Author Archives: Francesca Lunzer Kritz

Francesca Lunzer Kritz

About Francesca Lunzer Kritz

Francesca Lunzer Kritz is a freelance health-care writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Self, and other national publications.

Naming a Daughter

Reprinted with permission from


,The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Checking the clock to be sure that Torah reading had already taken place that Thursday morning (which would mean that while I was in the hospital, just hours after my daughter’s birth, my husband had been called to the Torah to name our first child) I called my mother to tell her my first baby’s name.

Sharing Her Name With Family

“We’ve called her Dina,” I said, excited. “Lovely,’’ said my mother, but nothing else. “Dina, her name is Dina,” I tried again. “Yes, I heard you, it’s a lovely name,’’ my mother replied. “Mom’’, I said, this time somewhat exasperated, “Her name is Dina, for your mother.’’ “Oh,’’ my mother said, “that’s very nice, but my mother’s name was Henia Dina.’’ I knew that. In fact I had wanted to call our daughter Henia Dina, but my husband didn’t like the Henia part–too old-fashioned sounding, he said. So, for Dina’s second name, we settled on Hadara, the feminization of the Hebrew word for etrog, to reflect her Sukkot birthday. When we came up with the compromise, with me lying on the couch wondering exactly how late a first baby could come, I was delighted that I’d be able to please both my husband and my mother.

Identity and Naming

And, I hope I did. My mother didn’t mention the truncated name again and lovingly called her Dina for the almost five years they adored each other. Naming a child is no easy feat. In a single name that can be no longer than the blocks offered on identification forms, parents need to pay homage to ancestors, fashion an identify for a child younger than the milk in their fridge, determine whether the name should declare their commitment to Zionism, or to American pop culture, and try hard to come up with something that won’t get the attention of the schoolyard bullies.

Actually, Dina was not my first choice. My grandmother died forty years ago, and at least two other girls were named for her. I did want our branch of the family to claim a Dina too, but I very much wanted to name a daughter Rachel, for my Aunt Rochelle who died in her 90’s. Not just because no child had been named for her and not just because she had had no grandchildren of her own, but because she, though a decade gone before I became engaged, had a role to play in my deciding to marry my husband.

The “Abortion Pill”

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week (September 27, 2000).

How do Jews and how does Judaism view the recent approval of Mifeprex, a drug combination that can replace surgical abortion in many women? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

Mifeprex, popularly called RU-486, can be used to terminate pregnancies for up to 49 days, counting from the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period. A woman first takes 600 miligrams of mifepristone, which reduces the hormonal stimulation of the fetus, and then two days later she takes 400 micrograms of misoprostol, a drug that causes contractions in order to expel the fetus. Two weeks after using the drugs, the woman returns to the doctor to be sure the pregnancy was terminated; the drug is 92 to 95 percent effective. Women who take the drugs will get a Food and Drug Administration-approved brochure explaining how the drug works and what side effects to expect.

“The pills are certainly simpler than surgical abortion,” says Dr. Stephen Schuster, a gynecologist and clinical assistant professor at New York Hospital-Weil School of Medicine, who is also a member of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. “If the abortion is halachically permissible [permitted by Jewish law], then it’s an additional alternative if a doctor feels sure that the patient will contact the medical office immediately if any serious problems develop.”

Not surprisingly, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism have different ideas on the circumstances under which abortion is permitted under Jewish law.

“By approving Mifepristone, the FDA has successfully placed women’s fertility back in the hands of a woman and her doctor,” says Rabbi David Saperstein, director of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center. “The Reform movement has long supported a woman’s right to make moral decisions about her own life and her own body with privacy and without fear of government intrusion,” Rabbi Saperstein said. He added that women will now be able to “use their moral and religious conscience in deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy within the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by their families.”

Sarrae Crane, spokeswoman for United Synagogue, which represents Conservative Judaism, was more tentative. “Conservative Judaism does not encourage abortion,” said Crane, “but we don’t believe that there should be obstacles put in a mother’s way either. Abortion is a religious and medical decision, not a governmental one.” The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law takes the view that an abortion is justifiable if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.

Rabbi Moshe Tendler, considered the leading Orthodox authority on Jewish medical ethics, and a professor at Yeshiva University, has reviewed data on the drug for the last 10 years. Rabbi Tendler says that Mifeprex must be viewed in the context of what Jewish law says about abortion, which is that abortion is permitted only when a pregnancy places the mother’s life in danger, and in consultation with a rabbinic authority, says Rabbi Tendler. In those situations in which Jewish law would allow an abortion and the abortion can be performed within Mifeprex’s time frame, the drugs are the preferred method, says Rabbi Tendler, because the abortion is performed indirectly—by depriving the fetus of hormonal stimulation—instead of directly; that is, by surgically removing the fetus.

But Rabbi Tendler is significantly concerned that Mifeprex will be viewed as a form of contraception—“It is much easier to take a few pills a few days after you become pregnant than to take one pill every day in order to avoid a pregnancy,” Rabbi Tendler says. But that, he says, is halachically impermissible. “Contraception per se, is not a free ride when it comes to Jewish law,” says Rabbi Tendler. “Not for married folk and certainly not for unmarried folk.”

While the drug would be the preferred method for a halachically approved abortion, it is not the preferred method if it is being used as contraception. “In that case,” says Rabbi Tendler, “it would be the greater of two evils.”