Controversial Non-profit to Receive Jerusalem Prize |

Leading Israeli Rabbi Blasts Anti-abortion Group Efrat for 'Irresponsible' Language

Rabbi Benny Lau says the organization interprets rabbinical law as 'Catholic law'; the non-profit's activities have stirred controversy in the wake of revelations about its methods following the tragic death of teenager Raz Atias in October 2012.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Religious Zionist rabbi Benny Lau has launched a scathing attack on the Israeli anti-abortion organization Efrat and its supporters within the establishment. The non-profit is supposed to receive the Jerusalem Prize on Monday.

“We are all fighting extreme permissiveness but there is an embrace here by the religious and nationalists as though ‘We are all Efrat,’" Lau said. "There is no more complexity, there is no more discussion. We have become shallow, Republicans, Catholics and Jews.”

Lau serves as the rabbi of Jerusalem's Ramban Congregation and is also a fellow of the Israel Democracy Institute.

The rabbi's attack came as Efrat and its head, Dr. Eli Schussheim, was due to receive the Jerusalem Prize, an annual award by the right-wing weekly Basheva, which sponsors the Jerusalem Conference. The prize is the latest in a series of enthusiastic public pronouncements in support of the association.

The. Atias was killed in a shootout with police when they stopped him and his pregnant girlfriend committing suicide together.

Last week, Israel's chief rabbis expressed enthusiastic support for the organization’s initiatives in “making the wider public aware of the extreme seriousness involved in killing fetuses, which is like actual murder.”

To protest against today's prize, feminist activists are planning to demonstrate outside the Jerusalem Conference.

According to Lau, the statements about abortion being the same as murder “are irresponsible with respect to human distress. Rabbis everywhere, from every stream of Judaism, have known how to weigh considerations of the life of the fetus against the life of the mother, the life of the family and the psychological circumstances. There are systemic considerations, and the slogan ‘Abortion is Murder’ is neither rabbinical law nor Judaism. It has become fashionable, there is no alternative and if you are pious and Zionist, then there is no question at all.”

As for the organization’s contention that it provides help to women who are worried they will not be able to financially afford to raise a baby, Lau said: “That’s a quarter true. The statement, first of all, has to be that abortion, in certain circumstances, is not murder. The language has to be refined.

"There are enough situations in which women are in terrible kinds of distress, or there is something badly wrong with the fetus," he said. "The statement ‘Abortion is murder’ is not legitimate. I understand the motivation to fight against extreme liberalism, but a lack of balance is very dangerous to the social structure. A religious society is obligated to take things in a balanced way. The Efrat association does not have this balance; there is no balance. Taking our Torah in the direction of Christian Catholic canon law is a terrible mistake.”

Dudu Saada, director general of the Basheva group and the Jerusalem Conference, defended the award. “It is true there have been great, heroic and excellent rabbis in the State of Israel who permitted abortions, and far be it from me to say this is forbidden.

"I am talking about the case of there being women who are experiencing economic distress, and they want to terminate a pregnancy because of that. In this way we gain another child for the Jewish people. Thousands of pictures of children on the walls of the Efrat offices show the beauty of the association. We think they are deserving of an award because, to the extent there is a woman who wants the child and is eager for a child, and she has an economic problem, there an organization here that provides her with everything she needs - from a crib to formula. They say about us that we are turning a woman’s womb into a tool. That’s disgraceful. If that is how they are talking, it’s the women’s organizations that are objectifying a woman’s body.”

Dr. Eli Schussheim, the founder and director of Efrat, responded: “Efrat has never claimed that abortion is murder and has never used that expression.”

Rabbi Benny Lau.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
An ad for Efrat reads, 'About to have an abortion? Stop! You don't end a life because of money.'Credit: Moti Milrod

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