There was no blessing for this heart-wrenching act, so Erika and I created one:
ברוכה את רחאמאמה שעוזרת לנו לבחור חיים.
Blessed are you Mercy Mother who helps us choose life.
The blessing is a reference to the Book of Deuteronomy’s transcendent line: “I have put before you today life and death, blessing and curse, now choose life.”
But what is the meaning of this word, life, that Jews wear on their chests in necklaces, give gifts in the numerical equivalent of its letters, raise their glass to, pride themselves on sanctifying? What do we actually mean by “life?”
I learned deep lessons about this from my wife, Erika during what was probably our most challenging episode to date, when we found out that one of the twins she was carrying had a genetic abnormality called Trisomy 18.
She tells the story far better than me in the essay she published about it in 2020. It describes the process that led us to undergo a selective abortion, a procedure in which one of two or more fetuses is terminated in utero. The decision was hard. It was personal. It touched upon the deepest notions of what is important in this life, what we live for, whether a reason or a purpose exists. It took me into the Jewish tradition and out its back door to the fields beyond it where a soul is a soul and a man stands alone in front of his god. It was one of those times when knowledge and ideas disappear, and answers are found in the eyes of those we love. You can read Erika’s beautiful piece HERE.
The Jewish tradition did confirm some of my instincts during the process. The Talmud, reflecting on a verse from this week’s Parashah, makes clear that a person is only considered a person once they are born. You cannot, according to Jewish law, murder a fetus, no matter the stage of the pregnancy, because a fetus is not a human being: until the baby’s head emerges the fetus is not considered a soul, but part of its mother’s body. פשיטא, גופא הוא. “It’s simple,” says the Talmud, “it’s her body.”
That doesn’t mean abortions are desirable under Jewish law. Pregnancy is sacred. It does, however mean that other considerations may enter the playing field. It means that a danger to the woman trumps any considerations for the fetus. In our case it meant that the safety of…