The Jewish Observer,

Los Angeles




Q. Does Judaism permit abortions?

A. Judaism regards children as a blessing and procreation as a religious and moral obligation. Through children a couple cement their own relationship and ensure personal and cultural continuity. Through children they enrich the world: who knows whether the child they bring to life may not become a Mozart or an Einstein?

To deny a child the opportunity to live and to take its place in the world is to impoverish the world. Abortion is therefore a vote against the future.

For a woman to claim the right to decide what will happen to her unborn child is the ultimate selfishness: it ignores the potential rights of the child. It is a mark of moral anarchy: has any human the right to assume God’s prerogative to permit or deny life?

Abortion on demand is therefore totally rejected by Judaism. However, the unborn child is not yet a person in the full sense of the word. To destroy it is grave moral offence but not homicide in the technical sense: Rabbi IJ Unterman, a former chief rabbi of Israel, called abortion an “appurtenance to murder”. This choice of words might be debatable, but it recognises the need for terminology capable of characterising abortion as a moral if not a legal wrong.

While Jewish sources agree that there is life in the foetus, it is not identical with the life that comes after birth. Abortion is therefore the destruction not of a life but of a potential life.

For Judaism this is not a theological issue involving the ensoulment of the embryo, which is deemed one of the “secrets of God”, but a technical problem of whether the foetus has an independent legal status.

The consequence is that in certain therapeutic circumstances Jewish teaching permits abortion. The fundamental issue is maternal risk. If there is a proven hazard to the mother’s life or health, including mental health, she has to be safeguarded even if this means destroying the foetus.

The mother has a manifest hold on life: her status is therefore certain in contradistinction to the foetus, which is not yet capable of independent living and may or may not prove to be viable. Some but not all rabbinic authorities regard other genuine maternal needs as acceptable grounds for an abortion.

Likewise, a minority of rabbis allow abortion where there is a high probability of bearing a deformed child, but the majority reject this on the basis that a deformed or abnormal child has a claim to life and can become a useful and loved member of society.


Q. Do the dying have a right to know the truth about their condition?

A. Despite what others do or do not tell them, dying patients often have a reliable feeling about their condition.

But your question asks about a "right" to be informed, and the Jewish criterion is not the patient’s rights but their welfare.

Both truth and peace are fundamental Jewish ethical values, but there can be a time when truth can affect peace, and truth might then not be an absolute requirement.

If the truth may negatively affect the patient and leave them in a state of despair that compromises their will to live, then in the interests of their peace of mind the full details about the seriousness of their condition may be withheld.

"The Medical Ethics Compendium" edited by Rabbi MD Tendler states (5th edition, page 53), "Patients suffering from a fatal illness should not be so informed where there is reasonable indication that such knowledge may further impair their physical or mental health… The patient should be made aware that he is seriously ill but that there is every expectation that he will be healed. Thus the patient, whose intellectual and religious background requires that he ‘set his house in order’, will be forewarned to do so without yielding to pessimism or hopelessness."

Two additional points need to be made:

One – no matter how hopeless the doctors think the case is, they must never give up on a patient. When the Torah says, "v’rappo y’rappeh" – "He shall surely heal" (Ex. 21:19), this obligation continues to the patient’s last breath. A Chassidic teacher refused to pray for one of his followers whose doctor had told him there was no hope; the rabbi said, "The doctor’s duty is to heal, not to despair".

Second – it is unwise for doctors to predict how long the patient still has to live. As Rabbi Tendler says, "such estimates are usually destructive of the defence energies of the patient and his family", as well as generally being unreliable.

If on balance it is considered appropriate to give the patient the full facts of his/her condition, the decision has to be made by doctors and family in consultation, and together they should work out how to convey the news.

Unfortunately it sometimes happens that a doctor gives a patient an unpleasant message in a brusque, brutal way which further undermines the patient’s morale. Giving bad news is one of the hardest things for any doctor to do, and it calls for sensitivity and tact.

Q. Recently I read “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok. Is it true that some Chassidic fathers deliberately ignore their children?

A. There are many types of Chassidim – some of them quite jolly, others rather sombre – but I am not certain that Potok is claiming this as a Chassidic practice, just that a certain fictional father acted in this way.

He might have known a father of this kind, but readers should not generalise from a possibly lone example.

The general Chassidic approach is quite different. They enjoy their children and their family life is warm and exciting – and parents and children certainly talk to one another.

Some people who have no sympathy with Chassidism have the rather dangerous attitude that anything and everything can be blamed on Chassidim.

--Dr. Raymond Apple, Jerusalem, Israel


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EXTENDED VACA   25 Av-1 Elul, 5779                                   Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2019 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES --  628th Web Ed.






SACRAMENTO – Gov. Newsom recently established the DMV Strike Team just days after taking office. Following through on his commitment to improve and revamp the way the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does business, Governor Gavin Newsom today released the DMV Strike Team report and announced new leadership for the department.

The report makes recommendations on ways the department can improve going forward with an emphasis on transparency, worker training and performance, speed of service and overall consumer satisfaction. In January, just days after taking office, Newsom announced a DMV Reinvention Strike Team, to be led by Government Operations (GovOps) Secretary Marybel Batjer. The Strike Team was charged with comprehensively reviewing the department’s operations and to make recommendations to the Governor within six months for new long-term leadership and reform at DMV.  The Strike Team’s report also outlines significant progress that has already been made at the DMV, which includes:

Decrease in Wait Times: Overall wait times for DMV customers have decreased by 58 minutes from August 2018 to May 2019 in the DMV’s largest offices. In August 2018, 16 percent of customers had a wait time of more than two hours and in May 2019 that number was 0.005 percent of customers. In addition, customers waiting one hour or less improved from 58.5 percent in August 2018 to 87 percent in May 2019.

Credit Cards: The Department entered into a contract to bring credit cards to DMV field offices. The project will start with the first pilot at the Davis DMV by the end of September. The pilot will be followed in October by three additional locations – Fresno, Victorville, and Roseville – before expanding to all 172 field offices.

Pop-Ups: The Strike Team and the DMV have held two “pop-up” DMVs at major California businesses to allow several hundred business travelers to get their REAL ID without going to a field office.  

Better Access to Mobile Kiosks: The Strike Team has helped the DMV add 100 new remote kiosks that will be in place by the middle of August 2019 and another 100 by the end of the year in strategic locations.   

Improved Staff Training: The Strike Team organized “Operation Excellence: DMV Training” day for July 24, 2019. On that morning, all DMV field offices will be closed for comprehensive employee training on REAL ID procedures.

The governor also announces new DMV leadership team which will implement the recommendations made by the Strike Team.

Steve Gordon, 59, of San Jose, has been appointed director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Gordon was a managing partner at zTransforms from 2017 to 2019, vice president of global service operations, Becton, Dickinson and Company from 2015 to 2017 and principal consultant at SteveOnService from 2012 to 2015. He was co-founder of MySeatFinder from 2008 to 2012, vice president of technical services at Cisco Systems from 1993 to 2011, a network engineer at Northwest Airlines from 1989 to 1993 and a systems engineer for EDS from 1984 to 1989. He was an auditor for the County of San Diego from 1983 to 1984. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $186,389. Gordon is registered without party preference.   

Kathleen Webb, 60, of Sacramento, has been appointed chief deputy director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Webb has been acting director of the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2019. She was director of performance improvement at the Government Operations Agency from 2017 to 2019, where she served as assistant secretary for innovation and accountability from 2015 to 2017. Webb was chief risk and compliance officer for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2012 to 2015. She held multiple positions at California Correctional Health Care Services, including director of policy and risk management from 2010 to 2012 and chief of strategic planning and policy from 2009 to 2012. Webb was deputy director of the Interagency Support Division at the Department of General Services from 2008 to 2009 and director of the Governor's Office of the Insurance Advisor from 2006 to 2008. Webb is a member of the California Center for Civic Participation and the California Prison Health Care Receivership. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $172,356. Webb is registered without party preference.   

Anita Gore, 61, of Dixon, has been appointed deputy director of communications at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Gore has been a communications consultant at the California Department of Public Health since 2016. She was deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs at the California Department of Public Health from 2011 to 2016 and deputy director of the External Affairs Department at the California State Board of Equalization from 2004 to 2011. Gore was public affairs director for the California Department of Conservation in 2004, assistant director of communications at the California Department of Finance from 2002 to 2004 and assistant secretary of external affairs for the California Health and Human Services Agency from 1994 to 2002. Gore was deputy director of communications for the California Employment Development Department from 1991 to 1994 and assistant press secretary in the Office of the Governor from 1990 to 1991. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $160,008. Gore is a Republican.

Cynthia Moreno, 35, of Sacramento, has been appointed assistant deputy director of communications at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Moreno has been a creative content producer for the California State Assembly since 2018. She was communications director for the California State Senate from 2017 to 2018 and capitol political correspondent for the McClatchy Company from 2012 to 2017, where she was a general assignment reporter from 2010 to 2012. Moreno was a news reporter for Telemundo in 2015, a special assignment reporter for Azteca America from 2010 to 2012 and communications director at the Community Water Center from 2009 to 2010. She was breaking news, features and political reporter for the Daily Californian from 2007 to 2009. Moreno is a member of the Capitol Correspondents Association of California, the Sacramento Press Club and the California Latino Capitol Association. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $120,000. Moreno is a Democrat.

C. David Johnson, 36, of West Sacramento, has been appointed deputy director of legislation at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Johnson has been legislative director at the Department of Toxic Substances Control since 2016. He was legislative director in the Office of Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas from 2014 to 2016. Johnson was deputy legislative counsel in the Office of Legislative Counsel from 2011 to 2014, an assembly fellow in the Office of Assemblymember Steven Bradford from 2010 to 2011 and a student legal intern at Morgan Stanley Japan Securities Co., Ltd in 2010. Johnson was a law student counselor at the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic in 2009 and a summer associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in 2009 and at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP in 2008. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a Master of Arts degree in government and politics from St. John’s University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $140,004. Johnson is a Democrat.