In the closing weeks of the year, 2007, Israel’s Chief Rabbis ruled that abortion constitutes “a grave sin.” A new poll indicates however that the nation itself is sharply divided over the nation’s very liberal abortion laws.

In a new poll, 39% of respondents felt that abortion, when necessary, was a legitimate medical procedure. 31% regard it as an especially painful last resort. Another 30% say that abortion is equivalent to murder. In another slice of data, 32% of respondents said that abortion was never justified. 55% would justify abortion only “if the fetus carried a grave illness.” 21%, if “pregnancy was unplanned” and 13% said “due to financial difficulties.” 5% favored sex-selective abortions.

A large number of Israelis are not comfortable with the nation’s very permissive abortion laws. Abortions in Israel are technically authorized by a special committee. But in cases of rape, incest, and adultery, or if the woman is under 17 or over 40, or if it decides the woman’s health is at risk, or if the baby is suspected to have a physical or mental handicap – an abortion on demand is virtually guaranteed.

Dr. Eli Schussheim, director of the anti-abortion organization Efrat, estimates that only 20,000 out of Israel’s annual 50,000 abortions actually fulfill the legal requirements. The Chief Rabbinate decided to establish a special committee to lobby to reduce the number of abortions carried out in Israel.

In a stunning declaration, the rabbis believe that abortions are delaying the coming of the Messiah. This idea is based on an ancient Jewish notion that the Messiah will not arrive until all children to be born to Jewish mothers are born.

Some Israeli lawmakers are beginning to take initial steps toward restricting abortion. In December, Israeli lawmaker Nissim Zeev of the International Organization of Torah-observant Sephardic Jews proposed outlawing abortion after the first 22 weeks of gestation. “At 22 weeks, the fetus is alive. Terminating the pregnancy at that point constitutes murder and not an ‘abortion,'” Zeev said. “It is an unfounded claim that limiting abortions interferes with a woman’s freedom and right over her own body-we are talking about granting life.”

Portions of this report drawn from data by Peter J. Smith. See previous coverage by

Chief Rabbis of Israel Rule Abortion “a Grave Sin”