Friday, May 4, 2012

Shout Out to SL: Revisiting Domestic Violence

In the email message that I sent out to my Etanu followers with information about last week's blog posting, I invited readers to request a topic for my final three blog postings.

S.L., a longtime devoted reader of Etanu, wrote back and asked for a re-posting of his favorite I wrote more than 3 years ago (before the etanu website went up!).

Domestic violence remains a troubling issue today.  Since this message was originally written on March 13, 2009 approximately 11 million new incidents of domestic violence have taken place in the United States.  This is based on the statistic that a woman is beaten or assaulted in the US once every 9 seconds.  If that statistic does not make you ill, I don't know what will.

As for Chris Brown and Rihanna...there's mad speculation that they are/were back together (again).  That raises interesting questions about the forgiveness piece mentioned below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts about this important, pressing, and relevant issue for our time.

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Have you been following the maddening/saddening (is that a word?) celebrity news out of Hollywood that has chronicled the incident of domestic violence committed by Chris Brown against Rihanna?  (Check out the blurb in People Magazine.)

Although all domestic abuse is a terrible tragedy, the one good thing that comes out of cases involving celebrities is that at least it gives us an opportunity to be reminded that this is still a major problem facing our society.

You can read all of the statistics on DV here and here

The interesting thing about the Rihanna case is that, soon after being beaten, she decided to (forgive??) or at least take Chris back.  It is now widely reported that they have reconciled and are back together, even as his criminal case is making its way through the Los Angeles court system.

Are there certain things in a relationship that are unforgivable?  And if so, is domestic abuse one of them?  Oprah, a victim of domestic violence herself, seems to think so.  She has publicly admonished Rihanna for getting back together with Brown, warning her that he will hit her again.

I share all of this for two reasons.

First, and most importantly, this really IS a good excuse to take a moment to reflect on the dangers of domestic violence (the video here is very helpful in this respect).  And, we can take this opportunity to remind everyone that there are amazing resources in our communities to help people who are being victimized (or think they might be victimized) by domestic violence.  We have the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474.  And we have the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE.  Much closer to home, we have PROJECT SARAH, the San Diego Jewish community’s response to domestic violence.  Find them here or call 858-637-3200.  Or call me instead.  Please reach out to someone if you need help.

Secondly, I mention all of this because I think that the central question that Rihanna’s plight raises – about whether or not there are things in a relationship that are forgivable – is a very Jewish kind of a question.

Although this week’s [March 2009] Torah portion (Parshat Ki Tisa) makes no mention of domestic violence, it is very much interested in the question of forgiveness.

This week’s parsha includes the story of the Golden Calf – the ultimate act of spiritual assault that our ancient Israelite ancestors committed against their partner: God.  In worshipping the idol, they violate the sense of respect and sanctity that exists between them and God so profoundly that I have always read it as an act of violence.

And yet, even before this week’s parsha is over, Moses is able to convince God not to destroy the Israelites who have realized the error of their ways.

I’m always a little bit surprised that Moses was able to pull that off.  How was he able to convince God to forgive those Israelites who so brazenly disrespected God?

For some commentators, they use this as a chance to write about humanity’s imperfections.  We’re always going to fall short, in the eyes of God.  Part of God’s essential self is the attribute of mercy, because God knows that if God wants to be in an ongoing relationship with us, God will have to find a way to forgive us every time we inevitably mess up.

And that is true, to a certain extent, in the relationships we share with other people as well.  The only way that any relationship works is if both people constantly find it within themselves to forgive each other. 

But that brings us back to our original question.  Are there limits?  Are there certain things in romantic relationship that are unforgivable?  Are there certain things that – if we do them – they should automatically lead to the end of the relationship? Is domestic violence one of those things?

I’m not sure what the answers are to those questions.  But I would love to hear what you have to say about it.  

With prayers for the end of all violence in the world…

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeff Brown

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