Stopping Violence Against Women: A Jewish Perspective

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Stephen Wise

Rabbi Wise has focused much of his rabbinate in striving passionately to connect Jews of all ages to their Judaism. Whether its through prayer services, learning or social action, each presents a gateway to stronger Jewish identity. Rabbi Wise has worked recently developing programming for young adults in their 20-30's, starting ongoing successful groups in NYC and Florida, reigniting their connections to Judaism. Rabbi Wise is the spiritual leader for Oakville's Jewish community, and his congregation is Shaarei Beth-El on Morrison Road.

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A recent article in the Oakville News emphasized the disturbing facts that even in a fine town such as Oakville, abuse against women does take place regularly.  Among the members of the Jewish community, there is the same false notion that these things don’t happen among our people, its out there among other families.  The sad truth is that Jewish women also experience physical, sexual and verbal abuse by boyfriends, husbands, fathers and more.  Its time to put a stop to it, and no better time to highlight these issues than Nov. 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Here are some important steps toward ending abuse, as compiled by Rabbi Catharine Clark.

1.       End denial.  It’s a popular strategy but it does not change the fact that abuse victims live in fear and pain inflicted often by people very close to them.

2.       Jewish law prohibits a man from striking his wife.  Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote in the 18th century that “we must treat a man who beats his wife more severely than a man who beats another man, since he is obligated to honour his wife, more than himself.  A man who beats his wife should be placed under a ban and excommunicated”.

3.       We must uphold the value of Shalom Bayit which means “a peaceful home”.  The person abuser is disrupting the family, not the woman who speaks out and attempts to leave the relationship.

4.       We should speak about abuse from our pulpits and in bulletins and emails.  Leaders of faith, especially rabbis, cantors and educators, should send the message that we take this seriously and will listen to someone suffering from abuse.  We can also help through referrals, counselling and simply encouraging a woman that they are not alone.

5.       Insist that contact numbers for shelters and abuse help lines be up on the walls in the womensbathroom to empower women to make the first step towards help.

6.       Listen and believe.  The stories might sound far-fetched or insignificant.  However if a man is controlling a woman’s money, time, space, living area or access to others people – this is abuse. Respect her courage in coming to you to talk about it.

7.       Know the options for a woman seeking help and provide the phone numbers and emails so a woman can develop a safety plan.  Allow her to make the calls from a safe place such as a synagogue or other house of worship knowing that an abused woman might not have free access to a phone or computer.

8.       When preparing couples for marriage, discuss abuse openly and honestly.  Allow for a separate conversation where a woman can speak to the Rabbi alone and ask if there are any signs of abuse.

9.       Do not tell a woman to stay in a relationship for the sake of children.  Long term abuse can have life-long effects on a woman and the children’s development.  In fact the children might become victims themselves.

10.   Support a woman in her decisions, even if this means staying in the abusive relationship for now until she is ready to make the next step. Support and guide her.



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