Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Palin Pregnancy

Sarah Palin, the soon-to-be Republican candidate for Vice-President of the U.S., was chosen by John McCain supposedly to secure the more conservative elements of the party. She is described as a social conservative; one who has adopted and represents the more right wing positions on social ethics and morality. In other words, she is for family values and pro-life. It is within this background that the announcement of her unmarried teenage daughter's pregnancy is most interesting -- and may actually bring out a most interesting Torah perception.

The fact that Bristol Palin is both pregnant and will keep the baby presents a most interesting contradiction in the moral workings of what we may term "social conservatives." On one hand, she is a teenager pregnant out of wedlock. What does that say about her values? What does that say about her parents and how they raised her? This would seem to be a black mark against Gov. Palin -- her own teenage daughter has had sex. Yet watch what is happening to temper this and even turn it around to be a moral example for this political group. First, she is going to marry the father. What does that say? Well it says that, at least, her sexual encounter was not fully promiscuous, i.e. that she sleeps around. If she is going to marry the father, we can assume that there is a relationship -- and while that doesn't justify pre-marital relations, even to people in the right wing, it does temper it. But that is not the real point. The fact is that she is going to keep the baby. She is an example of pro-choice -- and now becomes an example of Gov. Palin's values.

In keeping the baby, Bristol Palin becomes a living example of the values of pro-life and an example of what her mother believes. She now becomes an example of proper upbringing, of being taught proper values. The Palin family now also becomes an example of what a family must do to ensure that a pregnant daughter keeps the baby. All the right things are being said. Of course it will be hard on the family, but this is what a loving family must do. Of course it will be hard on the daughter but doing the right thing can be hard -- and that is why it is most important for the family to stand with their daughter...and not chastise her for having had sex. The Bristol Palin pregnancy now becomes an example of pro-life. And watch the challenges of pro-choice advocates. Doesn't pro choice also mean respecting and supporting a woman who does decide to keep the baby?

So what would have seemed to be a moral black mark against Gov. Palin, now becomes a potential moral example. She is pro-life and is willing to accept the responsibilities that go with this opinion. The problem is that she is Catholic -- a devout Catholic from what I read -- so the fact that her teenage daughter slept with her boyfriend still does raise some questions. But what I find most interesting is that what is playing out is actually the moral standards that the Torah decries for non-Jews. There is no issur for Noahides to have pre-marital sex so from a Torah perspective there was nothing wrong with Bristol McCain having had sex. There is, though, a major issur for Noahides to have an abortion. For Noahides, abortion is clearly a category of murder. So Briston Palin keeping the baby is what the Torah would demand of her. What we are thus seeing in this life drama to observance of the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach. The problem may be that the Palins don't even know that, and thus we can still wonder about what all these events mean about the value structure within the Palin home in terms of how Bristol Palin incorporated the values of her parents and how these values were imparted to her. How a child acts does not necessarily tell us about the parents but often it does. Bristol Palin presents a contradiction - which is often the case. What does that say about Gov. Palin, if anything?

Of course, Gov. Palin's response to Bristol's pregnancy, regardless of how she feels about Bristol having had sex, let's the nation evaluate her in terms of her behaviour -- and that will be part of the upcoming campaign, no doubt. But it is most interesting how we should look at all the events from our perspective, the Torah perspective. In the end, what is occurring is the observance of the Noahide Code to its full extent. There was nothing wrong with Bristol being pregnant from a halachic perspective. And again from a halachic perspective she is doing the right thing in keeping the baby. She is following the Sheva Mitzvot, period-- and her family is helping her do that even if they don't really know that. I find this most interesting.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Anonymous said...

The entire issue of Sarah Palin is a great one for the Republicans.

By announcing her as the Veep candidate on the last day of the Democratic convention, they wiped out the post-convention bump Obama would have otherwise enjoyed.

By choosing a woman, they said: "Ladies, if you are miffed the Dems didn't go with Hillary, come on over."

By choosing a right winger they reminded the Republicans that while McCain may be a maverick, he'll be balanced by someone who epitomizes all the GOP's policies.

By choosing a hottie, they get the young males to come out and vote.

By getting a woman whose daughter got knocked up by her high school sweetheart, they connect to all those Middle America parents desperately afraid that the same thing will happen to them.

And by her refusing to abort but rather (at least publicly) showering the girl with love and support, they knock out the pro-abortion crowd and make them look like blood thirsty murderers.

Could it be any more strategic?

Nishma said...

Your comments are most significant. The view of the pro-lifers is that they are also fire-and-brimstone people, ready to punish the evil-doer. The fact that Governor Palin still relates to her daughter in a loving manner simply challenges this whole image and that must bother the pro-choice forces. But the fact also is that, while Governor Palin is against pre-marital relations, if she treats her daughter with shame, that will only be a further motivation for the daughter to abort. Thus the pro-lifer, to save the fetus, has to respond with caring and welcoming. If you want the father to marry the unwed mother, you also had better make this man feel welcomed in the family. On the other hand, as with all situations such as this, if you competely ignore the fact that something you believe is wrong has occurred, you may give the message that what was done was alright.

As a rabbi, this question continuously arises. If you shun, you prevent any possibility to relate in the future. If you welcome, you may be giving the message that what was done was not really so bad. Bottom line, whenever I am confronted with a moral question of this nature -- such as for example, how to treat a relative or sibling who intermarries -- I ask how the person treats the Shabbat transgressor. I am not saying that they are the same. Every situation is actually different. What I am doing with the comparison to Shabbat, is make someone realize that the issue is not what the person feels but rather what God would instruct.

Rabbi Ben Hecht