By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. I chose this particular post from a year ago to illustrate a recurring error that must be corrected as often as it occurs: the misrepresentation of —or gross distortion of—a particular faith’s perspective on abortion. In this case, the Jewish community.
Over the years I have described “Get Religion” [getreligion.org] as an invaluable resource, one from which I have learned much and quoted frequently. From our single-issue perspective, one of the tasks it has assumed (and done yeoman work in fulfilling) is explaining the many and myriad ways newspapers mangle the abortion issue.
Today one of their best contributors wrote a piece under the headline, “When covering Jewish views on abortion, don’t forget the Orthodox, U.S. Judaism’s fastest growing branch.”
My point is not to attempt to characterize the “Jewish” view on abortion. As Duin points out, that’s what a piece in USA Today did, under the nasty and biased headline of “Jews, outraged by restrictive abortion laws, are invoking the Hebrew Bible in the debate.”
When USA Today ran a piece last week, suggesting that Christians have misappropriated the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible — for their views on abortion, I took notice.
What I found was an article that quoted the most liberal Jewish voices on these biblical issues while ignoring everyone else.
There is a range of rabbinical opinion on this issue, but you wouldn’t know it from this piece. That’s bad journalism.
Duin documents that last paragraph’s assertion in a very thoughtful—and balanced—manner. If you read the USA Today piece, written by Lindsay Schnell, you would (falsely) conclude a number of things, beginning with the notion that there is essentially a monolithic Jewish view on abortion and that when Christians (and pro-life Jews) quote passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Psalm 139, they are playing fast and loose with the meaning of King David’s Psalm.
Three points from Duin’s superb debunking.
1. “Not one Orthodox Jew is quoted anywhere in this article. That’s quite an oversight, considering how — to quote Pew again — Orthodox Jews are projected to dominate American Jewry by the end of this century,” she writes. “Instead of having abortions, the average Orthodox Jewish woman is having 5.64 kids.
“Instead, we hear from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, not a conservative on the abortion question and hardly a Talmudic scholar, either. A Reform rabbi from Minneapolis, a feminist rabbi in Chicago, the head of the National Council of Jewish Women and a St. Louis-based Planned Parenthood activist — who once had an abortion — are also quoted.”
Even by the usual biased, one-sided coverage of the abortion issue by the major media, this is outrageous.
2. Psalm 139 reads in part
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
A Chicago-based rabbi said this “makes me apoplectic.” According to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, “Most of the proof texts that they’re bringing in for this are ridiculous.”
To which Duin properly responds
“[H]ow is this view of Psalm 139 ‘ridiculous’? It clearly states that the unborn child is a person knit together by God.”
By the way, “I notice, the article only cites one competing piece of scripture,” Duin observes. “It’s hardly like the whole Hebrew Bible is allowing abortion.” And
3. Duin’s conclusion knits her critique together beautifully:
The USA Today piece does reference Tzitz Eliezer, the most lenient rabbinic interpretation of Jewish law, on the topic. But there are far more conservative interpretations that [Ben] Shapiro managed to dig up. So to suggest that America’s Jews are on the warpath about this issue because Christians are stealing their scriptures, is rather simplistic.
Seems to me that the reporter had a thesis in mind, then went and found people and quotes to fit that thesis. Which is OK if you’re doing editorials but not for a news story.
Duin’s final paragraph refers to the distorted picture of the Jewish community’s position on abortion, but in its insistence on balance it could apply to any story on abortion:
Next time, USA Today, approach the Jews who are out there having the most babies and get their read on abortion. I would have liked to have known their point of view
Ben Shapiro’s terrific post, “Yes, Judaism Is Pro-Life,” can be read here.
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