Made in Hell


The husband and wife were facing off against each other, as I came through the Adler's door.

Sarah Adler's* face was bloodied, welted, and sweaty. And so was Menachem's. His and her shouting, the hysterical abuse at each other, and their cries in pain, reverberated throughout the building, and through the open summer window, onto the street.

So a neighbor had phoned me that night, to tell me the Adlers were "fighting again".

As Sarah and Menachem stared each other down, bloody fists raised, each glanced in my direction. Then they cursed each other with venom. Sarah lunged forward, striking Menachem on the cheek. He elbowed Sarah and she fell, sprawling on the tiled floor. Next to the stroller where an infant sat.

I picked up the phone and shouted "I am calling the police". I hoped this would distract them, and perhaps calm things. But the Adler's didn't seem concerned about me or the police. They didn't pause for a moment. The policeman who answered said they already knew about the fight at the Adlers, and a patrol car had been dispatched, "again". From his tone, I understood the Adlers were a "known problem" and this was not a high priority incident.

The toddler in the stroller, Rikki, was watching quietly, as her mother Sarah, heaving and sobbing, slowly raised herself from the floor. The father's guard was up.

Rikki was just calmly looking-on, as if she were watching her friends playing in the park.

"Please can I move Rikki out of the way?!", I asked, and they both nodded their agreement. I moved the stroller away from the warring couple, beyond where the child herself might become "collateral damage". I looked at the little girl, who was watching and listening, without any apparent distress. Not crying. Nor fearful. Cut-off from the horror.

Shouting, cursing and sporadic blows between Menachem and Sarah continued, even as the blue light flashed in the window.

When two policemen came in to the apartment, they told Menachem to come with them to the police station. He did not resist, but as they led Menachem out of the apartment a blood curdling shriek went up.

"Menachem!!" shrieked Sarah.

"Please don't leave me!" she wept. And Sarah ran after Menachem.

Both Menachem and Sarah spent that night, and the next, in the Bet Shemesh lock-up.

Little Rikki came home to our family, until Sarah was released home and felt well enough to look after her daughter..

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Menachem spent two years in prison, for beating Sarah to the extent she had needed two weeks' hospitalization (on a subsequent occasion to the one I witnessed).

While Menachem was in prison, and Sarah was in therapy, Sarah finally sought and obtained a divorce from Menachem.

I saw Sarah with Rikki recently; Rikki is now a smiling, happy looking child.

Rikki is still in therapy, because her hidden trauma (the trauma she never expressed, even as her parents fought in front of her) must be worked through by an experienced professional. Rikki is high risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or other long term psychological damage, limiting her ability to have lasting relationships.

It is not coincidence that so many abusers were themselves once victims of abuse.

Or that children of warring parents, themselves tend to get divorced.

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You see, Sarah Adler was exceptional.

Most victims of abuse do not fight back. Out of numbing fear, they are unable to shout, to hit, to protect themselves… or even to tell anyone they have been abused.

Most abuse victims say silent forever.

Do not expect your child to one day tell you "I was molested by my babysitter". Your child will never do this.

Do not expect your daughter to tell you her new husband is abusing her. She will never volunteer to tell you.

However, the whole street and the authorities knew all about the Adlers.

That was because Sarah was an exception, because she screamed and fought.

But even Sarah could not see the blindingly obvious, at that time, when she cried out to Menachem, on his way to the cells: "Please don't leave me!"

Like many abuse victims, Sarah could not conceive of a life away from her abuser, nor could Sarah see her relationship with Menachem for what it was.

A Shidduch made in Hell.


* The names and other identifiers have been changed.

Comments

  1. This reality is what batei din rabbis must admit in order to be morally, halachically relevant. Coming to grips with spousal abuse means NOT blaming the wife for neglecting her role as akeret habayit (unless she truly did, which BTW does not license anyone to abuse her), NOT assuming or announcing that "she deserved it," and NOT caving in to fear of the violent male. A united front prevents further abuse. Spouse Abuse is horrific betrayal of humanity, the ketuba and our mandate to be holy as we build a world of chesed. Betrayal of vulnerable women by rabanim in and outside batei din is an aveira threatening the very fabric of Jewish life. Vulnerable men also deserve protection (Some wives are witches in disguise). Rabbinic verbal abuse of divorcing couples abounds (You'll make the altar cry, this will be bad for shiduchim of your kids, Jews don't divorce, etc.) is crule. It illustrates a conceptual and moral bankrupty.

    Here's a positive resource: Rachel Levmore - Coordinator, Prenuptial & Get-Refusal Prevention Projects rlevmore@youngisraelrabbis.org.il

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  2. I know of several cases of wife beating, where the batei din have refused to approve a Get, insisting the wife must return to the abusive husband for "Shalom Bayit".
    Does anyone know if this a common phenomenon, and, if so, what are the halachik grounds for putting these women into sakanah?

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