In early December a California Jewish friend passed on information about the Jewish crisis pregnancy center, In Shifra’s arms.
The following words come directly from the center’s website and a blog posting from the Jewish Women Archives.
Shifra and Our Mission
In Shifra’s Arms is the only non-partisan Jewish crisis pregnancy social service organization in the United States. In Hebrew, the word for compassion, rachamim, comes from the word for womb, rechem. We believe there is no greater Jewish expression of compassion than meeting the needs of women struggling with unplanned pregnancy and freeing them to meet the needs of their developing babies.
Our organization is named for Shifra, one of the two midwives mentioned in the book of Exodus, known for her exceptional courage in refusing to follow Pharaoh’s orders to drown Moses and the other Hebrew infants. We chose the symbol of the midwife since, through the ages, midwives have helped countless women face the challenges and fears of pregnancy and beyond.
By providing crisis counseling and practical resources, ISA helps women to address the challenges of their unplanned pregnancies without abortion. Our mission is to help struggling pregnant women to create a positive future for themselves and their children whether they choose parenting or adoption.
We treat all women with the kindness, compassion, and respect they deserve, whatever their circumstances or the choices they end up making (including abortion). We are a non-partisan, social service organization with both pro-choice and pro-life supporters who all want no woman to feel she has to abort because of a lack of resources or support.
What Makes Us Jewish
Judaism does not fit into a classic pro-life or pro-choice position and there is considerable diversity of Jewish views on when abortion is allowable, especially across the spectrum of Jewish denominations. On one hand, giving birth is considered as good a deed as saving someone’s life. The Talmud says “A person who saves a single life … is considered to have saved the whole world”. It’s a natural correlate that “A woman who gives birth to one life is considered as if she gave birth to an entire world”, because each life is considered so sacred, unique, and holy. Even though a human fetus is not a fully formed human being, his or her potential is considered very precious.
On the other hand, it is clear in Jewish texts that the mother’s life takes precedence over the unborn baby’s life when her life is threatened by carrying the pregnancy to term (1). Some Jews believe this principle applies when a woman’s mental health is seriously at risk. In Shifra’s Arms (ISA) is informed by different Jewish perspectives, but ISA is not concerned with the permissibility of abortion in Jewish law or with the legality of abortion in the US. We can make referrals to rabbinical counseling if necessary on this issue.
In Shifra’s Arms aims to unite the Jewish community in helping women facing unplanned pregnancy. Everyone knows that the option of abortion is available, but people make choices in the context of the support they have in their lives. We want every woman to feel that she could have the support she would need to complete her pregnancy and give birth.
The following comes from a July, 2011 article in Jewish Women Archives: Jewesses with Attitude
In Shifra’s Arms does not reflect a “Jewish divide” on abortion
July 6, 2011
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.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2011 – 19:47.
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.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/11/2011 – 20:35.
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.
Submitted by MichelleKGross (not verified) on Sun, 12/02/2012 – 00:50.
…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. ( האם זה לטובה או נגד הפלת הפלה? דיון. או להגיד מזל טוב למשפחה ומציע להביא פרחים לחגיגת בת מצווה של בעתיד)