Abuse in the Family

Adopted by the Board of Trustees
May 1992
Minneapolis, MN

The Jewish family, in all of its configurations, is the cornerstone of the Jewish people and its traditions. It has long been held as the model family by people of all faiths. Indeed, there is reason to celebrate the strengths of the Jewish family. However, there is also much to examine. The understanding that all Jewish families are peaceful and tranquil, that Jewish men, women and children are all part of loving relationships which accords each the dignity and respect idealized in our tradition is a myth. The fact is, that in far too many Jewish homes, there exist both physical and emotional abuse, even violence.

Abuse against women is not just a by-product of our present day stresses and strains. An examination of Jewish texts reveals evidence of abuse between adult partners as early as the seventh and eight centuries. The responsa literature, the codes of Jewish law and even several commentaries deal specifically with the subject. Despite this wide range of historical material, many today refuse to acknowledge the problem.

Abuse in adult Jewish relationships is not limited to violent encounters in which one partner ends up in the emergency room. It includes a range of behaviors from the subtle abuse of power and control to the overt acts that make headlines. Isolation, intimidation, economic restrictions, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even the threat of damage to person or possessions are all included in the definition of abuse.

Child abuse was thought to be non-existent in Jewish homes. Historically, this too, is unfounded. Children in Jewish homes also suffer from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Particularly abhorrent is child sexual abuse. When this occurs between members of the same family it is known as incest. Many, for whom abuse was part of their childhood years, are only now coming forward as adults to seek help.

With the growing number of elderly and frail elderly in our midst, incidents of abuse between adults and their parents or elderly relatives are also on the rise.

For a number of reasons, abuse within Jewish homes is not always evident from reported cases among the general population. Nevertheless, when studies have specifically targeted the Jewish community, experts have concluded that abuse is present in Jewish homes to the same extent that it is present in the homes of our neighbors. Jewish family service agencies around the country can attest to that fact. So, too, can a number of rabbis, and Jewish educators throughout North America. Our tradition teaches, that the one who saves a single life is as one who saved an entire world.

THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Promote the formation of local programs to aid those who are survivors of abuse, and to prevent future abuse. Such programs include, but are not limited to, shelters for women and their children, counseling, legal assistance, other services designed to maximize self-help, and rehabilitation services for both the abuser and the abused.
  2. Command the Committee on the Jewish Family for focusing on these issues and call upon it to research the nature and extent of domestic abuse in Jewish families and to recommend additional strategies for dealing with it.