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Hear, See, Respond

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

This past Shabbat, in Parshat Chayei Sara, one of the things we read about is Rivkah’s characteristics. The rabbis praise her for how she took care of Eliezer and his camels. 

Rivkah’s character is praised by the Rabbis for how she acts in the short exchange between herself, Eliezer and the camels. She ensures that a stranger has water, and according to the rabbis, as much as he asked for, without questioning what his request. She then observes  her surroundings, and notices that the camels may be thirsty as well, even though they are unable to speak. And throughout all of this, Rivkah refers to Eliezer as “adoni“, my lord. The Radak on this verse says “the Torah records this detail in order to tell us of Rivkah’s good manners; although she did not know of the stranger’s social status she addressed him as ‘my lord.’” Without knowing who he was, she was treating him with respect and dignity. 

The 25th of November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In reading  statistics from the United Kingdom, the numbers are staggering. For example, “one in four women experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.1 This is a major problem affecting women in all communities, in all walks of life, of all ages. The Crown Prosecution Service defines Domestic Abuse as:

… [covering] a range of types of abuse, including, but not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse. ‘Domestic abuse’ can be prosecuted under a range of offences and the term is used to describe a range of controlling and coercive behaviours, used by one person to maintain control over another with whom they have, or have had, an intimate or family relationship… Domestic abuse occurs amongst people of all ethnicities, sexualities, ages, disabilities, immigration status, religion or beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds.2

In reading  statistics from the United Kingdom, the numbers are staggering. For example, “one in four women experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.” This is a major problem affecting women in all communities, in all walks of life, of all ages.

As a community, we need to be aware of what is really going on. We need to be aware of the resources and organizations that are in place to help. We need to speak out and break the silence about domestic abuse. 

Returning to Rivkah. She is praised for bringing Eliezer water, for giving him water until he said he was no longer thirsty. She believes what he said, without questioning, and offered basic needs. If someone comes to speak to us or ask for help, we also need to believe them. For many women, there is a lot of shame around domestic abuse, and there is a fear that if they do tell someone, they will not be believed or someone will claim “it is not really that bad.”

For many women, there is a lot of shame around domestic abuse, and there is a fear that if they do tell someone, they will not be believed or someone will claim “it is not really that bad.”

 This is not without precedent, but such responses ignore a horrific reality  as “ In the year ending in March 2018, it was estimated that 1.3 million women and 695,000 men aged 16 to 59 years had experienced domestic abuse in the last year.”3 On average, the police in England and Wales receives over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. (HMIC, 2015) According to CSEW data for the year ending March 2018, only 18% of women who had experienced partner abuse in the last 12 months reported the abuse to the police.”4  Or,  in the “last year, 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides… whilst both men and women are killed by domestic violence, the vast majority of victims are women.”5

As a community, we need to be aware of what is really going on. We need to be aware of the resources and organizations that are in place to help. We need to speak out and break the silence about domestic abuse. 

Listen. Hear. Believe what she is telling you. 

Rivkah is praised for bringing even the camels water. Yes it was a very big task, one that took a lot of physical strength to make sure that 10 camels had enough water. But it was also the fact that Rivkah was looking around to see who needed help.

The woman who comes to ask for help needs help, and she is still a free agent who is able to make and be part of her decision making. Although she is trying to get out of, or change, a bad situation, we must treat her with respect and not with pity.

It is knowing what domestic abuse is and what it looks like in many forms. Knowing that the law states that it is not just physical abuse, but also emotional, psychological, spiritual, and financial abuse. It is recognizing that domestic abuse is not only between married partners, but can be in any intimate relationship – even those who are “just dating” or between other family members.  It is opening up conversations in our communities to bring awareness to the issues, creating a space especially for those who have not yet been able to speak out, know there are people and places to turn to, without shame. It is about knowing some of the organisations such as Jewish Women’s Aid or the English National Domestic Violence Helpline, and other UK organisations which can provide help and advice about domestic abuse. It is not being silent. It is taking a stand so that we are not “standing idly on the blood of our brothers (and sisters).” 

And finally,  maybe the most important thing is to be like Rivkah and continue to treat each and every person with respect and dignity. The woman who comes to ask for help needs help, and she is still a free agent who is able to make and be part of her decision making. Although she is trying to get out of, or change, a bad situation, we must treat her with respect and not with pity.

May we all strive to be like Rivkah, that we should be able to take care of those who ask us for help without judgment; we should be able to recognize when others are in need and show kindness, even when they do not, or are unable, to ask; and throughout all we do for others, we should treat them with honour and respect:

“May it be Your Will, God and the God of our Forefathers, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, that You show mercy on the women of Israel whose partners show violence towards them, who hit them, who injure them, who cause them emotional pain and who humiliate them. Their existence is not living. See the suffering of the women who are in the depths of pain and the pain from  their partner. Be overwhelmed with mercy on these women whose partners shower down terror and fear. 

God, please bend Your ear and hear, open Your eyes, listen to the sound of the plea of the women who are suffering under the hands of their partners. Her tears are present, and may it be Your will that You hear the sound of her cries and place the tears of these women in Your pouch.

God, please bend Your ear and hear, open Your eyes, listen to the sound of the plea of the women who are suffering under the hands of their partners. Her tears are present, and may it be Your will that You hear the sound of her cries and place the tears of these women in Your pouch. Do not turn Your face from them, Your right hand should be bringing them closer, to care for, to watch over, under Your watchful eye. Send Your holy helpers, and open their hearts so they will be willing to help. 

Please elevate the crown of the women who are whimpering under the yoke of their partner. And raise up healing to all those who are suffering, and bring to them blessings and peace, and grant them good decrees, decrees of salvation and comfort, and answer their prayers for good.

And take them out of their place of distress, and redeem them from their suffering. And fulfill this as it is written, “ Answer me when I call, O God, my vindicator! You freed me from distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (Psalms 4:2). And shatter the idea from the  minds of the men who think to raise a hand on their partner, and who treat them not like the Laws of Moshe and Israel. 

Please elevate the crown of the women who are whimpering under the yoke of their partner. And raise up healing to all those who are suffering, and bring to them blessings and peace, and grant them good decrees, decrees of salvation and comfort, and answer their prayers for good. May there be peace between partners, and say Amen. (written by Dr. Yael Levine)

 

Rabbi Eryn London is the JOFA UK scholar in residence.

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

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