Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 17 February 2007 / 29 Shevat 5767

Immaculate Pregnancy

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Shaun

Dear Rabbi,

I read that pregnant women should read things that are holy, and involve themselves in other holy activities. Now, what does a pregnant woman do if she is in grad school reading books that have really bad things in them, and watching videos in class with bad things in them?

Dear Shaun,

We are all influenced and affected by the things we ingest, smell, hear and see. Good, holy and pure stimuli affect us positively, contributing to our spiritual and physical well-being. Bad, profane and impure stimuli are detrimental to our balance and harmony.

According to Jewish teachings, this applies even more so to pregnant women, who are considered to be in an extra-sensitive state, and who also are viewed as being in a super-spiritual state as partners with G-d in the act of creation. This places upon them an even greater responsibility to maintain holiness, since the things that affect them affect the life being formed within them as well.

The Talmud relates that King Hezekiah became deathly ill. The prophet Isaiah visited him and revealed that he kindled G-d’s wrath by refraining from marrying and having children. The king explained his nullification of this important mitzvah by saying that he foresaw with Divine inspiration that his children would be wicked. The prophet answered that a person may not use such calculations and considerations to cancel the word of G-d. At that point, the wise King Hezekiah shrewdly challenged the prophet, “You have a daughter of marriageable age. Let me marry her, and my children will be your grandchildren”. Left with little choice, the prophet agreed and the king married his daughter.

One day, immodestly dressed gardeners were working on the king’s grounds. The new bride was looking out the window and inadvertently caught a glimpse of the men. That night, while together with the king, the image she saw during the day momentarily came to her mind. Our Sages taught that that fleeting thought affected conception and resulted in the birth of a son who became the wicked King Menashe.

Similarly, in discussing the urgency of giving a pregnant woman food that she (and the fetus as well – Rashi) craves on Yom Kippur, our sources raise the question of what to do. We are told to whisper in her ear that it is Yom Kippur and forbidden to eat. However, if the craving persists she is allowed to eat the food in order to prevent danger to herself or the child. (The same concept applies throughout the year regarding non-kosher food.) However, in the exceptional case of the rabbi-gone-heretic, Elisha ben Avuya who came to be known as Acher, one of the reasons given for his spiritual demise was that his mother craved and was given meat that was roasted for idolatry.

From these few of the many sources dealing with the affects of a pregnant woman’s experiences on her child, we see that circumstances such as you describe are not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, the pressures on most people in today’s world to get an “education” and acquire a profession are practically unavoidable. Barring outright prohibitions, a religious Jew in general, and a pregnant one in particular, should make educational/vocational choices that are as harmonious with Judaism as possible. If questionable circumstances arise, one should make every effort to avoid being exposed to anything adverse.

In the specific case you raise, if possible, she shouldn’t be exposed to such material at all. If that’s not possible she must avoid reading and watching at least the “bad” parts of the bad books and videos – not only for the baby’s sake, but for herself as well. Concurrently, she should find ways to get the gist and bare minimum of what’s needed from such material to make the grade and no more. For example, by reading or being told a summary instead of a reading a whole book; or listening to a video without watching, etc. If exposure to this type of material is par for the course and profession such that it will present an ongoing, long-term predicament, it’s worth rethinking her path.

May G-d open our eyes to see the marvels of His Torah.

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