`The ban on abortion is not absolute'

An article in the journal, `Tehumin' claims that most halakhic arbiters permit abortion when the fetus is expected to have a severe illness.

Ostensibly, it is a well-known fact that halakha (Jewish religious law) objects to abortions, even if the infant that will be born will have a severe illness or be mentally retarded. For that reason, many religiously observant parents do not undergo genetic testing. If such tests were done and there was a chance of a baby being born with a serious illness, they would not abort.

But, is that really halakha? An article that appears in the latest volume of the halakhic journal, Tehumin, argues to the contrary: "Most poskim [halakhic arbiters] in our generation have permitted the aborting of a fetus, even when there is no danger to the mother." The author of the article, Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel, a former mashgiah ruhani (spiritual mentor) at the Sha'alabim hesder yeshiva, argues, "It is incorrect to state unequivocally and authoritatively that the ban [on abortion] is absolute," and that in a case of a disagreement among poskim, it is appropriate in this case to follow those with a permissive approach.

Among the prominent poskim who in certain cases permitted aborting a fetus that will develop a severe illness is the late head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli - who permitted abortion due to the great anguish that may lie ahead for the parents "who will see the fruit of their womb suffering and living a life that is not a life"; a former member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg and the head of the Institute of Halacha and Technology, Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin.

The article, which will certainly prompt quite a bit more controversy, appeared in the 25th volume of Tehumin. The journal is published by the Tsomet Institute of Science and Torah headed by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen. The articles featured in it deal primarily with how halakha copes with contemporary issues. So, for example, one article in the current issue discusses the status of a married woman who maintains virtual romantic ties over the Internet with men abroad, has exchanged intimate pictures with them, but has never seen them in person. Rabbi Yoel Lerner, of the Beit Ariel Kollel in Jerusalem rules that with all his reservations regarding the woman's actions, there is no cause here for compelling a divorce with no alimony.

Have the articles that appeared in Tehumin influenced the world beyond that of halakhic debate? The editor of the journal for the last 20 years, Rabbi Uri Dasberg, says the subject of prenuptial agreements intended to ensure the consent of both spouses to a divorce if necessary, was first broached in Tehumin. Only recently has it become official policy in broad swaths of the national religious population.

In the current volume, two rabbis consider whether it is permissible to search for the body parts of the six men killed when their armored personnel carrier was blown up along the Philadelphi route in the Gaza Strip around a year ago. During the search, another two soldiers were killed. One rabbi is the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, a leading national religious rabbi and the other is the head of the Yamit Hesder Yeshiva in Neveh Dekalim, Rabbi Yehuda Zoldan.

"I don't know on what basis they permitted endangering soldiers for the purpose of bringing their comrades to burial, or permitted desecrating the Sabbath for their sake," writes Rabbi Ariel. According to him, "endangering human life and desecrating the Sabbath were not found to be permitted for the purpose of burying the dead - it seems we have exaggerated with regard to respect for the dead to the point where we are endangering life for them." Rabbi Zoldan writes that "we must educate and change the threshold values among soldiers and the public atmosphere toward an awareness that human life is more important than burying than dead."

Who is not a Jew

The Interior Ministry's Population Registry makes it very difficult for non-Jews - spouses of Israelis, relatives of new immigrants, children of foreign laborers and others - to obtain status in Israel. A review of the immigration statistics of recent years only makes it harder to understand this policy.

"Over the last two years," Absorption Ministry spokesman Tamar Abramowitz, told Haaretz, "two-thirds of the immigrants under the age of 49 are not Jews." Between 1989-2000 the number of non-Jewish immigrants stood at 30 percent. This decade, in comparison, some 48 percent of the immigrants are not Jewish.

The Central Bureau of Statistics provided Haaretz with similar figures, only more detailed. Between 2000 and 2003, the number of non-Jews among immigrants from the CIS rose from 55 percent to 58 percent. Among those aged 0-19, the number of non-Jews rose from 63 percent to 65 percent and among those aged 20-44, the number rose from 64 percent to 68 percent.

The percentage of Jews is relatively high among those aged 60 and above. However, from 2000 to 2003, the percentage of Jews among this group dropped from 80 percent to 73 percent. Incidentally, during that same time the number of immigrants from the CIS dropped from 33,600 to 12,400. And another interesting figure is: the number of non-Jews among the total number of immigrants (48 percent) is not much lower than the percentage among immigrants from the CIS.

One of the clear conclusions that should be drawn from these numbers is that the Law of Return during a time of considerable assimilation is no longer just a law that enables Jews to immigrate, but also primarily a law that provides preference to relatives of Jews.

The secret of the missing document

Is it possible that the State Prosecutor's Office will inform the court with great determination that there are no longer any protocols relating to a legal case and then after much delay find another protocol? Perhaps. And is it possible that when the prosecutor's office is asked to explain the case of the protocol that is no longer lost, it will respond that "this was done by mistake"? It most certainly can happen.

This refers to the fight being waged by residents of Jerusalem's Ramat Denya neighborhood against the construction of a large commercial center at the entrance to their neighborhood. The developer building the mall is businessman Benny Nehemiah, a member of the Likud Central Committee. The plan that granted him considerable extra building rights was approved in 1997 when Minister Ehud Olmert was the mayor of Jerusalem and another plan that granted Nehemiah other perks was approved in 2004. Nehemiah was also granted the right to use, free of charge, municipal land for parking for the mall.

The residents, who are represented by attorney Gilad Barnea, submitted an administrative petition to Jerusalem District Court and were rejected. The court ruled that there is indeed a need for parking that will also serve the Hapoel Jerusalem soccer field in Malha. Barnea appealed to the Supreme Court.

During the District Court hearings, Barnea asked the state to reveal the protocols of hearings in the district planning and construction committee. The state replied "that all the protocols that are in the hands of the district committee were transferred to the appellants." However, recently, someone at the State Prosecutor's Office, attorney Eran Ettinger, forwarded a protocol to Barnea and noted that there was some doubt at the State Prosecutor's Office whether this protocol had been given to Barnea at the earlier time.

Barnea claims that "the significance of these events is that the respondents concealed from the court and the appellants the existence of crucial documents that may help the appellants - by hiding their existence and presenting a statement to the court that is not truthful."

The legal adviser of the Jerusalem district planning and construction committee, attorney Gadi Rubin writes in response that, "at the time I personally conducted a search of the file to ensure that all of the relevant documents were indeed handed over. No document was concealed from the court and attorney Barnea's comment on this matter is out of place." Attorney Ettinger, however, says in his response to the court that "this is an unprecedented besmirching of civil servants."

The Interior Ministry was not available for comment.