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Is it appropriate to offer a blessing to someone pregnant from a rape?

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doctors_daughter asks:

I'd like to direct this question to Hanne Blank. I am Chassidishe, (I know, I shouldn't be on the internet) but needed to find something out that I can't ask my Rav (or anyone on Askmoses for that matter, especially since I know quite a few of their scholars). Does a person say Mazal Tov to an unwed mother? Jewish, maybe not frum, or even worse, a teen mother (again Jewish, VERY FRUM...)? I recently found out that my friend, age 14, was pushed against her will to have intercourse with one of her brother's "frum" friends (age 20ish). She is now pregnant, and doesn't know how to handle it. She is not sure how to tell her mother. Does one say B"sha'ah Tova to her? I don't want to say the wrong thing, and want to help her in her time of need. I have a non-frum friend who is a teen mom going through her third pregnancy. Her parents disowned her. I now am convincing my mom to take her in with her kids. Should I start asking her about taking my other friend in now? I know that the mother would probably disown her if she found out.

Heather Corinna replies:

I asked Hanne about this for you, and this was what she had to say:

This is not a religious opinion -- I'm by no means qualified to offer psok halacha in your community anyway. What it seems like you are asking is whether or not it is appropriate to offer a blessing to your friend on the occasion of her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, which was the result of rape (she was coerced into sex, and she is below the age of consent, so no matter how you slice it, this is a rape).

I do not believe that G-d withholds blessings from us any more than G-d would disown us. So I don't think it is ever wrong to offer a blessing if you have true kavanah to offer that blessing. I think the questions are whether or not your friend would benefit from you offering a blessing, and what kind of blessing would benefit her if so.

There are a lot of ways to show care and support for others. In this case I encourage you to think about what kind of support and care your friend might need or want -- after all, you know her and I don't. Do you feel it would help your friend feel loved and supported if you offered her a traditional blessing? Or do you think it would make her feel worse?

You might not know. In that case, you might want to ask your friend what would feel okay for her, and what would help her feel supported. It sounds like she has had some pretty major life decisions made for her by other people lately, people who did not take her wishes or her dignity or her integrity into account at all. Asking her what she wants and needs, and doing your best to respect what she says, is very important. She needs to know that there are people who will put a priority on what she needs and wants -- not just what they want.

It's obvious that you want to reach out to her and help her. I think that's good and right and important. But maybe a traditional blessing is not what she wants, and maybe you don't feel it is right for this situation. If your friend is okay with you offering a blessing to her, it might be worth thinking about how you might offer an alternative blessing, one that specifically honored what she is going through right now. Maybe you could write one specially for her, as a way of supporting her. You might thank G-d for making her strong and brave and resilient, and for helping her to shoulder these very heavy burdens with integrity and courage.

I think "Mi shebeyrach" might be a good place to start.

I'd add to Hanne's excellent advice that you might also want to provide your friend with some resources to help her deal with her assault and get the help and care she needs.

RAINN is an amazing organization where she can get support and counseling either through their telephone hotline at (800) 656-HOPE, or their online hotline support. The great folks at RAINN can also help connect her with local support and resources so that she can get any counseling she wants and needs, and also can be connected with someone who can tell her what her legal rights and options are. Until she knows the story in terms of how she might press changes, it's going to be tough for her to figure out if that's something she thinks she wants to do or not, or which she feels will or will not benefit her. Additionally, they may also be able to connect her with resources in terms of deciding what she wants to do about her pregnancy, and what kind of help she can get with it, no matter what choice she makes. She can get any of this help or counsel confidentially: you can assure her that her privacy will be protected.

Your friend might also find that if she's not ready to speak with her mother -- or if she knows her mother is not a safe person for her to tell -- that speaking with her rabbi might be a good place for her to start to get support and care. It also sounds like your mother has been a supportive, safe person in this regard before, so you certainly might ask your friend if she wants to talk to your mother.

There are also some particular resources on rape provided by the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault which may be helpful to her or to you here.

Our best to the both of you: your friend is very lucky to have you.

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