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Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon's (Maimonides or Ramban) advice on Jewish Bioethics and Marriage

Updated on February 5, 2018
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Asteriaa writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

In Judaism, adherents’ everyday life corresponds to the way they interpret their sacred texts. These include the Mishnah Torah, the Tenach, the Commandments of the Torah and the 613 mitzvot give adherents a guideline on how to practice Judaism. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides or Ramban) revitalised the Jewish perceptions on bioethical issues through his works. Bioethical issues such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and abortion, is concerned with the morality of society's responsibility for the life and health of its members. Marriage in Jewish law is the fulfilment of G-d’s commandment to populate the world with features such as the bashert, the chuppah and the breaking of the glass. Ultimately, these Jewish elements play a vital role in guiding adherents to a moral and ethical life.

Mishneh Torah

Maimonides has published many texts that primarily revives the Jewish religion. The Mishneh Torah is perceived through its simplistic revitalization for the Halakhah, addressing positive and negative mitzvot. The entirety of the Mishneh Torah encompasses the full range of the Jewish law, as formulated for all ages and places to act as a guidance mechanism for the majority of Jewish adherents. For instance, Orthodox Jews regard the spilling of the seed more severe than all sins. However, Maimonides supports the idea of ‘being fruitful and multiply’ to fulfil G-d’s commandment, thus his ideas are applicable to IVF. Therefore, Maimonides insight into the 613 mitzvot assists adherents in making moral choices in relation to IVF.

A Documentary about Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides or Ramban)

Advice from the Teshuvot

Maimonides wrote a variety of Responses (Teshuvot) in reply to the numerous queries addressed to him in regards to his opinion and decision in his texts, from all centres of Jewish settlement. Maimonides’ regard towards bioethical issues, such as abortion, clearly reflects the significant figure’s impact on the revitalization of the Jewish tradition. For instance, Maimonides states, that it is a negative mitzvot to not pity the life of a rodef. Hence he suggests that aborting a fetus after 40 days is forbidden. Therefore, Maimonides and his texts could guide modern rabbis and adherents to a life of righteousness.

Abortion

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy by medical or surgical means and has long been an area of debate among Jews. Judaism restricts abortion unless it was detrimental to the mother’s health and life since a foetus that is under 40 days was a ‘rodef’, a pursuer and is considered to be ‘mere water’ according to Maimonides. This is reinforced by the Mishnah, which states that when the mother's life is in danger, an abortion can be performed at any stage from conception until the head of the infant emerges. Through reinterpretations by scholars in regards to abortion, in this case, they assist modern adherents into leading a moral life.

A Rabbi's Perspective on Abortion

Pikuach Nefesh

Values of the Pikuach Nefesh has been integrated into the ethical issues such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). This is the process of fertilising eggs with sperm outside of the human body. In Genesis 1:28, it talks about God’s one true order to "be fruitful and multiply", also Maimonides’ 'Commentary of the Mishnah' supports the different ways of bringing life into the world. The perceptions of the Torah in regards to Jewish beliefs on ethical issues is a clear representation of how you are you are to be wise in both deeds and words.

Bashert (Soul Mates)

The idea of bashert (soul mate) presented in marriage is significant to adherents as it engages with what Jews believe to be the purpose of human life: unity to procreate. The idea of a “bashert” makes marriage vital since it forms a bond between two souls as shown through the creation story of Adam and Eve. The unity made through marriage allows the couple to proceed with the next mitzvah: “To have children with one’s wife.” Hence, Orthodox Jews regard the bioethical issue of abortion as forbidden since it contradicts G-d’s will. Therefore, Jewish marriages are significant ensuring Judaism remains through generations due to procreation and the adherence of individuals marrying.

An Example of a Chuppah

Source

The Chuppah in Marriage

The chuppah (canopy) is a necessary and only requirement within Jewish marriage that the kallah (bride) and the chatan (groom) stand under. The Chuppah is used to unite the marrying couple under the “stars and the heavens” (Genesis 15:5) as symbolic to the blessing given to Abraham by G-d. The significance of the chuppah reminds adherents of Jewish history as perceived by the chuppah’s reference to the covenant of G-d and Prophet Abraham. For instance, marriage is linked to IVF in relation to G-d’s promise to Abraham that he would have as many descendants as there were stars and multiply. This guides adherents to follow a righteous life in G-d’s eyes. Therefore, the Chuppah is a clear indication of how marriage builds a spiritual bond between adherents through its reminder of covenants and the Jewish tradition.

Breaking of the Glass

Source

The Breaking of the Glass in Marriage

The breaking of the glass reminds adherents of the significance of historical events and the Talmudic practice in Jewish marriage and consists of the chatan breaking glass underneath his foot. This action ties into the Jewish purpose of Tikkun Olam, which this action reveals adherent purpose in repairing the already fractured world, as demonstrated by IVF. It allows adherents to bring new life, also bringing new hope into an already destructive world. The community is then reminded of this event and the national destiny of the Jewish people through this spiritual and historical representation, thus depicting the significance of practice to adherents.

What to Expect at a Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Conclusion

Adherents of Judaism all look back onto Maimonides and his sacred texts for guidance through such activities like In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), abortion and those who marry go to the basic ideas of these bioethical issues. Maimonides’ texts look into the basic human values and moral needs, distinctly the rights to life and health and regard the morality of developments relating to bioethics and applies values of the Pikuach Nefesh to these bioethical issues, such as abortion. These bioethical matters can also link to marriage, mainly towards IVF and God’s order to multiply and continue Jewish history and religion.

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