Virtual Talmud

We are highlighting this response to Rabbi Stern’s post on Judaism & domestic violence as a service to our blog readership.

I thank Rabbi Stern for his comments on domestic violence and for drawing attention to the work of JSafe. As a relatively new organization, we certainly have much more work to do and contributions to make to this issue. I appreciate the impatience. We are impatient as well.

Rabbi Stern’s comment, “for every halakhic (according to Jewish law) source the organization cites outlawing wife and child beating and abuse, I can bring one that says the exact opposite,” is misleading, both halakhically and in terms of JSafe’s work.

1. The articles we publish and presentations we make clearly state that abuse and violence is prohibited.

2. We are clearly paskening (ruling) against those who ruled otherwise. This is the traditional halakhic approach, i.e., deciding between differing and conflicting opinions. As it relates to abuse, see this and other articles regarding such issues as mesirah (reporting perpetrators to the civil authorities) and others. There are other articles currently being written that address the specific issues of wife beating and child beating more directly.

3. The history of halakhic development in this area shows a definite trend towards prohibiting the kinds of abuse that earlier authorities permitted/tolerated, largely influenced, I believe, by the social norms of their times and places.

4. We certainly have a lot more work to do. In this, Rabbi Stern and I agree.

5. Naomi Graetz’s important book, “Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating” is an important contribution to the literature–and should be read by everyone. It clearly sets down both permissive and restrictive approaches to wife beating, with a call for community action at the end. But scholarship and history are not halakhic decision making and not all opinions are granted equal weight when a halakhic decision is made. This includes rejecting opinions of even great authorities of the past–and present.

6. I do not believe that most perpetrators justify their abuse by citing chapter and verse in Rambam or other halakhic works, (although some do), and I do not believe that traditional Jewish sources cause increased abuse in the traditional community. However, the messages these sources send, their impact on rabbis and judges in decision making positions, and their impact on the perceived value and ethics as well as the practice of Halakhah are important.

7. And as for the type of rhetoric for which Rabbi Stern is searching see, “A Peek Under the Rug,” and listen to the audio of “Abuse in Our Community? Protecting our Future – Halakhic and Legal Methods to Stop Predators and Enablers.”

8. All this being said, we may still disagree as to the best way to confront issues and move the agenda forward. And there may be important philosophical and practical reasons for that. We have seen in the past while a number of approaches—the work of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, The Awareness Center, the Unorthodox Jew Blog, Jewish Survivors Blog, Shalom Task Force, Jewish Women International, National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, FaithTrust Institute, Project S.A.R.A.H. (Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic and the Association of Jewish Family Service Agencies of New Jersey.), Rockland County Shelter and Rockland County Bikkur Cholim, the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition of Greater Boston , the Jewish Domestic Abuse Collaborative of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Shalom Bayit in Houston, Tx. and Oakland, Calif. and many more. All working on issues of Jewish Domestic Violence, each in its own way. I am involved with some, and not others. I may or may not agree with some of them in terms of approach or policy, but I can say that as a group we are beginning to make an impact in helping survivors and in changing the way we, as a Jewish community, understand and address the issues.

Once again, thank you for bringing this important issue to your readers. The conversations it will stimulate and the actions it will motivate (hopefully) are vital.

Rabbi Mark Dratch
Founder and Director, JSafe

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