Torah for Today – 04/07/13

Torah for Today – 04/07/13

With Rabbi Zvi SOLOMONS.

Although a husband in Hebrew can be referred to as ba’al [master], this is not generally considered to be appropriate
within a Jewish marriage.

Indeed, the prophet Hosea speaks of the day when Israel no longer calls God my ‘Master’, but my ‘husband’ or my ‘man’.

Indeed the curse laid upon Eve on the expulsion from Eden, that she bend to her husband’s will, must be considered as constantly weakening with each generation, as we grow more distant from eating of the Tree of knowledge.

It is not coincidental, that the rabbis constantly sought to strengthen the woman’s rights in any marriage, particularly through the institution of Ketubah outlining her rights and his responsibilities to her.

In the secular world, women are afforded at least nominally, total equality with men.

As human beings, this is only right. These, however, did not entirely eliminate spousal abuse, as we have seen in celebrity chef Nigella Lawson’s case.

It has to be acknowledged that there have been times in Jewish history when wife-beating has not been condemned as it should.

Indeed, Maimonides states, in his famous Mishneh Torah: “A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod.” (Isshut 21:10).

This is, perhaps, consistent with the fact that he came from a highly Islamic background, where respect for women was not as great as today. It is reflected in a less liberal approach to women by many Sefardi poskim (those who make decisions) as opposed to in the Ashkenazi world.

By contrast, Ashkenazim are more condemnatory of domestic violence. Indeed, the Maharam of Rothenburg in 13th century Ashkenaz taught that wife beating was grounds to force a get (divorce) on him.

It is therefore not surprising that today, in an environment where women are afforded equal respect, where women have now been allowed to occupy the position of honorary office in the United Synagogue, that such behaviour is utterly condemned.

Moreover, Halacha tells us that we must obey the laws of the country in which we live. This, along with the prophetic injunctions to do justice, found throughout the Bible, should be enough to teach us that spousal abuse is beyond the pale.

I would urge anyone who encounters spousal abuse – particularly physical abuse of this sort – to encourage the victim
to approach Jewish Women’s Aid, which can offer a confidential service, and good advice on how to deal with the situation.

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