Addressing domestic and family violence

I recently asked you who read my columns to suggest topics you’d like explored. The first answer I received: a reminder that this is October, now titled Domestic and Family Violence Awareness Month. I could feel the passion behind this woman’s words: “….a matter close to my heart, although it’s not about me ….”

I remember many years ago when, at one of our Orthodox synagogues in Dallas, there was a speaker on this topic. The message that day was this: Our Jewish communities are not immune from family abuses. We Jews pride ourselves on holding dear the concept of “shalom bayit” — “peace in the home.” But who really knows what goes on behind closed doors except the people who live there?

The fact that this program was offered where it was, was very important. “Matchmaker” or arranged marriages are still popular in our Orthodoxy, where women’s roles — although they have changed much in recent years — may still most often be basically centered in supporting their husbands, not necessarily monetarily, but in the ways of an older tradition: care of the home and the people in it. And what if the husband doesn’t think his wife’s “caring” is up to his own personal standards? It is hard to admit that, even to oneself, let alone to others. And it is hard for all of us, as Jews, to admit there are women cowering in fear of their own husbands…

(Oh, yes indeed — there are men who suffer at the hands of their wives; one of them told his own story in a recent issue of the Dallas Morning News. But it is women who are most often the victims of abusive violence in their own families. They suffer. Their children suffer. Our society suffers…)

My mother’s mother — the great woman I have always called my Boubby the Philosopher — never had this problem. But she was a realist about life. “If every woman would hang her troubles outside in the backyard, like wash on the line,” she would say, “you could go outside, look up the block and down the block, and then you’d rush to grab your own clothes off your own line, run back inside your house and lock the door behind you!”

Violence in the home curses our society in many ways, not the least of which is its effect on the children living there. Children model what they see, and so they will often grow up to be abusers themselves, in their own future homes. In our society in general, there are not enough safe houses for all the women and children who need them. But even if there were plenty, it’s hard for an abused woman to make a break — especially if she has been conditioned for years to thinking and believing that all faults are hers, that she has not tried hard enough. And so she goes on, absorbing physical and mental blows, unable to admit her predicament, hiding the wounds that result from both. And for a Jewish woman, admitting her “failure” at her life’s work would be another failure, so she may hide what can be seen with modest clothing, and suffer in silence with what cannot be seen.

Our society as a whole sees too much of domestic and family violence. What can we as Jews do toward ending this plague of our own times, and therefore of us? My reader reminds us that we must be alert to see, and do what we can in our own community. Tzedakah can take many forms. Please remember that — even after October is over.

Harriet P. Gross can be reached at

Leave a Reply