Michael D. Witmer

Michael D. Witmer

This is in reply to Rabbi Jack Paskoff’s Matters of Faith column in the May 26 Sunday LNP (“Honoring women’s right to dignity and their right to choose”). 

I have no doubt that the rabbi is a learned, spiritual man, and I would never be so presumptuous as to debate him on other matters of faith. This particular column on abortion, however, crossed over the parameters of faith in my view as a retired history and political science professor.

Paskoff began by declaring, “Let’s cut to the chase,” and then immediately plunged into a mixture of Jewish Scripture and theology, political theory, political policy, humanistic philosophy, religious presumption and partisan political propaganda. With all due respect to the rabbi, I found his column to be a confusing collection of contradictions.

He quoted several Old Testament verses which allow, even promote, abortion — apparently a human life does not exist until birth, these verses direct us. He did not quote, however, from the Book of Job: “You guided my conception and formed me in the womb; you clothed me with skin and flesh, and you knit my bones and sinews together; you gave me life and showed me your unfailing love; my life was preserved by your care.” Nor from the Book of Jeremiah: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb; before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

I would only ask, rabbi, how many prophets — or scientists — would be eliminated by your scriptural choices?

Avoiding this question, Paskoff shifted quickly from the spiritual to the material and the usual identity politics of the left — banning abortion, he asserted, would affect mostly the poor and hence people of color. He also interspersed some generally acceptable advice (better sex education and birth control) and falsehoods (Planned Parenthood doesn’t promote abortion), employing the usual pro-choice euphemisms (“women’s freedom of choice,” “dignity,” “health care”). He never acknowledged the freedom of choice, dignity or health care of a forming or fully formed human being about to be born.

While referencing the Constitution’s First Amendment as protecting Judaism’s belief in the right to abortion access, he ignored the Fifth Amendment’s protection of life. He also seemed to question the sincerity of the piety of the Christian right. I found this to be absolutely unconscionable.

Then he went further, referencing the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who concluded that the Divine Image in which we are created is in fact the intellect separating us from other animals. I actually had some difficulty following Paskoff’s line of thought on this. Initially I assumed he was stating that human life does not exist without intellect (instead of mere heartbeat, brainwaves, etc.). He then went totally, politically pro-choice, by referencing the Divine spark of intellect in a woman to choose for herself whether the fetus she carries lives or dies.

I am still unclear as to what he implied here, but it chilled me to the point of writing this opinion.

I must be totally honest and state that I was deeply saddened to read this piece by a respected religious leader in our community, whose previous columns offered such a positive outlook on life, social justice and spiritual renewal.

Michael D. Witmer, Ph.D., taught history at Millersville University, Alvernia University and HACC. He resides in West Hempfield Township.