Monday, May 2, 2011

Incestual abuse - revealing it to in-laws

A rabbi who received this question sent it to me for my opinion on the
matter and gave me permission to publish it on this blog.
Dear Rebbi,

I hope all is well.

Q. MY wife and I are wondering if we can tell my Mother about my wife
having been molested by her Dad.
The reasons are
- that the therapist first of all thinks we should, because if word gets
out (about my father in law) and my parents find out, they may
be"humiliated and upset we didn't tell them earlier.
- They would finally understand why we really are staying in Israel for
now and counting on their financial support.
- My wife would feel better if someone like my mom knew this, because it
would explain a lot of things my wife has a hard time with.

Shavua tov

I made the following comments.

A number of issues arise. 1) Did the father-in-law confess or is there
any evidence other than the wife's statement that the molesting took
place? 2) can the benefits be obtained without mentioning that it was
her father who was the molester? 3) if it wasn't likely that word would
get out does the therapist think there is any need to tell? 4) why is
financial support dependent upon the knowledge of molesting by the
father-in-law? 5) why isn't it enough for the wife that the therapist
know 6) did the father have therapy and is he considered a danger to
others? 7) Does the mother-in-law know that her daughter was molested by
her husband?

It seems that the reasons presented for revealing this information don't
seem natural and that it appears that the expected benefits can be
obtained without revealing the identity of the molester.

To answer your question - there is no question that if needed the
information can be revealed but as presented it seems to be that the
context has not been laid down properly. Therefore it shouldn't be done
since it would cause more harm than benefit unless more preparation is
done. I am also not sure the therapist is competent to deal with this


  1. I am a bit taken aback at this answer.

    I think that in cases of incest the identity of the perpetrator plays an important role, so I do not think that the same benefits could be achieved without revealing the perpetrator's identity.

    If this traumatic event is not revealed, it might be that "strange" behaviour which might be a consequence of the abuse is interpreted the wrong way and "blamed" entirely on the victim. This is something that should be avoided.

    The response asking not to reveal the identity of the perpetrator seems to continue the tradition of omerta on this subject.

  2. As far as the question of financial support is concerned, I interpret the causal relation this way.

    1) the victim wants to stay far, far away from the perpetrator, so the young couple chose to live in Israel.
    It might be that the husband's parents put some pressure on the young couple to come back to the US and stand on their own feet.

    2) It might be that the victim does not want to accept money from her side of the family, since she does not want to be dependent on the perpetrator - an understandable reaction.
    It might be that the parents in law ask how come that they have to provide all the financial support while the other side does not, although they might seem able to afford it...

    As a matter of principle, I agree that young couples should be financially autonomous from either side of the family. However, I can see how the information about abuse can be relevant to the issue of financial support.

  3. I agree with Rabbi Dr. Eidensohn 100%

    I am writing from personal experience as an abused child (beaten not molested) who has been married for B'H 25 years to a wonderful man. My sister and I were removed from our parents and put into foster care after we were both severely beaten by our father.

    I told my inlaws everything before my husband and I were married because I believed that they would hear about it from neighbors etc.

    I was WRONG!! No one who knew our family ever told my in laws anything. To the contrary, my in laws only heard that we were great kids who had overcome a great deal of adversity (my mother was bipolar and my father left). Once you are already married, there is no reason for anyone to reveal anything of this sort to your in laws anyway.

    My in laws are not bad or mean people. But it is human nature to feel strongly about the upbringing of children, religious matters, family relations etc. And when that happens, one or the other of my in laws always chirps up "Well YOU didn't get along at ALL with YOUR parents?".

    This hurts me more than anyone can imagine. It is like a knife jabbing into my stomach.

    None of my siblings have any relationship with our parents.

    Today we are each successful professionals, happily married and parents of grown children.

    I am not a mental health professional so I am not speaking from any experience other than my own.

    I agree with Rabbi Dr. Eidensohn.

    I hope that this will help you in some way because it was difficult for me to write it.

  4. As far as the question of proof is concerned, there is an easy way to solve this problem: If the husband is not sure whether the story is true or not, the wife herself should tell about it. She knows for sure that it is true, so it does not constitute lashon hara.

    If it is too difficult to do this in a personal conversation, it might be done by a written or recorded oral statement that was produced with adequate support from the therapist and/or husband.

    This principle, which is very eay to understand, features on a prominent place in your book about abuse, I am sure.

    Of course, the remarks made by withheld should be taken into consideration. If it stands to fear that the revelation would strain the relationship between wife and inlaws in the future, this is a fact that should be taken into account and pondered adequately. However, it has nothing to do with the issue of lashon hara.

    This said, I am quite appalled that family who deem themselves religious-orthodox would react to such a revelation in a mean way, either immediately or later on.

  5. I would never say that my in laws are mean or that they have ever reacted in a mean way.

    In the course of a normal life, there are stresses and challenges that can bring out the worst in people. And this is when things come out that are deeply hurtful. At these times things are often said that are regretted later.

    Saying hurtful things is not limited to non religious people.

    Many years ago, I went with my husband to a Rav who is very well known and highly regarded for counseling. I revealed that I had a difficult time expressing my emotions because I was in foster care and did not have a strong bonding relationship with parents because I was bounced around from placement to placement. I felt I had to learn to be less detached from my feelings, my husband, my children etc.

    The Rav, who was a practicing therapist, screamed at me to "just get over it and stop whining about your childhood. Do you think that you are the only one with problems? Do you think that you are the only one in the world who was abused. Stop speaking lashon hara about your parents and grow up and move on. I think that YOU caused your problems with your parents "

    (NEVER go to an unlicensed therapist!) Yes, this Rav was very frum. I was very young (20s) at the time and it hurt very badly.

    Even the most well meaning in laws will say things that they should never have said and if these things draw upon past pain, it can be devastating.

  6. While this may be tangential to the subject of the article, I am taking note of the involvement of untrained individuals who abuse their title as "rabbi", and claim that their "Daas Torah" qualifies them to counsel. NO! There are some rabbonim who are truly gifted, and just have a natural sense that enables them to do good work, with no formal training at all. Those individuals are rare, but they do exist. However, just because someone is a menahel, rosh yeshiva, mashgiach, mechanech, or even a chassidishe rebbe, it does not qualify him for counseling or therapy any more than it does to pilot an airplane. I am not knocking rabbonim and talmidei chachomim. I am just noting a fact. People who engage in "professional" activity cannot ever assume that they are equipped with the knowledge just because of their Torah scholarship.

  7. Being licensed as a therapist does not necessarily make one qualified to counsel.

  8. That is true, but there ARE professional standards and a board that a licensed therapist has to answer to.

    As a newly married young woman coping with abuse issues from my childhood, I went to seek "counseling" from one of the Tendlers. B"H I had the instincts to run out of there.

    After that I went to a Rabbi who was also a licensed therapist who did help a great deal. It only took a few months for me to learn to stop transferring my fear of my father to my new husband.

    After that Rabbi made aliyah, I went to another well respected community Rabbi/therapist who tried to pressure me into having sex with him.

    Then another older (65) Rav/counselor, who was very denigrating so I stopped going after 2 sessions. A few months later, I heard about the well used "couch" in his office.

    I finally found a non frum female therapist, went to her for five months and she really helped me.This was more than 15 years ago and I have not felt that I needed to go since.

  9. Sam said, "Being licensed as a therapist does not necessarily make one qualified to counsel."

    That may be true. But the delusion that being a talmid chochom is a qualification (certainly for today) is dangerous. There have been too many korbonos, serious casualties of such "counselors". Some offer career guidance without a clue about the talmid's strengths and weaknesses as well as very poor understanding of the job market. Others try their hands at "shalom bayis" counseling while causing tremendous damage. I could rant and rave on this for hours or pages. It is unquestionable that everything is included in Torah, as it states clearly in Pirkei Avos. However, I challenge even today's gedolim to understand how to work their microwave oven through information in the Torah. They, too, would consult the manual.

  10. The Torah is the manual to counsel.

    Rabbonim are our guides to the Torah.

  11. "The Torah is the manual to counsel.

    Rabbonim are our guides to the Torah."

    הפך בה והפך בה is undeniably true. That was never the question. The problem is that Roshei Yeshivos, Rabbonim, and others who are great talmidei chachomim assume they have derived the wisdom of counsel from the Torah. I say, that is too often not true. Would you go to a medical specialist who has gone to medical school and underwent years of advanced training in his specialty, or would you visit the Rov down the block whose Daf Yomi shiur or Shalosh Seudos Torah is captivatingly genius? Are these Torah scholars all on the level of the Rambam who derived his medical knowledge from Torah, or are they perhaps more like the generation in which they live? I refer you, without hesitation, to the Ramban in Bava Kama daf 88 when he refers specifically to the need to have specific medical training before engaging in the practice of medicine. Counseling is just as much a science and skill. I repeat my contention - it is the rare exception that a gadol has that skill without having undergone specific training. Torah has that knowledge. We ordinarily lack the ability to know how to find it.

    Not every physician is qualified in every medical specialty. Not every therapist is qualified to deal with every case evaluated. Kal vachomer someone whose training (with all of its excellence) is outside the counseling field completely.

    P.S. If you develop a toothache, go to your dentist, not your Rov.


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