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In Shifra's Arms does not reflect a "Jewish divide" on abortion

A year ago, Washington Jewish Week reported on a new crisis pregnancy center (CPC) called In Shifra’s Arms. Unlike the vast majority of CPCs, which are typically funded and run by Christian organizations or churches, In Shifra’s Arms strives to serve women in the Jewish community.

I expressed my concerns about In Shifra’s Arms in a post last year. Crisis pregnancy centers target young women using the language of choice, and often deceptively present themselves as a comprehensive medical and psychological resource, when in reality they operate with a specifically anti-choice agenda. I was especially upset to learn that In Shifra’s Arms was advertising at University of Maryland and visiting Jewish day schools while also presenting false information about abortion on their website and in their literature.

In Shifra’s Arms is now in the news again, with a wire story picked up by Washington Post, Huffington Post, and others. Somewhat misleadingly titled “Crisis pregnancy group reflects Jewish divide on abortion(84% percent of American Jews support legalized abortion in all or most cases, according to the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, numbers that hardly reflect a deep divide), the article detailed the operation and evolution of the organization during its first year. Encouragingly, the organization’s website has taken down links to “resources” that falsely claim abortion causes breast cancer or suicide after receiving criticism from the blogosphere (that’s us!).

But In Shifra’s Arms still operates with an ideological message which ultimately hurts women. Erica Perlman, the founder of the organization, clearly wants to do good within her community and help other women. But she admits to an anti-abortion agenda and hopes that her work will result in more Jewish babies brought into the world.

Once again, this is where I find In Shifra’s Arms to be built on a problematic set of principles. When women face an unplanned pregnancy, they need to be empowered with accurate information about all their options – parenting, adoption, and abortion. It is condescending and paternalistic to assume that abortion is never the right choice for an individual woman.

While it is wonderful that Perlman has taken down the false claims about abortion, she is still not providing women with the opportunity to have an honest, supportive conversation about their pregnancies. She has a ideological, anti-abortion agenda. Jewish law around abortion is remarkable because it places significant value on a woman’s life and health. The crisis pregnancy center model, built on an extremely conservative concept of Christianity, does not reflect these Jewish values. If In Shifra’s Arms really wants to help Jewish women, it needs to truly listen to their needs, provide comprehensive and honest education, and trust that they know what is best for them and their families.

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I am so sick and tired of how pro-abortion many in the liberal Jewish community tend to be. Its why I no longer affiliate or identify, I grew tired of people assuming I was "pro-choice" because I'm a Jewish woman.

Orthodox Jews are 16% of the USA Jewish population, so this figure does indicate a deep divide between traditional Jewish attitudes towards abortion and those who have rejected Jewish tradition on this issue (unaffiliated, Reform, Conservative, etc.). The only ancient Jewish text that deals with abortion in a direct and unambiguous way is the Mishnah, which states that abortion is permitted during a breech childbirth in which the life of the mother is in imminent danger. We differ from the Catholic Church and perhaps some other "conservative" Christian groups in that the life of the mother takes precedence over that of the baby in this circumstance, but that is the extent of it. Outside of an imminent danger to the physical life of the mother, traditional Jewish law doesn't really permit abortion. Now the views of the majority of the American Jewish population on this topic do not coincide with this tradition, but that does not mean that the "choice" of an abortion for any other reason than that to save the life of the mother is some sort Jewish value. It is just a popular notion among American Jews and it has more to do with cultural assimilation than religion. Let's not conflate the two, please. 

As for you comments about "In Shifra's Arms", I actually pulled my four children out of a Conservative Jewish day school because they had invited Planned Parenthood to the school. At least "In Shifra's Arms" has a direct Jewish connection, while I am happy to say that Planned Parenthood does not, and I hope it never will! 

...just returned from a parlor meeting introducing In Shifra's Arms to potential supporters...

Ms Pelman described the help that Counselor Orly provides simply by being able to listen to women because they speak the same native language, Hebrew, and come from the same country, Israel. Counselor Orly answers calls in Hebrew and in English.

Ms Pelman seems to be following the model of the Israeli organization Efrat-C.R.I.B. , which asks women what changes in their life they feel they need in order to be comfortable carrying a pregnancy.

For example, In Shifra's Arms provided the on-going services of a professional organizer for a woman who felt her home was too chaotic to include another child.

Is this approach pro-abortion or anti-abortion? You can debate that or you can wish the family a mazel tov and offer to bring flowers for a future bat mitzvah celebration. ( Ìщ۝ÌÑåÌÑå ÌщÛÒÌщ۝ ÌсÒÌÑèÏÌщۢÌщÛ÷Ìщ۝ ÌÑåÌщۢ ÌÑåÊÌщ۪ÌщÛÏ Ìщ۝ÌÑå_ÌсÒÌÑå» Ìщ۝ÌÑå_ÌсÒÌщ۝? ÌщÛÏÌщã¢ÌщۢÌсü. ÌÑåÌщۢ ÌсÒÌщ۝Ìщ۪Ìщã¢ÌщÛÏ Ìс_ÌщÛÒÌÑÒ ÌÑèÏÌщۢÌщÛ÷ ÌсÒÌс_ÌÑå©ÌÑå_ÌщÛÓÌщ۝ ÌщۢÌс_ÌÑå_Ìщã¢ÌÑå¢ ÌсÒÌщ۝ÌщÛ÷Ìщã¢ÌÑå ÌÑå_ÌÑå¬ÌщÛÓÌщã¢ÌÑå ÌсÒÌщÛÓÌщ۪Ìщã¢Ìщ۪ÌÑå» ÌщÛ÷ÌÑå» Ìс_ÌÑå_ÌщۢÌщۢÌщ۝ ÌÑå©ÌÑÒ ÌщÛ÷ÌÑå¢ÌÑå»Ìщã¢ÌщÛÏ)

While it is true that Jewish law places importance on the life of the woman, it is not accurate to say that the choice to abort or continue a pregnancy is all about 'what is best for her and her family.' Instead, the Jewish values I subscribe to are guided by principles from the Torah and the Oral Law. So perhaps there is a divide after all.

I am glad to see you are aware of all the hard work that Erica is doing. This whole organization is not about abortion it is about support. I actually volunteer with the organization and personally I am pro-choice. I think that every women should choose for herself, I don't think the government should be allowed to control it. Erica is not trying to stop abortion- she is simply trying to let people know that is not the only option because people feel it is. If a client is certain that she wants an abortion we wouldn't ostracize her or try to change her mind- once her mind is made...her mind is made and we would offer support and therapy sessions if she wanted it. Erica is a wonderful woman and should truly be applauded for all her hard work.

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How to cite this page

Kadar, Emily. "In Shifra's Arms does not reflect a "Jewish divide" on abortion." 6 July 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 20, 2019) <>.


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