Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thanks for your answer last week. One more question from the Holy Land.
I was at a medical ethics program that got off course for a bit. We were discussing abortion, and it was asked, “How can one do tshuvah for this?” It was asked by a woman who was 17 when she had an abortion (she was not religious at the time). The speaker answered, “In Judaism we believe that if an individual repents properly and sincerely, Hashem accepts their tshuvah and forgives them. As a matter of fact, one can be sure that if your tshuvah was sincere, Hashem forgave you. Now you must move on from this and grow closer to Hashem through this experience. This was something done many years ago — you were young, before you were religious and you didn’t know any better. I am sure that you have repented many times for this since, and now it’s time to forgive yourself and be sure that Hashem forgave you too. I think in this situation you can’t ask forgiveness from the fetus but only from Hashem.”
I think his answer calmed this woman, yet several of us were bothered by it but did not want to ask a question in front of her to make her feel worse. Hashem can forgive sins to Him. But, when we wrong another person we must ask forgiveness from the person we wronged, so how can she be forgiven by the child? One of the women I was with is a therapist, and liked the idea, but wanted to be sure that the answer was proper. It actually made me remember an old “Touched by an Angel” TV show about that topic. The “angel” tells this woman, “G-d has forgiven you, now you need to forgive yourself,” but that is a Christian show.
Looking forward to your response. I have a monthly “ladies’ shabbat lunch,” so I can report back on the next one.
Thanks, and Shabbat Shalom,
Your question touches upon many profound issues in Jewish thought. Each thought is worthy of an entire column, but we’ll use the space allotted to give you some food for thought and perhaps discuss it more at length in the future.
The concept of tshuvah, repentance by which G-d forgives our sins, is a difficult one to understand in the realm of actions between man and fellow man, even in the case of actual murder. How can one turn back the clock and rewrite history? The victim can’t be brought back.
In a previous column we explained at length that through tshuvah one connects to a higher, spiritual world, where our thoughts and desires reign supreme. In that world, our physical acts are merely the shell of our thoughts and desires. If one truly performs tshuvah by completely uprooting their desire to have performed the act, in that higher world the act no longer belongs to that person. Rather than rewriting history, we are disconnecting the action from its doer, by that person spiritually becoming a new individual.
The next point is one that needs much pondering, but has numerous sources in Torah literature. G-d would never allow someone to be killed unless the victim’s life was supposed to end for some other reason.
You are correct that having wronged another person, one cannot complete tshuvah to G-d before making amends and receiving forgiveness from that person. In the case of murder, or especially with your question of an abortion, there is presently no “other” to seek their forgiveness. After the performance of a true, heartfelt tshuvah, including real remorse and sorrow over the past to the degree befitting such an act and a sincere resolve for the future, the lecturer was correct that this woman needs to move ahead with her life.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dear Rabbi Fried,