Author Archives: Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

About Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild is a rabbi at Wimbledon & District Synagogue in London, England.

Terminating a Pregnancy

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The Talmud in Sanhedrin 72b says that a fetus may be considered a rodef, one who "pursues" another with intent to kill. Jewish law allows a rodef to be killed to preempt his act of murder. Although Maimonides clarifies that the fetus is a rodef only when the woman is having difficulty giving birth, the author extends this concept to situations where the fetus is threatening either the physical or the psychological/spiritual health of a pregnant woman. This article suggests ritual for the day of the termination, and a second article describes follow-up ritual during the month following the termination. Reprinted by permission of the author from Taking Up the Timbrel: The Challenge of Creating Ritual for Jewish Women Today (SCM Press).

Pregnancy can be ended for many reasons–all of them bring pain and distress to the people involved and no decision to end a pregnancy is ever taken lightly. This ritual is designed to cover different stages of the process: a meditation and prayer once the decision is taken; again after the termination; and finally a ritual to take the participants back into life. The liturgy is based on the understanding of the fetus as being a rodef–a pursuer of the life of the mother. Using the words of our matriarchs, the stories of King David, and the poetry of the psalms, it aims to return the mother back into the cycle of life through the cycle of the new moon.

Meditation to Be Read Silently After the Decision to Terminate

When David fled from his pursuer, he knew that there was but a step between himself and death. He asked, "What have I done? What is my iniquity that I am now forced to make this choice?" And he was reassured: there was no sin that had brought about his present position. The next day was the new moon, when there was to be a feast for everyone in the household.

Jonathan told David, "You shall be missed because your seat shall be empty." When we flee from a pursuer, we too know that there is but a step between ourselves and death. We ask ourselves, "What have I done? What was my sin that now I must travel this road?" As Jonathan reassured David, so should we be reassured. David chose to go. Having weighed up the prospects and having considered them with his friend, he made the decision for his life. Jonathan told David to go in peace, and the Lord would be with him. For all our lives there will be someone who is missed, whose seat is vacant at family meals.

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After the Termination of a Pregnancy

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The first part of this article details a ritual for the termination of a pregnancy, while this article describes additional rituals that extend through the month following the termination. The timing of these rituals echoes the first 30 days of mourning following the death of a close relative. Reprinted by permission of the author from Taking Up the Timbrel: The Challenge of Creating Ritual for Jewish Women Today (SCM Press).

A Candle Is Lit Each Evening for Seven Days After the Termination and Verses Are Recited

"For you will light my candle, the Eternal my God will lighten my darkness."

"Go in peace, and God be with you."

"Be of good courage and let your heart be strong, all you who hope in the Lord."

On the evening of the seventh day, there should be a meal with close family and friends, after which the mother could pray the traditional prayer of the person who has recovered from illness [bentshing gomel].

Or: "I thank You, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, God of the spirits of all flesh. You were with me in the time of my affliction, and You helped me.

In time of trouble You showed me the path of life, and the fullness of joy.

You showed me the sweetness which is at your right hand forever."

Barukh attah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam, ha-gomel l’hayyavim tovot, she-g’malani kol tov.

Blessed are you Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who shows favor to the undeserving, and has shown me great favor.

All respond:

"Mi she-g’malakh kol tov, hu yig’m’leikh kol tov.

May God who has shown favor to you, continue to favor you with all that is good."

The following paragraph from the Amidah [central "standing" prayer said at all Jewish prayer services] may be recited:

"Heal us and we shall be healed; save us and we shall be saved, for it is You we praise. Send relief and healing for all our illnesses, our sufferings and our wounds. For you are a merciful and faithful healer."

Barukh attah Adonai rofei ha-cholim.

Blessed are You God, who heals the sick.

A Prayer to be Said 30 Days After the Termination

O Eternal my God, I cried to you and you have healed me.

You have brought my soul from Sheol;

You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Give thanks to God’s holy name, for his anger lasts but a moment;

His favor is for a lifetime;

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

My child, my pursuer, is no more.

You, who see the unformed substance, who knows each person made in secret,

Hide him under the shadow of your wings.

Be gracious to us both.

I cannot bring him back.

One day I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

I have been into the wilderness alone, too distraught to eat or drink,

Not able to notice the life-giving sources around me.

I have made my journey, have touched Sheol,

Been buffeted by the strong winds of my emotions, and the earthquakes of my soul,

And now I know the voice of slender silence asks me, "What am I doing here now?"

David arose and comforted Bathsheba.

I now comfort others and am comforted by them.

And I ask you, in the words of the psalmist:

Let me be "like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season;

Its leaf also shall not wither; and whatever it does shall prosper." (Quotations are from Psalms 30 and 1:3.)

God, the soul you gave to my child was pure, for You created it,

You formed it, and breathed it into the body.

You care for the soul forever, taking it to everlasting life.

The Next Rosh Chodesh

On the Rosh Chodesh [first day of the new month] following the 30-day marker, it is recommended that the mother immerse herself in the mikveh [ritual pool], and recite Psalm 51.

Be kind to me, God, in Your mercy, in Your great compassion blot out my misdeeds.

Wash me free from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

For my misdeeds I know too well, and my sin is always before me.

Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.

Therefore You are just in Your sentence, and right in your judgment

But even though I was born to err, and my mother conceived me in sin;

The truth is still what You desire within me,

And in my inmost heart You show me wisdom.

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,

Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness, so that the bones You crushed dance again.

Turn Your gaze away from my sins, and blot out all my guilt.

Create a pure heart for me, God, and put a firm and steadfast spirit in me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence, nor take Your holy spirit from me.

Give me back the joy of Your salvation and let a willing spirit uphold me.

Then I will teach transgressors the way, so that sinners may return to You.

Keep me from bloodshed, God, You are the God who saves me.

My tongue shall ring out Your justice,

God, open my lips and my mouth shall declare Your praise.

For You desire no sacrifice, or I would give it,

burned offerings you do not want.

God’s sacrifices are a humbled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.

Into Your hand, God, I commend the spirit of my child.

The Eternal One is with me, I shall not fear.

B’yad’kha nafkid ruhat b’ni, Adonai li, lo ira.

Sylvia Rothschild is rabbi of Bromley and District Reform Synagogue in southeast London. She is also chair of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain and lay member of her local ethics committee.

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