By Rabbi Elie Mischel
On June 17, 1 BCE, a Roman soldier named Hilarion who was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a letter to his wife Alis. With great love, he reassured her that he had not forgotten her, and promised to send his pay to her soon. He then writes “Above all, if you bear a child and it is male, let it be; if it is female, cast it out.”
Yes, you read that right. In the middle of a thoughtful letter to his wife, Hilarion instructs his wife to “cast out” their baby if it is a girl! Though shocking to us, this practice was both normal and legal in ancient times. In Greek and Roman culture, excess children were regularly discarded. Sometimes this involved direct infanticide, though it was more commonly accomplished through “exposure.” Unwanted children were regularly left outside to die on street corners, at the marketplace and at garbage dumps.
How could Hilarion, and millions of others like him, act so cruelly towards their own children?
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Though Hilarion would be arrested for his cruelty today, in his own time, he would hardly have been considered a monster. Like so many others, he did not believe that human life is intrinsically valuable or that every human being possesses equal and inalienable rights. Quite rationally, he believed that a child’s value depends upon its abilities and usefulness to the family. If a child is strong and likely to help the family, it should be kept and cared for. But if a baby is weak or a burden on the family’s finances, it makes perfect sense to get rid of it!
In the ancient world, people like Hilarion were the rule, not the exception. Few spoke out against this practice – with two significant exceptions: Jews and Christians.
“Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech, and do not profane the name of your God: I am Hashem.” (Leviticus 18:21).
The Hebrew Bible, the foundation of both Judaism and Christianity – clearly and unequivocally rejects infanticide, affirming the value of every human life. But as Jewish scholars explain, the Bible’s commitment to the inestimable value of human life extends even to the unborn:
“Rabbi Ishmael said: [One is executed] even for the murder of an embryo. What is Rabbi Ishmael’s reason? Because it is written, “Whoever sheds the blood of man through man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in His image did Hashem make man” (Genesis 9:6). [Translated more accurately, the verse reads “one who sheds the blood of man within man.’’] What is a “man within another man”? An embryo in his mother’s womb.” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 57b)
Although Jewish law permits abortion under certain limited circumstances, such as when the mother’s life is endangered by the fetus, the Bible’s approach to abortion is clear. Every human being is created in the image of God! Every child is a priceless treasure!
In our generation, Jews and Christians who remain faithful to God and the Bible must continue to fight the evils of infanticide and abortion. Sadly, even in the Land of Israel, the homeland of God’s chosen people, thousands of Jewish babies are aborted each year – and the situation is getting worse. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, requests for abortion reached a record high in 2021.
The significant majority of women who choose to get an abortion in Israel do so because of financial pressures. Many women feel they have no alternative but to terminate their pregnancies due to their limited income and the significant costs of baby supplies and equipment.
Please join faithful Jews and Christians throughout the world and support Israel’s growing pro-life movement. With your help, we can ensure struggling Israeli women who are considering an abortion will receive the financial and emotional support they need to continue their pregnancies and bring new life to the world. Together, we can save lives!