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Spousal Abuse - A Torah Perspective

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Topic: Spousal Abuse - A Torah Perspective

Jennifer Weiss wrote:

I attend a synagogue at my university. Last Friday, the Rabbi and a couple of us were discussing the possibility of spousal abuse within the Orthodox community. Some people said that it never happens, but my guess is that it does happen, though not as frequently as in non-observant homes. What is the truth?

Dear Jennifer,

Spousal respect is one of the Torah's most central ideas. While society at large applauds the likes of Rambo, Ninja Turtles and the Simpson family, our models are Abraham and Sara and the home they built together.

The Rambam describes how a man should act toward his wife: "The Sages demand that a man honor his wife more than himself, and love her as himself...He should spend money for her good...He should speak to her gently, and not act depressed or angry."

The Torah forbids striking people. Even someone who lifts a threatening hand is considered wicked. Rabbi Eliezar Pupo, writing 180 years ago in Turkey, calls upon city leaders to do whatever they can to curb interpersonal violence:

"And especially," he writes "those people, lacking all self-control, who batter their spouses...who treat Women of Israel like slaves, trampling, beating, and having no shame. Anyone with the power should inflict the harshest possible punishment upon them, and help the woman obtain a divorce if she so desires - Because a woman cannot live together with a snake. It is a tremendous Mitzva to save the victim from the hand of the oppressor."

I don't know of any exact statistics of spousal abuse in the Orthodox society. But, let me tell you the following story:

The Chafetz Chaim once testified on behalf of a yeshiva student entangled in the Polish judicial system. To bolster the credibility of his witness in the judge's eyes, the defense attorney told the following story: A thief once stole from the Chafetz Chaim, and the Chafetz Chaim ran after him shouting, "I forgive you! I forgive you!"

"Do you really believe that?" the judge asked.

"No," said the lawyer. "But Your Honor -- do they tell stories like that about you and me?"

While there may be an exceptional case in the Orthodox community, the stories of spousal abuse are few and far between.


  • Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 15:19.
  • Tractate Sanhedrin 58b.
  • Pele Yoetz, Ot 'Heh' -- "Haca'ah."

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