To speak of the soul leaving the body is mistaken. Such a relation presumes the corporeality of the soul: it is either confined to the body or produced by it like ferrite emanates a magnetic field. Neither proposition could be true. If a body emanates a soul, then the soul ceases along with the body. If the soul is confined, then numerous paradoxes arise. For example, when does a soul leave the body of a brain-dead patient who remains on life support indefinitely, though he’s no more alive than an embalmed body? Or would the soul return to its body after being saved from clinical death?

The incorrect supposition of soul confinement is what has led to the abortion disputes: when does a fetus become human? Any arbitrary date is unwarranted. The traditional Jewish approach that the body acquires its soul upon birth with its first breath, as Adam did, runs contrary to the facts: we know that even a baby in the womb has dreams, so it is fully human.

Rather, the soul is field-like. It spans the universe and animates a body as long as the body is physically capable of animation. A soul does not enter or leave its body, but affects it like magnet field moves a nail. A weak field cannot move heavy nail; likewise, a soul cannot animate a very young embryo. The question of when the embryo becomes a living being is misguided: the proper answer is, never. The body is always nail-like, merely a moving object. In a sense, a body is no more alive than a doll: both are made lifelike by external forces—the soul and the doll’s owner, respectively.

In relation to the abortion debate, the proper question is, when is the embryo capable of animation? Evidently, upon its first move. Growth processes do not make an embryo alive; even a brain-dead patient—hardly a live person—continues to sprout hair. Both of them may gain the capability of animation—more likely for embryo, unlikely for the comatose body—but at the time of inquiry they are inanimate, and enjoy no human protection.

This approach conforms to the Torah which treats kicking a pregnant woman—thereby causing a miscarriage—as no crime, but merely damage punishable by a fine.