the transgression, it is also delaying redemption."

The rabbis attributed no particular significance to the timing of the letter, other than that next week's Torah portion is Shemot (Exodus), a passage describing Hebrew midwives saving male babies from execution on the orders of Pharaoh.

Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen, the department head of WIZO's Status of Women Division, condemned the rabbis' letter Tuesday for "violating the essence and values of the society and country in which we live, which also pays their salaries."