Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nefesh Conference on abuse

JPost writes:

Abuse of women, children and the elderly in the religious Jewish community was long denied, on the grounds that observance of the Torah and Talmud prevented it. Physical, sexual, emotional, economic and other types of maltreatment of the weak, claimed this sector, occurs among secular Jews, but "not in our camp."

But this has been disproven by infamous cases of child abuse reported recently in the general media, and the opening of shelters for battered women in haredi neighborhoods.

THE RECENT ninth Jerusalem conference of ATEM Nefesh-Israel - an organization of observant social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists - had several sessions devoted to this topic. Although all the 200 or so participants were religious (most of them women), the public nature of the conference at the Bayit Vegan Guesthouse constituted a welcome airing of the religious community's "dirty laundry," though some rabbis still insist on hiding it. The organization of religious therapists was founded by Shaare Zedek Medical Center neuropsychologist Dr. Judith Guedalia and geriatric social worker and Melabev found Leah Abramowitz.

Clearly, most religious Jewish men are good or excellent husbands and fathers. No data were provided on how common abuse is in the religious - especially haredi - community, and how it compares with the secular community, but the fact that it was discussed is a healthy phenomenon.

"Twenty years ago, no one would dream of talking openly about violence in the religious family," said Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau. The modern Orthodox rabbi - who is director of the Center for Judaism and Society, heads Jerusalem's Institute for Social Justice at Beit Morasha, serves as rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in the Katamon quarter and lectures on Jewish law and social justice at Bar-Ilan University - delivered a keynote address at the conference. "If a community gives a legitimacy to violence and abuse, these can happen. There are closets in haredi society that are still not open."

AN EYE-OPENING workshop on "Spiritual Abuse" of haredi women opened the closet door a crack. Dr. Nicole Dahan, a social worker at the Ariel University Center and Tzipi Levy, a social worker in the Jerusalem Municipality, have done much to put this subject on the public agenda.

While until recently, men's abuse of their partners was known to involve physical, emotional, sexual and verbal violence, as well as economic abuse and the reduction of freedom, Levy and Dahan discovered that some haredi men use God and the commandments to abuse their wives. [...]


  1. Does the Nefesh Conference contain anyone or work with anyone that can effect real change? While it is nice to see people actually talking about these issues one has to ask if they have the power to effect real change?

    We all saw what happened to R' Twerski when he tried to effect change.

    Then there was Rabbi Nochum Rosenberg.

    It seems that whenever someone tries to do something that will actually help, they find themselves quickly in trouble.

  2. mekubal, Nefesh is an organization of mental health professionals. so yes, they are effecting real change.

    within a few days of this conference i personally received an email from a rav who participated and did a search on sex abuse to find frum survivors, and came across my blog. since then i have been in touch with both the rav and a therapist here in america that he was able to put in touch with me.

  3. I have no doubt that the people of Nefesh want to effect real change, or that they try to effect real change. My only doubt is whether or not they have the "protectsia", as it is called here, to effect change.

    How will the Jewish street react? How will non-affiliated Rabbanim react?

    When I was first introduced to the Nefesh conference some 10 years ago, then it was the project of R' Twerski and R' Levitz. However, we have all seen what happened to R' Twerski when he tried to actually do something other than talk about these issues.

    The talk is good, but I would not call the needed airing of many of these issues. My question is if any of this goes beyond the four walls of a Nefesh conference will their be the death threats and rabbinic bans that we have seen regarding other people who have tried to actually tackle these issues?


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