Jewish texts explicitly prohibit a man from forcing his wife to have sexual relations. Rami b. Hama said in the name of R. Assi: "It is forbidden for a man to compel his wife to fulfill the mitzvah [to have sexual relations], as it is said 'and he that hastens with his feet sins' (Proverbs 19:2)." R. Joshua b. Levi said: "Any man who compels his wife to have intercourse will have unworthy (inferior) children" (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 100b). In the Mishneh Torah, (Sefer Nashim) Maimonides included several passages relevant to the topic of wife abuse. The text reads: "And thus the sages commanded that a man should honor his wife more than he honors himself, and love her as he loves himself. And if he has money, he should increase her benefits according to his wealth. He should not intimidate her too much; he should speak with her gently, and should be neither saddened nor angry" (MT, Sefer Nashim 15:19). While many of these references in our tradition refer to relations between heterosexual spouses, the message is applicable to the contemporary relationships and violent acts that we know to occur today.
Jewish tradition teaches all people were created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the divine, and that our health and our bodies are gifts from God that we are to protect and nurture (Genesis 1:27). “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” With this quote, Rabbi Hillel teaches that not only must we care for ourselves, but we must care for others. This teaching enforces the value of helping survivors of gender-based violence as well as preventative measures for the future.
The myth that domestic abuse does not occur in Jewish households is also one that needs to be dispelled. Current statistical evidence reveals that violence within Jewish families occurs at a rate that correlates with our representation in the general population.
Our tradition teaches us that mental anguish and moral degradation are the equivalent of physical murder. We are commanded not to stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds. The sanctity of human life is one of the core values of our value system. In an increasingly impersonal and alienating society, the dehumanization of the human being and the carelessness with which human life is abused or even taken stand in direct violation of these affirmations of our traditions. Therefore, it is our responsibility to attempt to protect the safety of all citizens, a small part of which can be accomplished with education and prevention of domestic abuse.
For more tools to take action in your congregation and community, utilize the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Action Toolkit.
Position of the Reform Movement
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), according to its 1991 resolution "Violence Against Women," supports the "promotion of vigorous enforcement of existing laws prohibiting all forms of violence against women.... [and] promotes the formation and governmental funding of local programs to aid women who are survivors of violence and to prevent further violence." The CCAR passed a comparable "Violence Against Women" resolution in 1990.
Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) have long been at the forefront of working to eliminate domestic violence. In 1983 WRJ passed a resolution urging temple Sisterhoods to "work in concert with other organizations to provide a variety of services such as shelters, counseling, food, clothing and jobs for the victims of spouse, child, or family abuse." Most recently in 2017, WRJ passed a statement addressing sexual violence in schools.