One in four Jewish women suffer abuse in the home

One in four Jewish women are victims of domestic abuse, according to the largest survey of its kind.

The Jewish Women's Aid study, You know a Jewish woman suffering from domestic abuse: Domestic abuse and the British Jewish community, found that 26 per cent of the 842 people surveyed had personally experienced domestic abuse.

Despite a third admitting they thought abuse in the Jewish community would not be the same as the rest of society, the number of Jewish woman abused is two per cent higher than the national average.

Jewish leaders have criticised communal organisations for "sweeping this problem under the carpet" and said the report must act as a "wake-up call" to the community.

Domestic violence includes physical, psychological, financial or emotional abuse and can include dictating religious observance, withholding money, threatening to hurt or kill, stalking, threatening messages, or belittling someone so they feel worthless.

We keep hearing that ‘surely we are not the same’ - but we are

The survey, which was primarily directed at women, found that 27 per cent of the 788 women who responded, and 17 per cent of the 54 male respondents, had been abused.

The study questioned those across the religious spectrum, from Liberal to strictly Orthodox.

Research showed that the numbers of abused people barely differed between religious affiliations but was marginally higher among the strictly Orthodox, where 29 per cent either experienced abuse or knew someone who had.

Most of the women interviewed thought it was a hidden issue within the community: 62 per cent said they were not aware of a rabbi in their community publicly addressing the issue. Only 11 per cent of strictly Orthodox respondents said their rabbi had specifically addressed domestic abuse.

One 41-year-old victim said: "The rabbi, well, that was the biggest mistake I made. He sent me away from his house, [even though I had a] black eye, after looking at me, getting nervous, and just gave me a box of biscuits.

"My husband is prominent in the community, you see. I was creating a problem by turning to him."

Emma Bell, executive director of JWA, which provides counselling, a helpline and refuge for victims, said: "There is a shocking, unacceptable level of domestic abuse in the Jewish community and this shows that we are not immune. We routinely hear from the community that 'surely we're not the same.'"

Ms Bell said she was asking synagogues, communal organisations and leaders to do more to educate their communities, and planned to set up a Rabbinical Domestic Abuse Group to guide them.

"I don't think communal organisations have done enough to raise awareness," she said. "It's important to get the rabbinate engaged at the pulpit."

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, said rabbis needed to address the issues more.

"I hope this is a wakeup call," he said.

"We tend to think these things don't happen among Jews, but the fact is we are like everyone else.

"Jews are not above these things. I don't think enough is being done. I do feel that some rabbis don't have a lot of experience in women's issues. I'd like to know the rabbis will listen to this harrowing report."

But Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said: “As a community we may not turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the problem of domestic violence. We must oppose those who practise it and offer practical help to those who suffer from it. That is why I – and our rabbinate – support the work of Jewish Women’s Aid”

A total of 14 per cent of respondents said they had experienced abuse from a former partner, eight per cent from a family member, four per cent from a current partner and 0.2 per cent from both a former and current partner.

One victim said: "He beat me regularly, just on a whim-often just for fun, it seemed. He also did it to remind the children of his manliness, of him being in charge. He broke bones, and got away for a long time pretending I was clumsy. The last straw was when my head was smashed between the cabinet door, and I blacked out for who knows how long."

Frances, a 60-year-old Reform woman, said: "It's like he was grinding me down slowly, and then after a while, it would build up again and it would all be lovey-dovey for a bit, and then I would feel better in myself because I'd made the choice of making him feel special, and then something else would happen and it would all go back.

"He calls them heated altercations. That is what he says to anyone. He says yes, we've had some heated altercations, yes, not a recognition of his campaign to make it clear that he hated me and that I should hate my worthless self.

"I would rather he had been physically abusive, I think maybe that would have made it easier to leave.

"I was heavily pregnant, he looked in my eyes, straight in my eyes once, and I know it was a verbal thing, but he really, with sincerity, said I really hope you die in childbirth, and give me my son to myself. It will never erase from my memory, ever, and there are certain things that will always be with me."

The majority of those interviewed by JWA said that the violence had caused them to feel more distant from Judaism, while seven reported negative experiences of the Beth Din during the divorce process. One woman was told her husband would only provide a get if she signed a document exonerating him from any type of abuse. The Beth Din advised her to sign it.

"I just felt cut off from the Jewish community because of all this," one woman said. "And it still hurts."

The majority of respondents were clear that domestic abuse did not just include physical violence.

One explained: "If I wanted to go shopping, he would come with me. If I wanted groceries, he would make a list and write out how much everything would cost.

"He did not even let me have a bank card. Just literally pocket money.

"He liked me to look nice and to do things that cost money, but they weren't ever my choice. He even chose my hair dye colour and would pick me up at the salon to inspect it and then pay. I was so fearful that he would hate it and take it out on me, and refuse to pay the salon."

Ros Preston, chair of the Jewish Human Rights Coalition, said: "We never thought that there was abuse against children in our community or divorce rates would be the same as national figures, but we realise again we're not that different from the general population.

"After many years of this being talked about in a quiet voice we are beginning to get it out there. It's up to the rest of the community now to make sure rabbis talk about it from the bimah and it isn't hushed up."

Last updated: 3:54pm, March 14 2011