“I can’t imagine bringing my child into this world without being able to provide him with a bed to sleep in,” the woman tearfully explained to an EFRAT volunteer.
The volunteer was horrified. “It is unthinkable,” she said, “that a life will be lost for lack of a crib.”
On Saturday, in synagogues around the world, the weekly portion from Exodus will be read. This portion features the incredible dedication of the first recorded Jewish midwives, named Shifra and Puah. Driven by desperation, Pharaoh commanded the two women to kill all the newborn Jewish boys. Displaying remarkable personal commitment they defied the decree, not only by helping the women give birth, but by nurturing and sustaining all the newborn babies.
This time of year has therefore been designated within the Jewish calendar, as an opportunity to highlight the value of bringing a life into the world. This month, the Chief Rabbis of Israel wrote a letter to all community leaders worldwide. The letter is an appeal to raise public awareness of the value of each life and to highlight that according to Jewish law, a fetus is considered a living being. See translated letter below.
Each year approximately 40,000 terminations are carried out in Israel, many due to socio-economic difficulties. EFRAT, an Israel based non-profit organization, provides women with the necessary support to allow them to have their babies.
EFRAT has been carrying out life-saving work since it was founded in the 1950’s by Mr. Herschel Feigenbaum, a survivor of the Holocaust. Mr Feigenbaum understood that children are our future and in memory of the over one and a half million Jewish children who perished, he founded EFRAT. Dr Eli Schussheim, formally a senior surgeon, has made this dream a reality, leading the organization for over 37 years. To date there are over 64,000 EFRAT babies.
EFRAT provides critical support to women who face a pregnancy in difficult socio-economic circumstances. Due to these constraints, countless women feel that their only option is to terminate their pregnancy. With emotional, financial and medical support, women feel empowered to make the choice to have their babies. Financial aid is provided in the form of immediate practical support. This includes supplying new mothers with a crib, stroller, baby bath, a set of clothing and basic equipment on the baby’s arrival. Packages of diapers, formula and food for the family are provided throughout the first two years of the baby’s life.
Additionally, EFRAT volunteers assist women on a daily basis with a listening ear and emotional support. They help women to exercise their rights and find ways to improve their difficult circumstances.
To learn more about EFRAT’s vital work please visit their website www.efrat.info.il/english/
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel
57764 Teves th
16th December 2015
Greetings to Rabbis and community leaders worldwide,
Over the years, many have used the weekly portion of Exodus as an opportunity to highlight the value of bringing children into the world. In contrast, it is a time to emphasize the prohibition of terminating a pregnancy without Rabbinic sanction.
Unfortunately, in recent times, public awareness of this has decreased. It is therefore crucial to bring this to the public’s attention and to clarify that according to Jewish law, a fetus is considered a living being. The Rabbis interpret the biblical verse ”He who sheds the blood of man, in man.” by asking the following question. Who is the man within the man? The answer given: This is a fetus in its mother’s womb.
The right of a fetus to live does not compare to a mother’s right to live. In circumstances where a fetus is endangering the life of the mother, there is a duty for a Rabbi to prioritize a mother’s life over that of the fetus. However, when the mother’s life is not in danger, there is no dispensation which permits ending the fetus’s life.
Efrat is a leading organization that has taken on the responsibility to champion this cause. With Dr Eli Schussheim at its head, Efrat can testify to thousands of lives that have been saved as a result of their work.
This week, we appeal to all Rabbis to highlight the importance of preventing unnecessary terminations. In their speeches, they should emphasize the tremendous dedication of the Jewish midwives in their goal to save babies. They should also point out that Efrat is able to provide further information as required and will be happy to give any guidance on the issue that may be helpful.
In a call to save lives,
David Lau Yitzchak Yosef
Chief Rabbi of Israel Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel