Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wife beating: Can a son call the police to stop his father?

I received an important question. Since to me the answer is obvious - but at the same time it is clear that halachic thinking obscures the obvious - I would like to present it to my readers.

Question: A man is beating his wife on a regular basis. Is their son permitted to call the police? The question then not only is mesira, and causing damage more than prescribed by the Torah, as well as chilul hashem when this becomes public knowledge - but also whether he violates the command to honor his father. The questioner - after much investigation had found a possible solution. According to the Rambam a person can not allow himself to be beaten. The questioner noted that apparently the wife is being mochel the beating and since she has no right to do so - she is committing a sin. Therefore in order to save the mother from sin - he is allowed to call the police.

Answer: In my humble opinion, the suggested solution is not a solution. The wife is not being mochel the beatings. The husband beats her because he wants to - not because she is giving him permission!

The obvious answer is that stopping someone from beating another is not only permitted but obligatory. The real question for the son is whether he should stop his father - either physically, getting community resources to shame the father for wife beating - or whether he can simply call the police. If the beatings are not life-threatening I would suggest that an organization such as Shalom Task Force should be contacted for help. If they can intervene with proper counseling to stop the beatings and improve the relationship I think that is preferable. Similarly if the rav or neighbors can intervene to put the husband on notice to stop the beatings I think that is preferable to calling the police.

However if the beatings are serious and especially if there is no time to try and organize anything - then the police is the first response. Saving his father from sinning is the highest level of honoring his father. Saving his mother is obviously honoring his mother

The real issue though is what will be the consequences to the marriage of calling the police. If his father demands a divorce or simply abandons her making her an aguna - it is likely that his mother would prefer being hit occasionally.

There was a case in Jerusalem of an elderly man who was being beaten regularly by his son who lived with him - a case of elder abuse. The neighbors called the police when they learned about it. The son was arrested and thrown in jail. The father said, "I am all alone now. My son took care of me. He did the shopping and cooking and provided me with companionship. Now I have no one and I can't take care of myself and will need to be put in a nursing home. I would rather be beaten regularly than be put in a nursing home."

Thus the real question is not whether the halacha permits calling the police - but what action can best improve the current unacceptable condition. However if the beatings are life threatening - even a sofek of pikuach nefesh - there is absolutely no question that the police need to be called to stop the beatings.

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