It is a general principle of Jewish Law that, besides very rare situations, we should execute Judaism in a way that lets us live. That means that Judaism does not ask us to endanger or end our physical health. The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) explains the Torah verse Leviticus 18:5 to mean that one, in general, must violate the Commandments rather than die. How much more so must one choose life in cases one is not obligated. A woman isn’t obligated to marry because childbirth can endanger her life!
There is a news report that a certain Rabbinic Court in Israel now has refused to arrange divorce procedures in a case of a husband who was convicted for threatening his wife’s life. This must be such a mistake.
Jews are not Catholics, at least: not most of us. The Hebrew Bible makes clear that when love turns into hatred, it’s time for the husband to give his wife a divorce. Unfortunately, in the case of chronically violent men, there never was love — from his side. Only the lust to possess. I would nullify such a fake marriage (no divorce needed) but I’m not a rabbi.
Generally, Rabbinic Courts are very cautious with enabling divorce. I like that. The fact that you quarrel all the time might indicate a need to stop bickering. It’s not a ground for divorce. That fact that you make each other crazy doesn’t mean that you should part ways. Have you tried therapy?
Yet, a threat to life means it’s over. When your spouse threatened your life, you have one overriding Commandment to follow: run. The rule is: first get to safety. You could later decide to try to patch it up. (But don’t.)
I would even say that it is enough when you just feel that your life is in danger though you can’t prove anything. Even if the greatest specialists in the world would swear that you’re safe, your feelings dictate the action.
I would say it’s the same as fasting on Yom Kippur. Even if the greatest specialists in the world would swear that you’re safe to fast, when you feel you are not, you must eat. No one knows you like you. That’s Jewish Law.
Another thing is that as a therapist or judge, I would go against the trends of the day. If everyone says: You should feel happy, get a divorce, I would say: not so quick. But in the case of violent spouses, the victims generally love their partners, being the giving and naive types. (Would-be abusers would only marry such people.) And most of the time, they realize all the trouble of being divorced. It doesn’t look like paradise on earth. You don’t discourage such people. You say: Play it safe — and help them get there. You can always change your mind later, when you’re safe already.
Judges, except for the greatest, follow public opinion and pressure. (The greatest, typically, are ahead of the curve and public opinion.) They will always maintain that the criteria for their rulings cannot be tinkered with but in real life, we see that’s not true. I hope this blog post will add a little pressure to a wave of indignation that should help these judges see that endangered women must be supported in their right to life immediately.
NB: Every Jewish couple must sign a prenuptial agreement. Especially the nice ones not fearing anything. If you don’t do this because you’re safe, you’re enabling would-be abusers. They could pressure their upcoming naive victims that, of course, they don’t need such a thing. Besides, even the nicest people can turn into revengeful spiteful monsters at a divorce.
Full disclosure: I’m a relationship therapist. I’ve helped save marriages of couples who were both certain that divorce would make them both happy. They’re so grateful to me. But I’ve also had the experience and guts to say to spouses: get a divorce still today, if you can. This will never work. However, I’m on pension and not looking for work.