An account of domestic violence among Jews that treats women as history’s subjects rather than as its objects, and that focuses on human strengths rather than weaknesses. A fresh reading of laconic legal documents. Includes a flow chart of procedure in early medieval courts of law.
Previous researchers have called attention to documents composed more than 600 years ago in varied parts of the world that attest to physical abuse of wives by Jewish husbands. This article notes that those texts were composed because someone earnestly undertook to address that violence. It shows this by rendering those texts into two dozen vignettes in which wives, their male relatives, and communal leaders sought to stop spousal violence. Of those cases, 23 were initiated by the wife herself or with her consent, within the justice system; and 1 was a moralist’s campaign. The article explains how the vignettes emerged from a new reading of the old documents in light of their sociolegal context. It concludes that in Jewish life over many centuries, spousal violence existed concurrently with the courage by some wives (and others) to mount a challenge to it. (An appendix discusses how to present this material to adults in an educational setting.)
© 2000 by David E. S. Stein. All rights reserved. You may reproduce the vignettes for teaching purposes, provided that you first contact the author/editor, to notify him of intended use and to ensure that this is the latest version. (Refinements are likely to be made as learning continues.) Questions of clarification and other feedback are welcome. Write to <davidesstein @ aol.com>.
Updated 2 November 2009 • Culver City, California, USA