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Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann

Thank you for inviting me. I think that what under girds the theme that we are trying to develop and put forth here is the fact that a society - even if it is a society which crosses all lines demographically speaking and denominationally speaking - has certain common denominators which must support it and under gird it in order for that society to be a society that is a just society. History is replete with examples of society's that were once great nations, great society's and yet the ash bins and the dustbins of history are littered with not even the remnants of those societies anymore. The common denominator always is and always has been - is a society, which seeks a level of morality - and again it need not be defined by one religion. The hallmark of this country has always been the separation of Church and State. A society that does not define itself necessarily by a particular religion but by a code of morality and ethics in the sense that ethics and morality is not defined by one's own interpretation but by those interpretations handed down for generations from God Himself of which the major religions find commonality and a common denominator.

With that as a backdrop I think we should go forward with the following premises. First premises that it is a fundamental - certainly in Judaism and of course in all the major religions - but I can speak obviously with authority for the Jewish religion - that man is not the possessor of his body. He is no the possessor of his life. Life is understood to be a gift from God Himself. It is not the purview within the purview of man to shorten or end his life or the life of any another. He is not the one who owns that life. God grants life to every individual in order for the individual to grow and to achieve perfection to be able to make the world a better world to make himself and others better people.

Some sometimes argue about quality of life and they say what is one accomplishing when one is lying ill near the end stage of life. And of course we have to remind ourselves that Judaism believes - other major religions understand as well - that there is an after life and this world is a preparation for the world to come. We earn our reward in this world for our efforts and therefore what may appear as if it is suffering to us - and indeed that person is undergoing pain - we don't deny that. But that life is not worthless because on a theological basis what seems as weeks spent in pain is actually earning the person more points, more rewards that await him in the world to come. Therefore we want to think that he should take into his own hands and play God and shorten that life and engage in euthanasia. So rather than assisting anybody - rather than that being a merciful act - in reality he is denying one that has been set aside as his destiny by God Himself.

Every moment of life is sacred so therefore it makes no difference whether one is shortening a persons life by seconds or minutes or months or one is shortening another's life by years. It is still taking the life of another human being, which is prohibited. The only exceptions of course are those where the Torah, the Bible, the Old Testament specifically mandates the taking of life such as cases of capital offenses or acts of legitimate self defense. But those are the only cases where one may take the life of another.

When it comes to abortion - again one is not allowed to take the life of another. Under Jewish law the exception however is as follows. That is that because the mother is already viable, living independently and the child is still in the womb - if there is a conflict between the life of the mother and the life of the child - under those circumstances - Jewish law states that the life of the mother must take precedence. She has a start on life, as it were, as opposed to the unborn fetus. In that case - and only in those cases would abortion be mandated and allowed - where we are dealing with the situation that would adversely affect the mother. Then it becomes a question of life or death for her and that is where Jewish law would in that case mandate abortion.

Once the child is born, once the child already begins to leave the mother which means if the head is already emerging from the mother or if most of the body has emerged from the mother than the child has an equal status - then in that case even for the sake of saving the life of the mother then abortion would not be permitted. Then you are murdering one human being for the sake of another and that would not be permitted which of course obviously has great implications as it pertains to the whole partial [birth] abortion debate.

I would like to say in closing that when we discuss the centrality of the issues of morals and belief in the teachings which have guided this society and all just societies for so many years - so there are those who will carry the banner and wave the flag of separation of Church and State as a means to try and silence the bringing up of these issues and observations by well-meaning people of faith. And I think it is very important - absolutely important - that we underscore this point - that our Founding Fathers when they envisioned and created a society, constitution founded upon the principles of separation of Church and State - a nation where men of good faith and conscience of all beliefs can survive and thrive. A society where we don't have balkanization - everyone is able to live together and get along. They never envisioned the removal of belief and justice and morality from the Public Square, public discourse and public discussion. It is clear from all of their writings It is clear from the way in which they composed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself - that there was a deep abiding belief in the fact that we must submit to the morality as dictated to us by God. And therefore this does not conflict with the time-honored tradition of separation of Church and State. And this is something, which should cross all denominational lines in understanding and acceptance of the fact that we do not create our own morality. Our morality again, is defined by above. A society which loses that sense, loses is moorings. And a society which is not conscience of it's history that society endangers its future. Thank you very much.

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