Abused friend


My wife, daughter, and I are on a much needed vacation in Haifa for a week. We arrived here on Friday before Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), in time to order prepared food and go shopping for groceries. I love how happy it makes our daughter to go to the beach with both of her parents.

Anyway, it’s difficult for me to fully relax and enjoy our vacation, as I’ve been preoccupied with some very heavy issues, especially related to a family friend of ours who fled from her abusive husband just days ago.

Thinking of our friend

Last week, we found out that this friend, who got married several months ago to an ultra-Orthodox man has been psychologically, sexually, and physically abused by him. Some of these things you just cannot make up – her husband took over our friend’s computer and tablet, and he deleted contacts from her phone without her permission. Also, he took to tracking her physical location on Google Maps.

What’s particularly shocking to me is how quickly all of this transpired. Keep in mind that they’ve only been married for several months; and he’s already accused her of infidelity (utterly absurd to anyone who knows her), merely because she happens to have male coworkers.

The Jewish context

There is so much wrapped up in her story, and, sadly, there are many distinctly Jewish and Israeli elements to it that are profoundly disturbing.

Traditional Jewish divorce

First of all, it’s important to know that in Jewish religious law, which is called halakhah, married couples can only get divorced if the husband initiates the process. So… too many abusive Jewish husbands take advantage of this loophole and deny their wives the divorces they desireor: demand that their wives pay them to get divorced.

Not only that, but according to halakhah, a husband can father children with other women without being penalized for it. However, if a married Jewish woman bears a child fathered by a man other than her husband, that child will automatically be assigned the religious status of ‘mamzer’, a child of an illicit relationship, which carries tremendous religious penalties with it for the child’s entire life.

I don’t want to get into all of the technical religious details here, but you can see where I’m going with this, right?

Limited dating pool

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is this unfortunate reality: choosing to restrict one’s self to dating only members of a small religious community dramatically limits one’s marital options. This is especially true for “older” singles, converts, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. who are considered less socially desirable in insular religious societies.

Of course, such discrimination does not only exist in Orthodox Jewish society. However, it’s terrible that sincerely devout, God-loving women like our friend are statistically more likely to find themselves married to abusive husbands than they would be if they were not limited to this much smaller and less accepting dating pool.

Jewish divorce in Israel

I don’t know what direction our friend’s story is going to take, but she’s planning on filing for divorce… And hopefully, she’ll do so before her husband takes the initiative and files against her.

In Israel, you see, married couples can either get divorced through the civil courts or the religious rabbinical courts, depending upon which courts the divorces are filed at. And, sadly, the religious courts tend to favor men over women, empowering husbands to keep their wives religiously “chained” to marriages that they want to leave… indefinitely unable to remarry.

My heart breaks.

83 thoughts on “Abused friend”

  1. My heart breaks together with yours, David.
    A small correction: a woman can initiate divorce, but you are right, of course: to finalize it, her husband must give her a Get. I might be mistaken, but I’ve heard of an “Agunah Protection” organization, originated in Israel, which tracks those husbands and persuades them to release their wives, but whatever means Halachically prescribed (I won’t go into those details here).

    1. Dolly, this may be a matter of how we are defining our terms. The more precise way that I could put it is as follows: the woman cannot initiate the halakhic process of divorce.

      1. I won’t split hairs here but accept your definition, David. I know at least one woman who was told by a Rav, “Leave him. We’ll get you a get.” On the other hand, I know quite a few agunahs having a terrible time getting it.

  2. I hope you’d enjoy holidays with your family…amidst this chaos…sad situation for your friend…I’m sorry to know how the religion & the law favour the men…it’s like she isn’t already going through a lot…on top, she must deal with all this…tough situation…hoping she’s be OK, safe & secured…prayers…thank you very much for your heartfelt sharing, David โœจโค๏ธ๐Ÿ’ซ

  3. Itโ€™s terrible that this is still happening, and when it happens to someone you know its doubly terrible. Good on her for filing for divorce; better now, than in a few years time.

  4. Such a very sad situation, all supposedly stemming from a thing called โ€œLoveโ€! How twisted! I hope she is successful, free and doesnโ€™t lose her faith in the process!

  5. David, you wrote so well for your friend and for all women who find themselves trapped in a dehumanizing relationship. May your words find their way through the collective conscious to those who make these profound decisions on anotherโ€™s life. โค๏ธ

  6. this is heart wrenching David! I’m so sorry and it saddens me to know end. I’m sorry to say that this is where i draw the line with religion and get incensed by these biases and turns me from organized religion! Sending love. xo ๐Ÿ’–

  7. Prayers for your friend as she walks this journey.

    Long ago, a Bahai friend of mine, found herself in similar situation. Her church, her faith, not only put her on probation for many years, for daring to leave, but also punished her parents, as well, because she left.

    It was sad and hard for me to watch and not say a word of judgement, as her faith and community punished her for saving her life, at a time when she was in need of the support of her community.

    And elders who knew well, her husband, quietly sighed, said they understood, the civil divorce was different, but here, it is our laws, don’t you understand? These things do not change – it is the word, the law and what must be done.

    She stayed true to her faith and after many, years, the atonement/punishments ceased and she was welcomed back into the community as full participating member. I’m still to this day, amazed that she had the fortitude to do that in addition to saving her life, as well, and rebuilding a financial life as her’s was taken for the business that was ‘his alone’ from the day it was started – I can only say her faith is what pulled her through, when her community of faith, let her down, to my eyes..

    1. ๐Ÿ’ž Tamrah Jo ๐Ÿ’ž ~ wow. I didn’t know that the Bahai community had stories like that. I always thought that the Bahai religion was fairly easy-going ๐Ÿค”

      1. Well – who knows, for sure? Maybe it was just ‘that local chapter’ – maybe it’s the whole religion? I do not cast stones at particular religions, I only share the story and said the faith, to illustrate – it’s not just in you/your friends faith community, it’s elsewhere, too – I don’t claim to know – I figured out a long time ago – I’m a sinner, heretic, etc no matter where I go – just until, folks need help and think I’m the one who can help them – then? for a brief moment, who I am in all my cynicism over it all, is a-okay – but let everything go good again? I’m not needed until ‘next time’ – sigh – thus, I try to be the cheerleader for others in tough spots, or send words of encouragement as I can or say, “um, yeah, that stuff happens, to many, in many places – ” but at the end of the day? May help, may not – maybe does for awhile and then, not needed – but always, forever, over and over, there are those who struggle on many fronts just to live/survive – and then there are those who are comfortable enough to throw rocks from their glass houses – LOL or see the speck in their neighbors’ eye while ignoring the log in their own – sigh – think both of those are New testament quotes – but I[‘m sure, same stuff, is to be found in the old Testament to – or Kabalah (sp?) how much things change and how much they remain the same – over and over and over
        on many fronts – sigh –

  8. I am truly saddened. Abuse has no place in marriage!! I hope she is able to shed this man. It is obvious he is not a husband – if he were he would never consider abusing himself the way he has hurt her. My prayers are with her.

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