Clergy Resource Center

Every time someone publicly addresses domestic abuse, whether it's speaking from a pulpit or writing about it in a newsletter, a victim or one of their loved ones comes forward to seek help. Clergy and community leaders play a critical role in lighting the way for individuals experiencing abuse to find the help they need to create a safer life for themselves and their families.

Domestic abuse occurs in Jewish families at about the same rate as in the general  population – 15-25% – and the abuse takes place among all branches of Judaism and at all socio-economic levels.1 Studies show that abuse occurs in every denomination of Judaism in equal percentages, and we see abuse in all communities including the unaffiliated. Abuse takes place at all socio-economic levels.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. I think most Jewish people think it can never happen to them or does not happen within the Jewish community. I felt this way too before I experienced it, and I never could have imagined that I would be in this situation. But I have learned otherwise.

- JCADA Client, 2006

Cultural Issues Facing Jewish Victims

Shalom Bayit [Peace in the Home]
Shalom bayit – or peace in the home – is a central tenet of Judaism but it is not the reality in homes, where the constant threat of domestic abuse– physical, emotional, sexual, technological and financial – continues to erode the fabric of Jewish family and community life. Shalom bayit is one of the few mitzvot [commandments] given primarily to women. The home is a source of family identity, education and affection. Women who strive to achieve shalom bayit may feel that admitting they are being abused in any way reflects poorly on the individual. There may be feelings of guilt, shame and stigma for shattering the myth of shalom bayit. There is also a fear that this admission may cause a backlash and a victim may be blamed or ostracized for coming forward.
Denial
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience domestic abuse during their lifetime and research shows that abuse occurs in the Jewish community at the same rate as the community at large (15-25%). With a Jewish community of more than 215,000 people in the Washington Metropolitan area, applying these statistics means that over 30,000 people have or are experiencing domestic abuse. We must acknowledge that domestic abuse does occur and shatter the myth. As we begin to lift the veil of secrecy around domestic violence in our community, we can help those at risk. Once this denial is erased, then women, children, and men will be able to seek the help that is necessary to break these destructive patterns.
 Religious Observance
Observant women’s concerns about leaving the home include the need to have kosher food at a shelter, the need to be able to observe Shabbat and other observances and be close to their children’s school.
Secretiveness
While JCADA is raising awareness about abuse within the Jewish community, it is still an issue that many people do not feel comfortable discussing publicly. It is only in recent years that Rabbis and lay leaders have begun speaking about domestic abuse in a public forum. However, the secretive nature of abuse still results in many victims not wanting others to know about the abuse they are enduring.
 Shanda [shame]
There is a perception that abuse does not happen in the Jewish community and if abuse does happen in the community, it happens to someone else. Victims may feel that they are alone, that no one else in the Jewish community is living with abuse and that no one will understand or believe them. In a smaller community, relative to the total population, one’s partner may be a communal or business leader. Victims fear that no one will believe that a pillar of the community can also be abusive. Victims may feel an obligation to remain with their partner and this prevents them from leaving the unhealthy relationship.
 Socio-economic
A lack of access to finances can create an issue of entrapment for many middle to upper middle class victims. They may have only limited knowledge of the family finances, limited access to money or be threatened with financial ruin if they leave. This may include taking away credit and debit cards; changing passcodes to bank accounts; requiring receipts for every purchase made including gas, groceries and medicines; and moving all funds into an alternative bank account. Victims feel stuck in their abusive situation because they cannot support their family’s standard of living on their own. They may not qualify for public assistance because on paper it may show that they should have access to money. This can compound feelings of shame and embarrassment and a desire to keep this secret.

Parashah Pieces: Divrei Torah [Sermons] Samples and Inspiration


Genesis
Bereshit 1:27 - “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” 
  • It is clear from the very beginning that within every human being is a spark of divinity. Each person is of inestimable worth. An abuser is determined to destroy the “tzelem" in his victim The victim must be helped to realize that their spark of the divine can never be destroyed.
Noach 6:11 - “The earth became corrupt before God.” 
  • Why does the verse add the words “before God”. These words appear superfluous. The following comment is offered in the Etz Chayim commentary, “God deemed their behavior corrupt, but they themselves saw nothing wrong with it.” In cases of domestic abuse, it is common for the abuser to consider his behavior as perfectly normal and fitting. Our tradition holds us to God’s standards and not human standards.
Lech Lecha 12:1 -  “The Lord said to Abram, 'Go forth (lech lecha) from your native land and from your father’s houseto the land that I will show you.'” 
  • The Hebrew expression lech lecha because of the doubling of the word lech and the secondlecha, literally meaning “go to yourself,” is fertile ground for much interpretive comment. One cansee this doubling as hint that Abram’s journey is both external and internal (lech the physicalgoing out and lecha, the journey within). Abram must both physically leave Ur and spiritually leave Ur in order to break from idolatry and worship the one God.Similarly, the victim of abuse must journey without and within. Very often, they must physicallyleave the house they shared with the abuser and they must also leave the emotional and spiritualprison that the abuser has constructed for them. JCADA reminds the Jewish community that wemust leave behind our perception that domestic abuse doesn’t happen in “our” community.
Vayeira 18:21 - “I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reachedMe; if not, I will take note” 
  • This verse teaches us that the omniscient God must “go down” to witness the evidence of crueltyand abuse of Sodom and Gemorrah. So too must we, as a community and as individuals, descendfrom our “high perch” and bear witness to the cruelty and abuse that happens in far too manyJewish homes. Abraham’s mission is to be God’s partner and “to keep the way of the Lord by doingwhat is just and right. We are Abraham’s descendants.
Chayei Sarah 24:67 - "Isaac loves her..."
  • Rabbi Harold Kushner offers the following comment on this verse in the Etz Chayim Commentary,“Isaac comes to love Rebecca after he marries her. Their love is the result, not the prerequisite oftheir relationship.”Certainly, “first comes marriage, then comes love” is not the norm in our modern society. And yet,we should not be quick to dismiss the wisdom in these words. Would it be that all relationships,marital and pre-marital, result in increasing the love between the partners. JCADA's mission includesthe important task of helping our teens identify the difference between a healthy and unhealthyrelationship to help break the cycle of abuse for future generations.
Toledot 27:19-22 - “Jacob said to his father, 'I am Esau, your first born…' Isaac wondered, 'The voice is the voice ofJacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.'” 
  • Jacob presents himself as his brother. He purposely deceives his father in order to receive Esau’sblessing. This deception leads to much pain and suffering.Deception plays a large role in the family dynamics of the household in which there is abuse. Often,to the outsider, the family appears perfectly normal. In fact, one might say that household in whichthere is abuse is an inverted Jacob. The hands (outer) are the hands of Jacob, smooth and refined,but the voice (inner) is the voice of Esau, rough and aggressive.
Vayetze 28:16 - “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it.'” 
  • Jacob fled his angry brother. He was frightened. He was alone. And yet he comes to the realization,with his dream of the ladder, that God has not deserted him. God was present is this “any place” thathe laid down his head.The most important thing that we can offer the victim of domestic abuse is our presence.Demeaned and frightened, they feel completely alone. JCADA is like Jacob’s ladder - both a welcomingand supportive presence and a way up and out, one wrung at a time.
Vayishlach 33:18 - “Jacob arrived safe (shalem) in the city of Shechem.” 
  • Just prior to this verse, the Torah tells us that Jacob was injured in his fight with the angel, andnow walks with a limp. How is it that Jacob arrives in the city of Shechem shalem (literally “whole”)though he walks with a limp? The great Hasidic sage Menahem Mendel of Kotzk taught, “There isnothing so whole as a broken heart.” Perhaps, Jacob’s physical injury strengthened his soul.Perhaps the arrogant, conniving Jacob was now humbled and finally able to fill his role as the fatherof a great people.A “broken heart” - emotional and physical trauma leaves a terrible mark on the psyche of the victimof the abuse. And yet, this does not mean that the victim is weak and broken. Survivingdomestic abuse with the help of JCADA can leave a person with a reservoir of strength andresilience that can provide inspiration for all. 
Vayeshev 39:20 - “So Joseph’s master had him put in prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. But evenwhile he was there in prison, the Lord was with Joseph…” 
  • Joseph’s young life was filled with ups and downs, both literal and figurative. He was lifted up by his fatherand cast into a pit by his brothers. He rose up to be the head of Potiphar’s household and he was  thrown into a prison framed by Potiphar’s wife. Through it all, the Torah tells us, God was withJoseph. Would that we had such assurance of God’s presence, through our trials and tribulations;for to be alone is the most terrible blow of all.There are those among us, Jewish women and men, whose lives have knownterrible hardship akin to Joseph's. Like Joseph, they have been abandoned and brutalized bythose who should hold them most dear. Jewish victims of domestic abuse are often alone in theirsuffering. Isolated by their abusers and by a community that does not want to hear their plight, likeJoseph, they too need God’s presence. Thank God, there is JCADA, an organization that providesreal support, a helping hand to lift them up and return them to the dignity they deserve. Acting aspartners with God, JCADA reminds the Josephs in our midst that they too are not alone.
Miketz 41:51 - “Joseph named the first born Menashe... meaning, 'God has made me forget completely my hardshipand my parental home.'” 
  • What did it mean for Joseph to forget the hardship of his parental home? Clearly, Joseph was stillvery much aware of his past and his pain. He named his son Menashe not because he has wipedclean his memory. He named his son Menashe because he is no longer imprisoned by the terriblememories of betrayal and abandonment. He has charted a new path and new life in spite of hishardships. Joseph’s rebirth took courage more than forgetfulness.So too it is with victims of domestic abuse. Women and men who leave abusive relationships and struggle torecapture their lives are not able to wipe clean their memories. They are able, with the help ofJCADA, to courageously go on with their lives in spite of their painful memories. Just as Joseph is arole model for us; so too are these survivors.
Vayigash 45:5 “Now do not be distressed or reproach yourself because you sold me hither; it was to save life thatGod sent me ahead of you.” 
  • Joseph’s understanding of God’s hand in his arduous life journey and his brothers’ treacherynegated the possibility of victimhood. Neither he nor his brothers were victims to fate but recipientsof God’s blessings. Joseph saw God as having a greater plan for us despite our troubles and travails.The work of JCADA is to help those suffering domestic abuse see that victimhood does not definethem. They are supported and empowered to seek safety and move on with their lives as best asthey can. This battle to see a hopeful future requires great courage. 
 Vayehi 49: 24 -“…By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob- There, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.” 
  • Jacob referred to God as a shepherd and a rock. These images are used to convey the double messagethat God is both a guide to His flock and steadfast like a rock. We human beings need both aspectsof God.Certainly, if ordinary men and women need guidance and steadfastness, then the most vulnerableamong us need guidance and steadfastness as well. Jewish victims of domestic abuse are the mostvulnerable among us. In our community, JCADA is a steadfast guide to a population desperately inneed of safety and support.
 Exodus
Shemot 2:13 - “When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting, so he said to the offender, “'Why doyou strike your fellow?'” 
  • This incident follows Moses interceding on behalf of the Hebrew slave who was beaten by theEgyptian taskmaster. Why does the Torah record this second instance of Moses standing up for thewronged? Isn’t striking down the Egyptian sufficient evidence of Moses’ courage and commitmentto justice. Perhaps the second instance is brought to teach us that pursuing justice is not only calledfor when your people are being abused by an outsider but also when one member of yourcommunity is being abused by another member of your community. Injustice within “the family” isstill injustice.JCADA helps us to realize, in our own community, the principle enshrined in the parasha. Injusticewithin “the family” is still injustice. We cannot stand idly by when far too many Jewish women inour community are abused by their spouses and other relatives. Domestic abuse is “our business”. 
Va’eira 6:6-8 - “Say therefore to the Israelite people: 'I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptianand deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm… and I will give itto you for a possession, I the Lord.'”
  • Free you, deliver you, redeem you, take you bring you. This passage reminds us thatredemption is not achieved in one fell swoop but is a several stage process involving escape fromboth physical and spiritual bondage. So too is leaving an abusive relationship a several stepprocess. JCADA reminds us that there must be safety planning, the decision to leave, processing ofgrief, and the battle to establish a new life. The victim must be helped every step of the way. 
Bo 13:8 - "And you shall explain to your son on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when Iwent free from Egypt.'” 
  • The mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus on Pesach is repeated three times in this parasha(and one other time in Devarim). Why must this mitzvah be repeated so many times? Perhaps, it’sbecause our story of redemption is a painful one to tell. We must, as the Mishna instructs us, beginwith shame. Slavery was a dark chapter in our national story. No one relishes retelling and relivingour degradation. And yet, the greater the gloom of degradation, the greater the light of redemption.JCADA’s outreach efforts are inspired by this mitzvah of the seder night. Telling the story ofdomestic abuse in the Jewish community is not easy. It is a dark and painful tale. And yet, JCADAmust begin with this shame in order to explain the redemptive role it plays in the lives of thevictims of domestic abuse. The work of JCADA is not depressing. The work of JCADA is upliftingand inspiring. 
Beshalach 14:29 - “But the Israelites had marched through the sea on dry ground…” 
  • According to a Midrash, Nachshon ben Aminadav, head of the tribe of Judah, was the first to step into the sea, even before it parted. His demonstration of faith brought on the miracle of the splittingof the sea. Taking the first step forward into the dark sea of the unknown opens the path toredemption. For the victims of domestic abuse, taking the first step forward, contacting JCADA orreaching out to your rabbi, opens the path to personal redemption as well.
Mishpatim 21:24 - “Eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” 
  • Rabbinic tradition understood this verse to mean that the aggressor must compensate the victimfor the monetary value of his limb that was injured. In addition, the Talmud mandates that thevictim be compensated for medical expenses, pain endured, shame experienced and wages lost.We can see in this well-worked out system of justice a deep understanding of the suffering of thevictim of violence. Certainly, we, as heirs to this great tradition of justice, must bring a deepunderstanding of the victims of domestic abuse. 
Terumah 25:11 - “Overlay it with pure gold inside and out…” 
  • Our Sages saw in this verse about the ark of the covenant an admonition to the talmid chacham, thelearned Jew. As he is “gold/pious” on the outside (publicly), he must also be “gold/pious” on theinside (privately). Clearly, the Sages understood the propensity for religious Jews to deceive thosearound them with the outward trappings of piety.All too often, in cases of domestic abuse, the Jewish abuser will present himself to the largercommunity as a pillar of virtue. Many will be fooled and ignore the pleas of the victim when shetells what happens behind closed doors. 
Tetzaveh 27:20 -  “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, forkindling lamps regularly.”
  • This verse is the source for the practice of hanging a “Eternal Light” above the ark in the synagogue.The term “Eternal Light” or Ner Tamid in Hebrew is a bit misleading. It suggests that the lightstays lit eternally on its own. Instead, the verse in our parasha makes clear that the Hebrew wordtamid (continually, eternally) is describing the actions of the Israelites and not the light itself.This point of Hebrew grammar offers a valuable spiritual lesson. In shining a light on the darkplaces of the world, we must be ever vigilant. Once the light fades, the doers of evil will feel free totake advantage of the innocent. JCADA is the constant light in our community on the scourge ofdomestic abuse. It must never be diminished. 
Ki Tissa 30:12 - “V’nat’noo” 
  • This Hebrew word, which means “each shall give/pay” is a palindrome, spelled thesame way from right to left as it is from left to right. This reminds us that giving is also receiving.We should never see ourselves, when we give, as being on a higher plane, the stronger bestowingmercy on the weaker. Rather, we should always be open to receiving back from the one we arehelping. Victims of domestic abuse have a great deal of strength and wisdom to share.
Vayakhei 35:3 - “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” 
  • A Chasidic insight: “Why does the verse add, 'throughout your settlements' to the mitzvah-to teachus that we should not add anger, hurtful speech, and gossip to our community on Shabbat?" Thisimportant warning against abuses of the tongue is clearly regarding hurtful and hateful speech. Itshould not be used as an excuse for refraining to believe someone when they report abuses of thebody and the soul. Sadly, all too often, victims of domestic abuse will share with someone else, evenclergy, their painful plight and the confidant will do nothing for fear of engaging in gossip. A fire isburning inside a home and extinguishing that fire takes precedence.
Pikudey 40:35 - “Moses could enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the presence ofthe Lord filled the Tabernacle.”
  • Chaim Potok writes in the Etz Hayim Commentary, “The book of Exodus which opened with anarrative of misery and oppression, closes on a note of confidence and hope." The subject ofdomestic abuse, which is a dark secret our community keeps, can be a source of light and hope.JCADA is writing a new book of Exodus for our day.
Leviticus
Vayikra 1:2 - “Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: ‘When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.’”
  • The Hebrew word for offering or sacrifice is korban which comes from the root kuf, resh, bet - meaning to draw close. Victims of domestic abuse have been sacrificed on the altar of “not in our community” for far too long. We must see tackling this issue as our korban; our attempt at bringing ourselves closer to God; closer to our purpose on the planet - “to praise, to labor, and to love.” 
Tzav 7:12 - “If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in…” 
  • The todah/thanksgiving offering was given after a person had been saved from a life-threatening experience. In a sense, the person was given a second chance at life. Echoes of this biblical sacrifice are found in the practice of saying birkat ha-gomel before the Torah, the blessing of praise of God offered by a person who completed a dangerous journey, or recovered from an illness. No doubt, everyone has experienced, to one degree or another, the great relief of having survived a dangerous encounter; of moving from vulnerability to security. We can then only begin to imagine what the victim of domestic abuse must feel; being unsafe and completely vulnerable in their own home. And we can then only begin to understand the relief that JCADA provides to these women and men when they support them in moving from danger to security. 
Shemini 11:7 - “...and the pig - although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud; it is impure for you.” 
  • Jewish tradition ascribes a particular spiritual/moral deficiency to the pig. The reason is the pig has “kosher feet” but does not chew its cud; meaning it has cloven hoofs and thus appears kosher on the outside while hiding its treif nature from the world. My mother told a story about a relative who was like the pig. He used to bring his own pots and pans to my Bubby’s home, because he didn’t trust my grandmother’s kashrut, yet it was plain enough that he beat his wife. JCADA deals with far too many “religious” Jewish men whose “piety” is a mere subterfuge. 
Tazria 13:3 - “The priest shall examine the affection on the skin of his body…when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him impure.” 
  • According to Rabbi Harold Kushner in the Etz Hayim Commentary, “One commentator reads this as 'when the priest sees him' (Meshekh Hokhmah). The priest is to examine the whole person, not only the diseased limb. He is to see what his whole and healthy about the person, not only what is afflicted."  JCADA helps us look at the total person. A victim of domestic abuse who seeks help is much more than just a victim. They are a full person with incredible strength who has something to teach all of us.
Metzorah Lev: 14:45 - “The house shall be torn down…” 
  • The Rabbis see this as a foreshadowing of the destruction of the Temple; a “house” that will be torn down by the evil of its inhabitants. The evil of domestic abuse is a negah/plague not only on and in the home where it occurs, but also on and in the communal house as well. How often we hear about a crime against a stranger being committed by an abusive spouse who, eventually, lashes out against others as well. The bayit m’nugah, the afflicted house, is a moral warning to all.
Acharei Mot 18:5 - “You shall keep My laws and My rules by the pursuit of which man shall live; I am the Lord. None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord…”
  • The repetition of “I am the Lord/ Anee Hashem” in these two verses reminds us that God is a part of our lives even in the most “intimate” of settings. Abuse and indecency in a family is not a private matter but an offense against God. Additionally the phrase “…of which man shall live/v’chai bachem” has been understood by the Rabbis as the basis for arguing that martyrdom is prohibited except in three cases; murder, incest, and adultery. One should die rather than compromise one’s sexual propriety. How much the more so, one should not commit an act of sexual abuse.
Acharei Mot 18:25 - “Thus the land became defiled, and I call it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.”
  • What a powerful image. Taking advantage, abusing others, is not merely a personal offense, the collective is defiled as well.
Kedoshim 19:18 - “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
  • Martin Buber understood this commandment (love your neighbor as yourself) as being connected to the preceding one, “you shall not take vengeance.” Because all human beings are part of the same body, to hurt another person in an effort to get even is to hurt part of oneself. He compares it to a person whose hand slips while holding a knife and he stabs himself. Should he stab the offending hand that slipped, to get even with it for hurting him?... So it is, when we, in anger hurt another person, not understanding we are all connected. ( Etz Chayim Torah and Commentary p. 697)
Emor 23:29 - “You shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring a gift to the Lord…” 
  • Commonly understood as fasting, v’ee’nee’tem et nafshotaychem, more precisely, means practicing self-denial or better; self-control. To be human, fully human, is to have control over one’s baser impulses. Rather than seeing v’ee’nee’tem et nafshotaychem as to punish oneself (fasting as self-flagellation), we can understood the mitzvah as an effort to draw closer to God by leaving the animal part of ourselves aside. Godliness is about controlling ourselves. The animalistic side of ourselves seeks to control others.
Behar 25:10 - “You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants…”
  • Harold Kushner in the Etz Chayim Torah and Commentary offers the following insight into this verse from P'nai Yehoshua. “The jubilee year brings freedom not only to slaves but also to the slave owners, freeing them from the dehumanizing situation of having such power over other human beings.” An abuser asserts dominance over his/her victim attempting to degrade and demean the other person. Our verse reminds us that the abuser is also demeaning and degrading him/herself.
Bechukotai 27:14 - “If anyone consecrates his house to the Lord…” 
  • Far from seeing “your home as your castle”, Jewish tradition sees one’s home as place to practice holiness in word as in deed. According to Menahem Mendl of Kotzk, “True holiness sanctifies the seemingly mundane activities of running a household. One who behaves in a elevated manner in one’s own house is truly a holy person.”
Numbers
Bemidbar 2:17 - “As they camp, so they shall march, each in position, by their standards.”
  • Harold Kushner in the Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary offers the following insight into thisverse. “The verse is interpreted homiletically to teach that one should be the same person at homeas away from home, in private as in public.” Clearly, our tradition understood that there is greattemptation to act irresponsibly when not subject to the scrutiny of others. Being a person ofintegrity requires great self-disciple and yirat shamayim, a real sense that God is watching.
Hosea (haftarah) 2:18 - “And in that day you will- declares the Lord- You will call (Me) Ishi, and no more will you call meBaali.”
  • The prophet Hosea sees the relationship of Israel and God as the relationship between husband andwife. The repentant wife, Israel, will be accepted back by God, the forgiving husband. The restoredrelationship will be one of partners (eesh v’eesha) and not of master (ba’al) and servant.
Naso 6:26 - “…The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace.”
  • According to the Ktav Sofer (Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, 19th Hungarian rabbi), peace bebegins in the home, then extends to the community, and finally to the all the world. Here again, wesee the Jewish view that decency radiates from inside out and not the outside in.
Behaalotecha 8:2 - “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you mount the lamps give light at the front of thelampstand.”
  • The light of the menorah pushes back the darkness of the world. The Chanukah menorah shedslight when the world experiences its greatest darkness during the winter solstice. We, as Jews, bearresponsibility to shed light on the dark places in our community where injustice and abuse abide.
Shlach 13:32 - “Thus they spread calumnies about the land they had scouted…” 
  • Spreading evil reports about the Land of Israel led to an entire generation’s demise in the desert.Gossip and lashon ha’rah is rightly condemned in our tradition. And yet, our hesitancy to practiceevil speech should not prevent us from following up on suspicions that someone is being abused.Passing on one’s suspicions of mistreatment to a rabbi is the right thing to do!
Korach 16:12 - “Moses send for Dotan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, but they said, “We will not come!”
  • According to Rashi, “From here we derive that one should not persist in dispute because Mosessought them out to conciliate them with peaceful words (b’divrei shalom).” Humility and puttingaside ego is an important lesson that we learn from Moses, our Teacher. Perhaps, this played aneven more critical role in the life of Moses who was prone to act out on his anger.
Chukkat 20:2-5 - “The community was without water, and they joined against Moses…'Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink.'” 
  • Slavery was a trauma that left its mark on the people. Long after slavery ended, the trauma continued. They were more comfortable being the slaves than free people. The victims of abuse also carry with them psychic scars. Leaving an abusive relationship means more than leaving the marital home. Freedom requires a long and brave fight, both internal and external.
Balak 24:5 - “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwelling places, O Israel.”
  • According to the Talmud (Bava Batra 60a), Balaam said these words when he saw that the tents ofthe Israelites were arranged so that their entrances made it impossible for a family to see inside thetents of others, showing respect for privacy. And yet, Balaam was a pagan prophet whose donkeysaw more clearly than he. Perhaps we need to look more carefully than Balaam. What appears onthe outside to family purity and modesty might on the inside be filled with violence and abuse.
Pinchas 25:12 - “Say, therefore, I grant him My pact of shalom ( briti shalom).”
  • Pinchas, the zealous defender of the faith of Israel and the people of Israel, is given a covenant ofpeace. Was this a reward for his zealous act or was this an antidote for his destructive impulse?Commentators offer various interpretations. What we can say for sure is that peace is possibleeven after psychic trauma like abuse. Perhaps that peace is incomplete (hinted at by the brokenletter vav in the word “shalom” as it’s written in the Torah scroll), but it is peace nonetheless.
Matot 30:9 - “But if her husband restrains her on the day he learns of it, he thereby annuls her vow…”
  • The view that wives are subservient to their husbands is certainly present and undeniable in Jewishtradition. Even though the Rabbis of the Talmud narrowed the applicability of this law, the manwas still dominant in many aspects of halacha. Some men today continue to use this worldview asjustification for spousal abuse. Sometimes we do this type thing and we argue that Jewish traditiongives us a justification.
Masei 35:11 - “…you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayerwho has killed a person unintentionally may flee.”
  • If Biblical tradition insists on a city of refuge for a inadvertent killer, how much the more so shouldwe provide places of refuge for the victims of domestic abuse. JCADA helps such victims get thelegal, emotional, and physical refuge that they need.
Deuteronomy
Devarim 1:1 - “These are the words ( devarim) that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan…” 
  • “Words” in Hebrew are devarim. Devarim also means “things”. This double meaning of devarim reminds us that words have substance. Abusive words do damage that is lasting. Domestic abuse often is verbal abuse. Words that demean, words that debase are weapons in the arsenal of the abuser.
Va'etchanan 5:17 - “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • This commandment is worded differently in Hebrew than the ninth commandment is worded in Exodus (Ex. 20:13). Literally, this commandment means, “You shall not be a worthless witness against your neighbor.”Victims of domestic abuse are found in every congregation in our community. We must be worthy witnesses to their plight. Domestic abuse often happens behind closed doors but the tell tale signs are evident to those who know what to look for. We need to be those people who know what to look for.
Va'etchanan 6:4 - “Shema Yisrael...”
  • “Shema” means not only to hear but to “listen” and to “understand” and to “do”. Our Jewish community needs to listen when a victim of abuse speaks. All too often, we close our ears. We must listen deeply and patiently and providing them the support they need.
Eikev 7:26 - “Do not bring this abomination into your house…” 
  • The Jewish home is to be a place of sanctity. For our ancient ancestors, the outside world was filled with debased practices. Bringing an idol into the home meant the moral and spiritual corruption of that home. In our day, idols may not be gold and silver depictions of Baal and Astarte but the pursuit of the material. Power and envy must be barred from our homes lest we tear apart the very relationships we hold most dear.
Eikev 8:17 - “…and you shall say to yourselves, 'My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.'” 
  •  Financial control is often a devastating tool in the arsenal of the abuser. He manipulates the victim with constant threats that he will leave her destitute. The wealth is his and he can use it as a bludgeon.
Re'eh 15:7-8 - “…do not harden your heart and shut your hand to your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” 
  • According to the Talmud, one who ignores the needy is like an idolater (BT Ket. 68a). Also, it is forbidden to insult the poor or accuse them of being undeserving. How easy it is for us to ignore the Jewish victims of domestic abuse. We say to ourselves, “this doesn’t happen in a Jewish household.”All too often, we look the other way because Jewish domestic abuse makes us uncomfortable.
Shofetim 21:8 - “...do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” 
  • How many times have we watched the news and seen that a terrible murder (or murders) has resulted from a “domestic situation”? Domestic abuse often leads to the shedding of innocent blood. Our ancient ancestors felt compelled to perform an expiation ritual when a body was discovered and the assailant was unknown. “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.” (Deut. 21:7) Can we truly say that “our eyes did not see it done”?
Ki Teitzei 21:14 - “…and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her…” 
  • This parasha mandates repeatedly that constraints be placed on the powerful in their treatment of the vulnerable, particularly in domestic situations. Whether it is the captive woman taken in war or the unloved wife or the wife accused of not being a virgin, the more powerful male is constrained by the laws of the Torah to treat her justly and within a legal process. Though the particular procedures trouble our 21 st century sensibilities, the general aim of the Torah is constrain the ability of the husband to abuse his spouse.
Ki Tavo 28:29 - “You shall grope at noon as a blind man gropes in dark…” 
  • Why does the Torah set this out as particularly horrible curse? Doesn’t the blind man grope about in the dark as he gropes about in the light? Yes, but in the light others can give him help whereas in the dark, he is completely alone. (BT Meg. 24b). When we fail to shine a light on domestic abuse, we curse the victims with darkness. She gropes around with no one to help her. She has been victimized twice.
Nitzavim 30:19 - “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death,blessing and curse. Choose life-if you and your offspring would live- by loving the Lord your God,heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him…”
  • All too often, we humans surrender our God given ability and right to choose. In situations ofdomestic abuse, the abuser and the abused must know they have choice. The abuser can choose tostop his/her abusive behavior and the abused can make the difficult choice to seek help andseparate herself from the abuser.
Vayelech 31:6 - “Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them for the Lord your God Himself marcheswith you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”  
  • Reaching out for help requires strength and courage. Just as Moses reassures the people Israel thatthey will not be alone, God will be with them, so we must reassure the victims of domestic abusethey are not alone. Not only will God be with them, but we will be with them as well. Isolation is anally of the abuser!
Haazinu 32:48 - “Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, andview the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding.” 
  • Even though Moses will not enter the land of Israel personally, he will see it from a distance. He willglimpse what is possible for his children. Viewing the “Promised Land” seeing what is possible notonly for her/himself but for his/her children is a necessary step in the journey of the abused tosafety and a better life. The abused often can only see more wilderness ahead. With the help ofJCADA, the possibility of a brighter future is revealed.
V'Zot HaBerachah - Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek - “Be strong and be strengthened.” 
  • The parting words we offer as we finish the Torah remind us that endings are always difficult. Weare creatures of habit. Often we would prefer to remain in a situation, even a bad situation, ratherthan starting anew. Some wonder why a victim of abuse remains with an abuser. Though thereasons are complex, one reason is endings, even necessary endings, require great strength.

Prayers for Healing

Birkat ha-Gomel
Birkat ha-gomel translates from the Hebrew as a “blessing of thanksgiving” and originates with the Temple offering known as the korban todah, or thanksgiving offering. It is a traditional prayer of thanks to be recited by one who has survived a dangerous situation.
  • ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם, הגומל לחיבים טובות, שגמלני כל טוב
  • Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, ha’gomel l’chayavim tovot, sh’g’malni tov. 
  • Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who bestows kindness on those who are committed, and who has granted to me all kindness. 
After the blessing, those who hear the blessing say:
  • שגמלך טוב הוא יגמלך סלה
  • Shegemalcha tov, hu yigmalcha, selah.
  • May the One who has granted you all kindness always grant kindness to you, selah
 Misheberach
Jewish Women International's Clergy Task Force 
  • May the one who blessed our ancestors, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and Abraham, Isaac,and Jacob, provide protection, compassion, care, and healing for all those who have known violence and abuse within their families. May those who have been harmed find pathways to understanding and wholeness, and those who have caused harm find their way to repentance and peace. May our community be a source of support for those who have suffered in silence or shame. May those whose homes have become places of danger find their way to a sukkat shalom, a shelter of safety. Amen.
 Mikveh
Mayyim Hayyim, Living Waters Community Mikveh and Paula Brody & FamilyEducation Center - An Immersion Ceremony
Intention - Kavanah (to be read preparing for immersion)
  • As I immerse myself in mayim hayyim, living waters,I begin a time of rebirth and renewal. From Miriam’s well I draw refreshing waters of strength and comfort, waters to cleanse and purify, to sustain and bless.Holy One of Blessing, welcome me as I enter Your Life-flow.Surround me, embrace me, bathe me in your sweet waters, in your healing light.
Immersion - T'vilah
First Immersion (Slowly descend the steps into the mikveh waters and immerse completely so that every part of your body is covered in the warm water of the mikveh.When you emerge, recite the following:)
  • Baruch atah, AdonaiEloheinu, Melech ha’olamAsher kidshanu bi-t’vilahB’mayyim hayyim. 
  • Blessed are You, God, Majestic Spirit of the UniverseWho makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.
Second Immersion (Take a deep breath and exhale completely, while gently and completely immerse.When you emerge, recite the following:)
  • Carry me to new shores, new beginnings.Grant me the gift of safety – safety of body and safety of spirit.Grant me a r’fuah sh’lemah, a complete healing and renewal.
Third Immersion (Take a moment for personal reflection… Relax, and let your body soften, as you slowly and completely immerse.When you emerge, recite the following blessing:)
  • Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olamShehechayanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu la’zman hazeh
  • Praised are you, God of all Creation, Who has kept me alive, sustained me and, through one miracle after another, has brought me to this time.
A Closing Intention – Kavanah (Take a deep breath and walk slowly up the steps, out of the mikveh waters.When wrapped again, recite the following:) 
  • May I remember this moment of being held in safety, surrounded by living waters.May I be released from the pain of the past as I enter this new phase of my journey.May I know my own strength and trust my ability to care for myself.Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazayk.From strength to strength, I am strengthened.
 Support & Strength
Rabbi Lisa Gelber, Associate Dean, The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary
  • Holy One of life and love, Bless us with the strength to greet each day with energy and purpose as we work to eradicate sexual and domestic violence and terror. Grant us the wisdom to recognize stumbling blocks for what they are and the creativity to maneuver our way around them. Open the eyes of those who see violence against women and children as inevitable outcomes of the world in which we live; let them hear the cries of those in need; widen their hearts to hold the many faces of those in this world and beyond who demand our unending support; call forth compassionate words of change from their mouths and commitment to acts of justice and transformation from their hands. Draw us together as a community of diverse narrative, culture and history, offering support through our presence and intention. Remind us that we are not alone . . . we are not alone. Help us to engage in intentional practice of thanksgiving; let us be grateful for the accomplishments of those who came before us, the progress we have made and the prospect of a brighter tomorrow. When we are tired and veer towards complacency, stretch out Your hand and re-ignite the passionate fire for divine humanity that lives within. You, who rolls away the darkness into the light, send us forth as messengers, truth tellers and witnesses to illuminate what is and demand with fortitude a world of safety and respect for women and children in body, mind and spirit. Just as the dove found an olive branch in the receding flood waters, so too may we find signs of peace and the potential for hope and renewal. May that time come speedily and in our day. And let us say, Amen.

1Abramson, Sarah & Cora Peterson. (2011). “You know a Jewish woman sufferingfrom domestic abuse”: Domestic Abuse and the British Jewish Community. JewishWomen’s Aid.; Giller, B. & Goldsmith, E. (1980). All in the Family: A Study of Intra-familial Violence in the Los Angeles Jewish Community [unpublished master’sthesis]. Los Angeles, CA: Hebrew Union College and University of SouthernCalifornia.