Torah For Today: Domestic violence

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Torah For Today: Domestic violence

Rabbi Zvi Solomons reflects on a bill going through the House of Lords and looks into Jewish text for an Orthodox response

Rabbi Zvi Solomons
Domestic abuse
Domestic abuse

With the Domestic Abuse bill going through the House of Lords this week, what does the Torah say about violence against family members?

Being in lockdown has challenged people’s mental health and exacerbated the way some of us treat others at home, because we are rubbing up against each other constantly. In some cases, this generates a different, inexcusable reaction: violence.

Those who claim that this is not a problem in our communities are simply trying to wish it away. 

In Talmud Pesachim 49b, there is disgust for the way an am ha-aretz or ignoramus treats his wife, beating her. Later rabbinic sources, however, suggest that it is permitted to beat one’s wife and restrict her to domestic duties. 

One has only to read the commentaries on Dinah, who went out to visit friends and was raped. 

Rashi says she should not have been out. Worse still, Maimonides says a husband is permitted to beat a ‘bad wife’ to control her (Ishut 21:10).

This attitude may have had a connection to contemporary Islamic law, as the Ashkenazi Rabbi Perez ben Elijah states in the 13th century that “one who beats his wife is in the same category as one who beats a stranger… the Jew may be compelled… not to beat his wife in anger or cruelty to disgrace her, for that is against Jewish practice.”

Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg and R Simha ben Shmuel of Speyer say a man should honour his wife more than himself. It is worse to hit her than to hit a stranger, and he should be compelled to divorce her. 

Similarly, although parents are allowed to smack their children, the Talmud in Ketubot 50a says a parent should not hit his 12-year-old since that will cause the child to retaliate and break the serious injunction not to hit a parent.

It is notable that the late Rabbi Koppel Rosen ensured that Carmel College, despite being an attempt to emulate a British public school, did not copy the corporal punishment at that time exercised elsewhere.

There can be no excuse for domestic abuse of anyone. Lockdown is not an extenuating circumstance and those who suffer it deserve our sympathy and support, with organisations like Jewish Women’s Aid on hand to help.

  •  Rabbi Zvi Solomons is Rabbi of JCoB, the Jewish Community of Berkshire in Reading


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