Terminating a Pregnancy

The author adapts biblical texts to create a ritual that expresses the anguish of terminating a pregnancy

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I look to our matriarchs and ask, as did Rebecca [when the twins Jacob and Esau struggled in her womb], "If it be so, why am I thus (Genesis 25:22)?"

I hear the voice of God to Sarah [after announcing to the old woman that she would bear a child], "Is anything too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14)?"

I hear Rachel, who said [after her maid Bilhah bore a son to Jacob], "God has considered me and heard my voice (Genesis 30:6)."

I ask you God to hear me, to judge me favorably, to respond to my pain and distress. Have compassion because of Your own greatness, and because of our ancestors who trusted in You. Give me wholeness of heart so that I will love and revere you, and then I shall never lose my self-respect, nor be put to shame, for you are the power that works to save me.

"Look and answer me, Lord my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death (Psalm 13:4)."

Hannah said of herself [when she was pleading to the Lord for a child], "I am a woman of sorrowful spirit... I have poured out my soul before the Lord (I Samuel 1:15)," and she was answered, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant you the petition that you have asked of Him (I Samuel 1:17)."

To Be Read Silently After the Termination Has Taken Place

David's child was sick, and David prayed to God for the child, he fasted and went in and lay all night upon the ground, and the elders of his house arose and went to him to raise him up from the earth, but he would not; nor would he eat bread with them.

And it came to pass that the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead; they feared for his reason. But when David saw, that his servants whispered, he understood that the child was dead. Then he arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes, and he came to the house of the Eternal and bowed down, then he came to his own house, and they set bread before him and he ate.

His servants asked him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child was dead, you rose and ate bread."

And he said, "While the child was alive I fasted and wept, for I said, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me? But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son (II Samuel 12:16ff).

Elijah arose and fled for his life, and came to Beersheba. He left his servant there and went a day's journey into wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree, and he asked that he might die; he said, "It is enough now, God, take away my life, for I am not better than my ancestors." He lay down and slept under that tree, and behold, an angel touched him and said to him, "Arise and eat."

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Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

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