Domestic violence: An abuse of power that needs Jewish discussion
Several local Conservative and Reform rabbis convened at Rodef Shalom Congregation on Thursday, Feb. 19, for a discussion on ending domestic violence though primary prevention.
Billed as an interfaith program, the conversation was introduced by Leanna Fuller, an associate professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who instructed the rabbis and others in attendance on the benefits of changing theological language in an effort to balance power in interpersonal relationships.
“I think we can do a lot to prevent domestic violence through the language we use and the ways we talk about love, marriage, suffering and redemption,” Fuller said. “We need to paint a different picture of the ways relationships should be.”
In their communications to their congregations, faith leaders should focus on equality, the value of each person, respect and shared decision-making, Fuller explained. The common theological theme of forgiveness is powerful, and religious leaders should be cautious to not urge their followers to forgive too quickly, especially in cases of domestic violence.
“Victims of domestic violence can feel guilty if they don’t feel like forgiving right away,” Fuller noted. “But forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting a wrong.”
Faith leaders should teach that it is “a potentially time-consuming process,” she said, “and not see it as an automatic achievement.”
Domestic violence does not begin with violent actions, according to Fuller, but with “the attitude that it is normal or right for one person to yield power over another.”
Primary prevention of domestic violence begins with that change in attitude, she said.
Open discussions of intimate partner violence are important in faith communities so that leaders of those communities can be prepared to respond appropriately, said Rabbi Paul Tuchman, spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel in White Oak, who attended the program.
“Intimate partner violence is something we shy away from discussing in the Jewish community, but we know it’s happening,” Tuchman said. “We need to know how to respond and to be proactive in talking about how to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place. Domestic violence isn’t a religious issue; it is an issue of abuse of power.”
Clergy members have a particular responsibility to be educated on the subject of domestic violence, said Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Con-
gregation of the South Hills.
“I think clergy members are in a unique position not only to help victims and survivors of abuse,” he said, “but to speak to congregations about the warning signs and what we can do to help others experiencing abuse. As the Bible says, ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.’ ”
The interfaith forum presented an “opportunity to transform communities and utilize efforts to increase primary prevention which in the end makes communities stronger,” said Grace Coleman, executive director of Crisis Center North, who also attended the program.
The discussion was arranged by Rochelle Sufrin, an independent advocate for the prevention of domestic violence, and sponsored by Rodef Shalom Congregation, Jewish Women Interna-tional-Pittsburgh, the Jewish Women’s Foundation, Standing Firm and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Dom-estic Violence.
At the conclusion of the program, all faith leaders agreed to be part of an initiative called “The Faithful 50” whose goal is to recruit 50 people from faith communities to “move toward a community assessment to see if Pittsburgh is ready for social change,” Sufrin said.
The group will meet quarterly, she said, and will continue to dialogue on Biblical texts, study the prospects of social change and to try to engage additional clergy members in the process.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.