NEW YORK (JTA) — Israel’s chief rabbis were blasted for a public statement decrying abortion in Israel.
In a letter circulated last week to rabbis on the state payroll, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger wrote that abortion "delayed the redemption." They also wrote that most abortions in Israel were "unnecessary" and were "against Jewish law," according to reports.
Amar and Metzger related their stance to the week’s Torah portion, Shmot, which recounts the biblical tale of two Hebrew midwives who ignored an order by pharaoh to kill all the male babies in Egypt.
They cited a study claiming that 30,000 out of the 50,000 abortions carried out in Israel each year violated government regulations.
Metzger told the Jerusalem Post that high birthrates among Jews should be encouraged as a way of responding to an unspecified demographic threat.
"I am sorry to say that our enemies are multiplying," Metzger was quoted as saying.
Women’s rights groups condemned the rabbis for seeking to prevent women from their right to choose.
Irit Rosenblum, head of New Family, an organization fighting to prevent religious influence in marital and birth issues, told the Jerusalem Post that the rabbinate’s initiative constituted a blatant intervention by men in women’s decisions regarding their bodies.
"You have a bunch of men who do not allow women to participate in their gatherings who are telling women what to do with their bodies," she was quoted as saying. "Why are they interfering? Do they think a woman does not know how to decide on her own what she does with her body?"
Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen, who heads the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s Status of Women Division, chided the rabbis in Haaretz Tuesday for "violating the essence and values of the society and country in which we live, which also pays their salaries."