The Role of Rabbis in Preventing Domestic Violence
Ohr Torah Stone educational institutes conducted a session with its emissaries around the world. Dr. Shlomit Lehman: “Isolation increases incidents of violence and the rabbi, as a mediator, can help reduce tension.”
Artuz Sheva | April 24th, 2020
Some 90 of Ohr Torah Stone’s management personnel and emissaries convened for a virtual conference on Domestic Violence During Corona. The conference aimed to equip the emissaries around the world, and educational personnel and social liaisons within Israel, with answers in light of reports of increased domestic violence.
The event was initiated by Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, who explained its importance: “There are some 300 emissaries in Jewish communities around the world, sent by Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel emissary programs, who are on the frontlines in confronting this issue. This is in addition to Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Jewish Identity coodinators in dozens of communities throughout Israel, and hundreds of teachers who continue to provide online classes to their students.
“People from all sectors of the population and students of our institutions turn to them for help, and it is important for them to know how to react and be able to provide help professionally and correctly. It is also important for them to be able to identify signs of domestic violence, to know how to proceed from the moment it becomes apparent that there is a problem, and how to help resolve it,” says Brander.
A number of experts who took part in the conference explained the rationale underlying domestic violence. “Domestic violence is a blanket phenomenon that can appear anywhere, from heads of universities to heads of kollels,” explained Dr. Shlomit Lehman, director of Yad Sarah’s Family Center. “The phenomenon of men who are violent to women is more common, however there are also cases of women who are violent to men. Individual or collective stressful situations, such as the Corona virus and its repercussions, ‘encourage’ the outbreak of violence. Violence does not necessarily originate from a position of strength, but actually from feelings of inferiority.”
According to Dr. Lehman, violence is not expressed only on the physical level, but can also take financial, verbal, technological, religious and other forms. “Existential anxiety, fear, financial stress, and unemployment all raise anxiety levels that increase stress. From here the path to violence is short. Add to that people who drink alcohol or take various drugs, supposedly to cope with the situation, when in effect this may increase violence even more,” emphasizes Dr. Lehman.
“Isolation increases domestic violence. The physical proximity, without the option of cooling off, and interactions between partners regarding the children, are fertile ground for violence. Isolation also distances the couple from their families and social circles and prevents both victim and attacker from venting and seeking help.”
“The rabbi or his wife are confidants and often serve as the first address for victims and aggressors who are interested in sharing and making a change in their life,” noted Lehman.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Tuvia Perry explained that Ohr Torah Stone’s rabbis , their wives, and the educators played a significant role in dealing with domestic violence. “The rabbi or rebbitzin are confidants and are often the first person that the victims and aggressors, who are interested in sharing and making a change in their lives, will go to. The rabbi or rebbitzin plays an important role in giving the victim or aggressor hope. They need to transmit the message that the situation can be changed, that professional help is available, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You must act without judging and foster the relationship with the victim or the aggressor to reach the result of no more violence. The rabbi should be accessible and initiate where necessary and not only react to events.”
Although many people paint domestic violence in black or white – the bad aggressor vs. the good victim – rabbis and educators do not have that privilege. Professionals do not look to justify domestic violence, and obviously they object to it, but they note that in order to resolve the situation, one must be careful not to judge either the victim or the aggressor, as judging can only postpone the solution and push off the end to violence.
“The rabbi’s role is to work with the authorities and he is one of the foremost legitimate addresses. We are taught to go to the rabbi for advice, support, and encouragement, and to listen to him, so that if the rabbi were to define boundaries they may be accepted. This is a position of trust. The rabbi is a mediator committed to confidentiality. Merely by listening, especially now when people are isolated due to Corona, he can provide the airing needed to reduce tension,” adds Dr. Lehman.
Regarding filing a police report, the professionals noted that this is an important tool and should be used when necessary, although it is not always the first step to take in order to resolve domestic violence. “Police reports often serve as stop signs to aggressors, but at other times they serve to aggravate the home situation,” explains Dr. Lehman. “The rabbi needs to help people understand that they are responsible for their lives. The rabbi should not negate them but try to understand them and, together with other entities, try to resolve the problem of domestic violence.”