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Domestic Violence VS. The Halakhah 2
Current Treatments for Domestic Violence . 4
Social Work through the Jewish Lens
I. Domestic Violence and the Jewish Law
Violence against women has taken many forms since the beginning of history. Domestic violence is only one of its many forms. Far-reaching studies across the globe have shown that domestic violence emanates from society, and that does not regard cultural and social limits. No group is an exemption from this fact. The Jewish Community is as well contributing to the multi-faceted phenomenon of violence against women. According to Horsburgh (177), despite the fact that some of the commentators in her study have discussed their problems of domestic violence, only a little of the focus has been shown. Jewish women who are battered are evidently ignored. Even in the case of a greatly publicized issue such as the story of Hedda Nussbaum, only a little of the interest was shown for the story (Horsburgh, 177).
The typical Jewish daily life is governed by the mitzvot or the responsibilities that mean to guide almost all aspects of human life. These obligations of responsibilities are contained in the Torah, which is the Jewish Bible. The Torah refers to all the teachings and notes on Jewish legal custom. On the other hand, the Halakhah contains both the written and oral laws rooted from the said biblical responsibilities. The Talmud is a commentary that is an inscribed written compilation of the laws in oral form (Horsburgh, 183). The main part that concerns the given issue of domestic violence is within the Halakhah. The Halakhah allows divorce; however, only to some extent. This law was seen as an advantage for both men and women who are joined together in unhappy unions. The Jewish law necessitates that the woman consents to a divorce to safeguard the woman’s living. Furthermore, before marriage, the Jewish law requires a detailed premarital agreement or the ketubah by which a man commits to paying the woman a certain amount of money should he divorce her. However, the only flaw in this arrangement is that in the Jewish legal system, only a man creates the marriage; thus, only he has the power to end the marriage. This is made more complex as the Jewish law states and fully requires a woman to have a get that can only be given by the husband (Horsburgh, 193).
This law from the Jewish community places the husband at a special position. Battering is a means of control. This type of law only enhances the man’s power to abuse more his wife. For this reason, since the battered women know that only the man can end the marriage they have come to terms that their situation is hopeless. There will also be no more point in having a civil divorce for these women, since without a get, she will be labeled as an Agunah or a chained woman (Horsburgh, 193).
II. Domestic Violence VS. The Halakhah
Contrary to the Jewish beliefs of ideal families, which are supposed to be loving, nurturing and warm, a number of Jewish families still experience physical violence, terror and emotional abuse in their homes. Similar to a non-Jewish battered woman, women bound by the religion at hand must deal with the problem of sexism. The Jewish woman is at times ashamed to admit that she is a victim of domestic violence and most of the times worry that the police will not be able to protect her adding to the fear of losing custody of their children. Most importantly, she fears that she will lose her means of support through the rough divorce (Horsburg, 177). In addition to all the reasons mentioned above, a Jewish woman is subjected to stereotyping from the outside. If the Jewish woman comes out to authorities on being abused, she is branded as an emasculating, abrasive and overbearing. Because of these stereotypes, Jewish women avoid getting any sympathy from the public. She keeps the violence to herself thus resisting the urge to expose a Jewish man (Horsburg, 177).
Within the American society, a myth continues to persist that domestic violence does not exist in the Jewish community. This stereotype permeates the outside and inside of the whole Jewish population (Koblenz, 260). According to Koblenz, truth is that the domestic violence very well exists and has endured within the Jewish group for many years (260). This type of violence has survived in years because the Jewish community is deeply founded on the traditional Jewish laws. Through the Halakhah or the tradition Jewish laws, generations of Jewish men have found justifications for excluding women in the many aspects of the Jewish activities. One of the modern societal concepts of today is that Jewish men make the “perfect” husband material. According to their projected image, these men are incapable of performing any type of violence especially domestic ones. However, according to Koblenz (260), studies have continually show that domestic violence happens in Jewish homes at a rate that is almost at the same rates as other ethnic or religious groups. This is the sad fact that Jewish women like other women in society are harmed by domestic violence. They are victims of a crime that comes in the form of verbal, physical and mental abuse. The hard part, however is unlike women from other groups, Jewish women who are victims of domestic violence fight a certain dichotomy that exist within their community. First is that they battle the ancient teachings of the Jewish law and the development of modern American secular law and its effect on the religious doctrines of the United States.
Widawski and Frydman (59) shares the same dilemma as the researcher states that trying to address an issue such as domestic violence in an Orthodox community is a challenge for anybody who tries to solve the problem. According to Frydma, even in the past 10 years, there were attempts to raise the community’s responsibility and accountability for this problem, however, it still came out as a challenge despite the years of attempts. In addition, the women’s fear of shame and turning in other Jews often discourage women to call the police and to use the justice system of the country to achieve the long gone safety of these women. Because women in the Jewish community are bound by the traditional Jewish laws from the Halakhah, they are mainly discouraged from acting against their oppressors. The control that a man has over the marriage through the form of a get decreases the chances of the battered women from being free from their husbands. Without the get, these women are considered an agunah. Not even the civil decrees of divorce can save them from the feeling of humiliation since the civil laws are bound not to interfere by the mere affairs of Religion.
III. Current Treatments for Domestic Violence
Fortunately, some members of the Jewish community choose not to turn a blind eye against the forces of domestic abuse. According to Liebenberg (19), one prominent Rabbi, Rabbi Twerski who is also a psychiatrist has established the “Gateway Rehabilitation Center.” Through this, Rabbi Twerski shows his concern for the community. In his views as stated by Liebenberg (21), rabbis or other leaders in the community who turn a blind eye to such an abuse disobeys the law, “Do not stand idly while your neighbor’s blood is spilled.” According to the Talmud, this is interpreted to mean that an individual has the responsibility to remove harm from being applied to another (Liebenberg, 21). However, only a few have the same views as Rabbi Twerski’s. For that same reason, abused women who are victims in their home seek solitude in the form of other women in the community. According to Horsburg, these victims may practice coercion. Since they spend most of their time in the company of other women in the neighborhood, they have come to develop a stronger sense of solidarity. Since they believe that they cannot depend on the traditional laws, these women have resorted to self-help strategies in order to help themselves in order to obtain the get from their husbands (Horsburg, 196).
Because of the gravity of the situation, a state such as New York has tried to take action to draft a solution for domestic violence within the religion. However in the words of Horsburgh, this legislature is far from a solution (199). The legislature has been crafted in such a way that it can only apply to men who request the divorce. The newly instated law does not give any provision about the get. This law again, has been redirected to the traditional laws of the Jewish Community.
The Jewish law may contribute in such a way that they honor orders that are against harming one another. This order is that “they must not stand idly by while a neighbor’s blood is spilled. In addition, anyone who has the capacity to make right a situation and is neglecting to do so bears the responsibility for the result of the situation.” By merely following this order, rabbis, and men from the community can already make right a grave issue such as domestic violence. Furthermore, having a Bais Din that may help resolve the issue can be of aid in solving the couple’s marital problems if the Bais Din court is found to be objective in their views. However, because there is no outright provision in the Jewish law for abuse, battered women are left on their own for self-help strategies in order to alleviate the pain of being abused. By giving more power to a man by establishing that only he can issue the get is detrimental to the cessation of abuse within a Jewish household.
The Jewish tradition can help solve the problems of broken families. Because of their strong regard for family values, the Jewish tradition can help in strengthening family ties within the society. However, the very same law may encourage violence further. As the saying goes, “it all starts in the home” children witnessing at first hand domestic violence at home may learn to develop such a trait of abusing women. The strength of an old law such as that of the Jewish law is honored highly by the traditional and Orthodox Jewish individuals. Since it is highly observed, people disregard its invalidity to the modern times. Women are no longer classified in reality as second class citizens. The Jewish law only disrupts the beliefs that women are not equal to men. The Jewish law, by giving more power to abusers at home in the form of the get and by labeling women as agunah, contributes to a deeper sense of domestic violence.
In my opinion and through the research done, it is thus important to move for a revision or an amendment of the Jewish law. It is time that the Jewish law went away from tradition and see what’s more appropriate for the twentieth century. More campaigns that request the freedom of women must be established. A Bais Din that calls for unbiased judges will also be helpful in removing the control from abusive husbands. All in all, campaigns and actions such as this require the cooperation of the community. If women are not seen as equals of men, no improvement will be made.
Alpha, Rebecca. "Jewish Feminist Justice Work: Focus on Israel/Palestine." Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 29.2 (2013): 164-169. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Cares, Alison, and Gretchen Cusick. "Risks and Opportunities of Faith and Culture: The Case of Abused Jewish Women." Journal of Family Violence 27 (2012): 427-435. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
East, Esther, and Elke Stein. "A Domestic Violence Program Eroding Denial in the Orthodox Jewish Community in New Jersey." Journal of Jewish Communal Service 83.2/3 (2008): 223-228. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Hogan, Cara. "Confronting domestic violence: Jewish groups grapple with shame factor."The Jewish Advocate [Boston] 16 Oct. 2009: 1. Print.
Horsburgh, Beverly. "Lifting the Veil of Secrecy: Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community." Harvard Women's Law Journal 18 (1995): 171-217. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Liebenberg, Matthew. "Domestic Abuse - a Jewish View." Jewish Affairs (2013): n. pag. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Stein, Howard. ""Chosen Trauma" and a Widely Shared Sense of Jewish Identity and History." Journal of Psychohistory 41.4 (2014): 236-257. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Widawski, Chana, and Shoshanah Frydman. "A Marriage of Jewish Family Services and the Criminal Justice System." Journal of Jewish Communal Services 82.1/2 (2007): 59-67. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
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