Project Genesis

Childbearing & Fertility


Is a Fetus Alive?

Are children who are conceived and carried for approximately 9-15 weeks considered to have lived? If they are not carried to term, what happens to their soul? Are their names erased?

Thank you for your question. Judaism is not the same as other religions with regards to when a soul enters a body. Judaism teaches us that it is not murder to kill a fetus until it crowns, coming out of the mother. It is wrong and it is killing potential life, but it is not murder. Therefore, while philosophically we are pro-life, legally we must be pro-choice. The reason is that in Jewish law the mother’s status always comes before the child’s until the birth process is well underway. So, if the mother’s life is in danger she is always saved regardless of the outcome of the child, even up to full term. However, abortion at any stage, without such just cause, is considered wrong and is not consistent with the bible.

Therefore, a soul does not enter the body completely until birth. There are stages as well. Before 40 days, the embryo is considered “like water.” Meaning that while we cannot abort it at will, it does not have any legal status. After 40 days it has a status, but not a complete soul. There is no name to a child until it is born in Judaism. Many have the custom not to speak the name of an unborn child until it is born. There is the potential of life and it is that potential that the mother connects with in the womb. There is no question that feeling a potential person moving around inside can evoke feelings of connection, but there is no “death to a soul.” There is death to the potential of life. I hope this sheds some light into the question.

Rabbi Gershon Litt

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