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Women: Victims of the Domestic Rod

posted by Virtual Talmud

I agree with Rabbi Waxman that corporal punishment sends the wrong message to children about solving problems with violence and therefore should have no place in family life. His comments remind me of a larger issue: the systemic failure of our community to adequately protect children (and women) who are witnesses to or victims of the rod of abusive violence in their home.

Domestic violence is a real problem in every segment of the Jewish community.

The most egregious cases are those in which women seek to leave physically abusive relationships only to find that rabbinical courts (batei din) advise them to return to their husbands for the sake of shalom bayit, peace in the home. Others pressure women to give up their children, or give up the financial support they are due, to receive their get (Jewish divorce document). Without a get, a woman cannot remarry. Still others are obstructionist, dragging their feet when they could help.

A case in Baltimore highlights this dilemma. Cynthia Ohana was abused for years by her husband. When she left, he continued to threaten her and their children despite restraining orders. For years, the religious courts refused her request for a civil divorce. Finally they permitted her to apply for a civil divorce. However, the beit din then spent years dragging their feet in taking the steps necessary to pursue for her get. Only when several local activists took up her cause did the local rabbinic establishment begin to exert any significant effort to coerce Ohana to give his ex-wife a get, finally placing him in herem (ostracized from the community). His father, a prestigious rabbi in California, supports his abusive son. In the meantime, Cynthia and her children remain in danger. Her parents have basically moved into her home to provide additional support and protection for her and her children. She also remains an agunah, a chained woman, who cannot remarry or move on with her life. She has been one of the foremost advocates for the “get bill” now before the Maryland legislature, which requires men seeking a civil divorce to remove all impediments to remarriage, including providing a religious divorce to their ex-wives.

To be fair, there are many rabbis and activists working to assist such women. However, as agunah activist Rivka Haut would be quick to explain, there are also many corrupt religious courts who side with the abusers rather than the victims. Why Orthodox leaders continue to wring their hands rather than accept any of the halakhic solutions that have been offered to solve the agunah problem (and free such trapped women) remains a tragic example of loss of rabbinic will.

Of course, domestic violence is not just an Orthodox problem. While the Conservative Movement technically solved the agunah problem with hafkaat kidushin (annulment of marriage initiated on behalf of the wife by the Movement’s Joint Beit Din), we need to do more to help our rabbis and educators to recognize the signs of abuse and be more effective in offering assistance. Our congregations also need to put into place effective policies to provide safe haven for domestic violence victims.

Fortunately, there is some good news. Jewish Women International is hosting their third conference on domestic violence this March 18-20 in Baltimore. A growing number of Jewish domestic violence centers (like CHANA in Baltimore) provide local support, safe houses, and counseling.

However, we have a long way to go before every Jewish home is rod-free.

Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

  • Rabbi Waxman: ‘Spare the Rod’
  • Rabbi Stern: Being Honest About Abuse


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    Comments read comments(7)
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    Caparice

    posted March 7, 2007 at 4:51 pm


    I don’t agree or disagree, there are some children whom you can talk to and they will listen, or you can take things that they like away when they misbehave and they will curb their behavior. I can tell when I was a child if you took something that I liked away, I would not care becuase I had my imagination and that could keep me busy forever (and still does). So my parents only way to punish me as a child was to spank me. When I became an adolescent then the removal of certain priveledges worked. But not as a small child. Purely seeing things as how I was as a child, if you were not going to pop me on the bottom had no real reason to listen to you. My sister on the other hand. You just raise your voice one octive and she falls right in line, so with that I have to say it depends on the child.



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    Caparice

    posted March 7, 2007 at 4:52 pm


    I don’t agree or disagree, there are some children whom you can talk to and they will listen, or you can take things that they like away when they misbehave and they will curb their behavior. I can tell when I was a child if you took something that I liked away, I would not care because I had my imagination and that could keep me busy forever (and still does). So my parents only way to punish me as a child was to spank me. When I became an adolescent then the removal of certain priveledges worked. But not as a small child. Purely seeing things as how I was as a child, if you were not going to pop me on the bottom had no real reason to listen to you. My sister on the other hand. You just raise your voice one octive and she falls right in line, so with that I have to say it depends on the child.



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    anmashelly

    posted March 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm


    When My ex and I mediated our divorce, the final statement in the mediation was that if he did not show up for the get set for the following evening, the mediation was null and void. My attorney’s goodby in the parking lot ended with his saying – Call me tomorrow and tell me you have that get in hand! My ex was very put out, but he was there the next night and I got my get!! He did not want to pay for the mediation process a second time. The Rabbi from my home congregation who I had known most of my life, never asked why I wanted a divorce and told me it was easier to fix the marriage than to divorce. WRONG.



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    Tzvi

    posted March 8, 2007 at 12:21 am


    While I understand and can appreciate the need for people to believe what they want, I find it hard to believe that even given the PROOF that the husband in the article was an abuser, and that he physically abused his wife, that the bet din didn’t FORCE the husband to grant a get. I know there are examples where they can, and any bet din that is that corrupt and can’t or won’t, even in the face of such a travesty, should have a cherem imposed on them. My mom, when she finally saw the abuser my father was, though not orthodox, went back to school so that when she was able to support her children, she told him to LEAVE, and get out. I have said on my personal Blog, and will tell anyone anywhere that for that act, she ranks on my most admired people list. Its funny to be talking about women in this respect, as March is also Women’s History Month.



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    Grethel Jane Rickman

    posted March 8, 2007 at 4:06 am


    My comments about children is located on the previous post by Rabbi Waxman. Husband-wife issues are a touchy subject for me, and I am for protecting either spouse from abuse. This can be applied to same-sex partnerships as well. I also don’t care what type of abuse either–mental abuse can be as bad as physical abuse. I suffered from the mental kind. I’ve been divorced since 9/11/2001–well before I became a Jew. Shalom!



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    anmashelly

    posted March 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm


    My ex’s first lawyer was a jewish woman who told him to use the get as a lever so I would get nothing if I wanted the get. I hung in there and told him if he did not want this divorce to cost both of us everything, he would get rid of the lawyer, find another one, mediate a fair settlement and give me the get. In the end he did just that. But I will never forget that my Rabbi told me to go home and fix my marriage, without ever asking why I wanted to get a divorce, and that a jewish woman told him to use the get to blackmail me. Perhaps some of those Rabbis would understand better if they had daughters being beaten to a pulp, or who became agunah. Unfortunately those women would probably die before admitting any of this type of behavior publically.



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    Lulu Kens

    posted May 11, 2008 at 1:28 am


    In my own understanding, using corporal punishment to descippline students/children is a total waste of time. It is also gives them a wrong sense as mistreat to them. In these cases they may commit suicide or lose control; of themselves and even can go mad. Students or children can also go mad after being corporally punished. After the pain they went through fear of being punished again controlled over them.
    So I gather Coporal punishment is not best at all to descipline children. It is better to command them. They will definitely hear you.



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