- Question: [Tuesday, 23rd Shevat 5782]
Unfortunately, I am in an abusive relationship with my husband. While the abuse does not happen every day, it is not uncommon, and I do live in fear of him getting angry and losing his temper when things are not done according to his will or I make mistakes that anger him. And yes, I am referring to actual physical abuse including slapping me and hitting me, and throwing things at me. I of course have spoken to him about this, and he does kind of feel bad and has promised me in the past that it will never happen again, but of course it always does, as when he gets angry, he loses control and he does not control when he gets angry. He also often blames me for getting him angry and making him do what he does. What do you suggest I do? Should we go to therapy? Should I try to get a Rav involved? May I go to the police? Should I go to a Beis Din to ask for a divorce?
No one deserves to live in an abusive relationship and a husband has no legal or Halachic right to hit his wife. You have the following options available which is, therapy with a licensed therapist or experienced Rav, filing a police report [mainly as a scare tactic, or for documentation purposes], filing for divorce in a Beis Din, and going into a shelter. The specific and correct path for you to follow in your predicament is beyond my field of expertise as a Rav, and I strongly recommend you contact an organization which specializes in giving counseling for cases of domestic violence and based on their expert opinion, suggest you which of the above approaches is best for you to follow. The one option that cannot be available is for you to remain in the abusive relationship; either the abuse leaves or the relationship leaves, there is no other option.
Organizations to contact
In Israel, you can call the following organizations that can help guide you and assist you in your predicament: Amutot Bat Melech 1800-292-333 https://www.batmelech.org/ https://www.batmelech.org/?lang=en [they provide counseling and guidance from licensed therapists as to the best approach that one should follow from the above listed, they also provide legal advice and representation in court, and provide a safe shelter for the wife and children away from the abusive husband. You can leave with them your number and they will get back to you.] In the United States you can contact: Shalom Task Force at 888.883.2323 https://shalomtaskforce.org/hotline
To note that in all cases of emergency where you feel that your life or the life of your child may possibly be in danger due to your husband’s rage, you should not hesitate and should immediately call the police. This applies even on Shabbos. This applies likewise to neighbors, that if they hear the husband in a rage and what sounds like him acting violently towards his wife, they are to immediately contact the police even on Shabbos, “Velo Samod Al Dam Rei’echa.”
Explanation: A husband does not have the legal or Halachic right to lift his hand against his wife, and doing so is a severe legal and Halachic prohibition, and is no different in severity than a person being violent against another Jew [and in fact is even more severe as he must honor his wife], in which case he is called a Rasha, and is placed in automatic excommunication and is invalid to join a minyan until he repents and resolves to never do so again. In previous times, a husband with a history of domestic violence would be severely punished by the Beis Din, who would torment him with physical lashes and other means available to them, including cutting off his hand, until he would promise to never hit his wife again, and if he refuses to listen then they would force him to divorce his wife. The wife would not be required to live with him in the same home so long as he continues his abusive ways.
Regarding turning to Rabbanim for guidance in issues of domestic violence: When I did Shimush, the veteran Rav who I sat with, as a policy would not directly deal with cases of domestic violent, saying that it is beyond the field of a Rav. Rather, he would refer the wife to file a report with the police, and if the abuse does not stop, to file for divorce. He would also tell the wife and her neighbors to immediately call the police if the husband enters into a rage of violence. I must emphasize that while many Rabbanim take the issue of domestic violence very seriously, as I myself have witnessed in action in the Beis Horah that I did Shimush in, others unfortunately do not and rather they try to influence the woman to remain in the abusive relationship without doing anything concrete about stopping the abuse. To tell a woman to accept the abuse for the sake of Shalom Bayis, and for the sake of her children, or to make her feel the brunt of the guilt of the abuse by telling her that she’s not acting good enough to him or that the abuse is fictitious, is untenable and no woman deserves to live in such suffering and receive such advice from anyone, especially a man of clergy. Such advice is likewise completely contrary to Halacha, and causes a great Chilul Hashem, as the sources provided below all show how serious this matter is viewed according to Jewish law, and to ignore the predicament of the wife is a great travesty. Therefore, in general I do not suggest going to a Rav regarding this issue unless he is well known for dealing with the matter seriously to stop the abusive relationship as Jewish law obligates, and if necessary, he will not hesitate to suggest a divorce or a shelter for the sake of saving you from the abuse. My best suggestion is for you to turn to the above said organizations for help and guidance in understanding the best way for you to proceed based on your specific case.
Today, Baruch Hashem there are organizations out there that help support women in abusive relationships, including Frum women, and they can provide many forms of support, ranging from guidance as to the correct approach that she should follow, and whether therapy counseling or filing a police report or filing for divorce, or going to a shelter, should be considered. Some of these organizations run an active shelter as a safe haven for the wife and her children, and provide legal help in the event of divorce proceedings. The purpose of these organizations is for the sake of the abuse ending either through bringing peace into the relationship, or through divorce. Sometimes they suggest filing a police report, with the hope that it will scare the husband enough for him to understand how serious his actions are. To note, however, that most police reports of domestic violence for one reason or another do not end up in a conviction and is simply a tool for you to use as a scare tactic or to document the abuse for the purpose of legal proceedings. While therapy may be useful, this is not always the correct approach, especially if the husband refuses to see a therapist, or if he is addicted to his abusive ways. If there is chance that the husband will change and that he really loves his wife and simply loses his temper in an uncontrollable way, and really seeks redemption from his abusive behavior, then therapy is certainly worth a try to save the relationship for the wife’s sake and the sake of the children. If the therapy doesn’t work and he remains abusive, or he simply refuses to go, then for the wife’s sake and the sake of her children, she needs to get out of the abusive relationship and file for divorce, and if necessary, go to a shelter.
Sources: See regarding the prohibition of a man hitting his wife and the consequences that he would receive: Rama E.H. 154:3 [based on Darkei Moshe 154:20-21; Binyamon Zev 88; Mordechi and Mahram 81 and Beis Yosef E.H. 154 in name of Teshuvos Rabbeinu Simcha and Hagahos Ashri in name of Or Zarua Bava Kama 3:161; Teshuvos Ramban 102] that “if a husband is accustomed to get angry with his wife and throws her out of the house, then he is forced to divorce her and if a husband hits his wife then it is a transgression like one who hits his friend, and if he is accustomed to hit his wife habitually then the Beis Din has permission to torment him, give him lashes, excommunicate him, and take whatever actions necessary to force him to stop his evil ways until he swears that he will never do so again. If he refuses to listen to the Beis Din and stop his evil ways, then he is to be forced to divorce his wife, as it is not the ways of the Jewish people to hit their wives and doing so is the act of Gentiles known as Kutim”; See Beis Yosef in name of Rabbeinu Simcha ibid that hitting ones wife is even more severe tan hitting a friend and that the Beis Din may even cut off his hand; See Rama there for the law in a case that the hit is instigated by an evil wife such as if she curses him and his parents without any reason or instigation and does things purposely to anger him and abuse him without any instigation from his part etc. in which a dispute is brought, and that even according to the lenient opinion which is the main opinion we believe the wife over the husband See also Rambam Ishus 21:10; See also Admur Kuntrus Achron 1 “this is in contrast to an evil wife who is with him at home in which the hitting is the saving”; Shut Rashba 120; [However as I heard from Harav Yaakov Yosef z”l, today the Achronim write that we rule like the stringent opinion that one may never hit his wife, even if rightfully instigated]; See Shut Radbaz 888 that “a man who hits his wife transgresses a biblical prohibition as there is no difference between one’s wife and one’s friend, and he may not hit her simply because she is not doing things according to his will. She is not his slave and he has no right to say that since she did things to annoy him therefore he can hit her, and on the contrary if he habitually hits her then he is to be punished, and some even say that we force him to divorce her even through Gentiles [beating him until he agrees]. Therefore, the wife in the above case is correct that she is not required to leave her father’s home and return to her husband until he swears to never hit her again, as a person does not live with a snake in the same confinement.”; See Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Baal Vol. 4 p. 94 and Erech Geirushin Vol. 6 p. 418; See regarding the general prohibition of hitting another Jew and the fact that he’s placed in excommunication and cannot join a minyan: Admur Hilchos Nizkeiy Haguf Vihanefesh 1; Michaber and Rama C.M. 420:1; Rambam Chovel 5; Maharam Merizburg brought in Mahariy Viyal; Smeh 420:4 that the Cherem is automatic; Chasam Sofer C.M. 182:4, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 420:1; See regarding the allowance to call the police even on Shabbos if one is witness to violence that can lead to danger of life: SSH”K 41:26