Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

Despite myths, domestic violence occurs in Jewish homes

To you, a Jewish woman of any age who has been abused by her loved one. You may be feeling despair, sadness, anger, anxiety or overwhelming fear, but know that you are not alone.

There is hope for a new life for you! Dream about a happier life for yourself and your new possibilities. You can make it!

 Paul, a Jewish woma—From Mikin and Tucson psychologist who was battered and abused by her Jewish doctor husband

Domestic violence. We read about it regularly in the news, with violent politicians and high-profile National Football League players splashed across the headlines recently. Violence against women by their partners is a serious health risk and most cases do not receive media attention. Many do not receive any attention at all. We need to change that, in both the general and Jewish communities. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of the complex issues surrounding domestic violence in the Jewish home. The battering of women by men is still one of the most hidden yet widespread crimes today. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop identified violence against women by their partners as the most serious health risk for women in the United States.


Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive control that one person exercises over another. Abusers use physical and sexual violence, verbal and physical threats, emotional insults, property damage, and economic deprivation as a way to dominate their partners. Battering is behavior that verbally, physically and spiritually harms the victim. It arouses fear and terror. Abuse prevents individuals from doing what they want and/or forces them to behave in ways they do not want to. Domestic violence is a campaign of strategies, similar to brainwashing. Domestic violence is serious, deliberate and repeated.


• Last year 700,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the police in the United States.

• The FBI estimates that only 1 in 10 domestic assaults are ever reported.

• Every day four incidents of domestic violence result in the death of a woman.

• Weapons are used in 30 percent of domestic violence incidents.

• 30 to 40 percent of women who suffer domestic violence are also raped by their partners.

• Women who leave their batterers are at a greater risk of being killed by the batterer than those who stay.

• The average for all battered women is six assaults per year.

• Research indicates that between 15 to 35 percent of Jewish woman are abused at some point in their lives, on par with estimates for the general population.

Myths and misconceptions

There are myths and misconceptions particular to the Jewish culture that deter Jewish women from getting help, such as:

• “It doesn’t happen in Jewish families, so it must be my fault. My marriage must be different from others; maybe something is wrong with me.”

• “Jewish men make the best husbands. Jewish men are such princes, so perfect, good providers, mensches, good husbands.”

• “A Jewish woman’s role is to keep the family together no matter what (shalom bayit). She bears the responsibility for maintaining the peace and fixing whatever problems arise in the relationship.”

Support suggestions

There is a team of service providers available in our community. Programs like LEAH (Let’s End Abusive Households), through Jewish Family & Children’s Services, are here to help. Encourage women who have been victimized to seek professional support as well as personal support from friends and family. Many of the following suggestions for health care workers, rabbis and other professionals may also be useful for friends or relatives of victims.

1) Ask about present and past domestic violence. Abuse may not be the reason a person is coming in to speak with you; many people do not recognize what is abuse — only that something is wrong. Remember that domestic violence can affect one physically, emotionally and spiritually.

2) If a domestic violence incident has recently occurred this means that safety is an immediate concern. Remember that violence can become more frequent and more severe over time.

3) Battered women may experience difficulty in assessing the magnitude of danger in their relationships.

4) Re-empowerment should be a goal when speaking with a battered woman. Supportive statements that validate her perceptions and experiences are important.

5) Listen to her story. Create an environment in which she is comfortable telling it. “Speaking the unspeakable” is part of the path to healing.

6) Have her look at the myths and norms from general society and from her Jewish culture and religion that may have influenced her to develop a relationship with her partner or to stay in an abusive relationship with that person.

7) Evaluate for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Battered Woman Syndrome, common diagnoses for women experiencing domestic violence.

8) Remember that domestic violence against men by women, against women by women and against mem by men are also critical issues that need to be recognized and addressed.

In conclusion, I urge you to do your part to ensure a future in which all of us can live without fear of abuse in our relationships. We all deserve safe and loving relationships filled with dignity and respect.

Miki Paul, Ph.D., is a member of the advisory board of LEAH (Let’s End Abusive Households), a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona. Responding to the unique cultural and religious concerns of Jewish families, LEAH provides intense therapy and counseling for families who might otherwise continue to suffer in silence, and offers education, information and referral, and advocacy for Jewish people. LEAH is funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Jewish Community Foundation, as well as individuals and families. For more information, contact JFCS at 795-0300 or jfcsinfo@jfcstucson.org or visit www.jfcstucson.org.