Abortion in the Yishuv during the British Mandate Period: A Case Study of the Place of the Individual in a Nationalistic Society
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Reproduction stood at the epicenter of the Jewish national discourse in Mandatory Palestine (1920–48). Ensuring a Jewish majority was a Zionist goal of the highest order, one considered imperative for the establishment of a Jewish state, and the birthrate was perceived as an issue of national interest, especially in view of the high birthrate among the Arab population. Although having children was both a national and a religious injunction in the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv), the period discussed here was characterized by a steady decline in the birthrate, mainly due to widespread abortion. A variety of factors contributed to this, including economic hardship, sociological issues, the ordeal of immigration, modernist ideology, and traumatic historical events on a local and global scale, first and foremost the Holocaust. In this article, the subject of abortion serves as a springboard for the discussion of broader questions regarding the place of the individual in nationalist society. During the period under review, the needs of the individual were subordinated to the needs of the state, which were determinative in abortion policy. However, the high incidence of abortion among the Jewish population at this time reveals that the population had more diverse values; many, for example, had adopted modern concepts of family size and a new perspective on the role of the individual in society. This article suggests that the prevalence of abortion may exemplify a larger conflict that existed between the collective values of the nationalist society, on the one hand, and efforts by individuals to define their own boundaries within that society without violating those of the nation, on the other.
KeywordsAbortion Nationalism Birth Yishuv Women
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