"Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)"
Magazine - rchives





- Thursday, August 31, '00 - Parshas Shoftim 5760

Some people claim that, in marital disputes, the man is always a beast and the woman always an angel. There has been a lot of publicity in recent times about family dysfunction and brutish husbands. It is true that many men can be very emotionally or verbally abusive, or unresponsive the the need or feelings of a woman. As a marriage counselor who sees the pains, issues, disputes and practical realties of marital strife, I will venture the following contribution.

One of my main rovs, Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l, told me, many years ago, that, from the shaalos and calls for advice or help that he got, it was 50/50 [men or women could equally be the cause of marriage trouble] and that usually, when the woman was the problem, the issue stemmed from her being greedy and materialistic.

In the Shulchan Oruch (Code of Jewish Law, Evven Ho'Ezzer, section on grounds for divorce) the Ramo says that when a complaint of hitting is brought to bais din, we treat differently complaints that a husband hit a wife vs. complaints that a wife hit a husband. The bais din is quicker to accept the accusation that a man hit as fact and to permit divorce than when the woman is accused of hitting. It is not the way of any Jew to hit, but it is even moreso not the way of Jewish women to hit men.

Therefore, the halacha requires that the degree of investigation and proof is greater when a woman is accused of beating her husband. (The laws are involved e.g. the bais din always must investigate how many times it happened - is it regular or was it a one-time mistake, was it provoked, was it self-defense; an agent of bais din might be sent to the home to observe the couple, etc. - so please, dear reader, do not draw halachic conclusions - take practical individual questions to a rov).

We see that the woman is deemed to be less prone to violent behavior. However, this applies in "normal times." We live today in very abnormal, tough and complex times. There are a lot of people out there today of either gender and of every kind, in every segment of the Jewish community, rachmona litzlon, who are capable of harmful, unreasonable, destructive, dysfunctional, rigid, arrogant, selfish, immature, adversarial and/or incompatible behavior. One of my sayings is "Normal rules apply to normal people. Normal rules do not apply to abnormal people."

The presumption that women today are exempt from inaugurating marital strife does not work any more in real life. To be sure, either a man or woman can: be very neurotic or unstable, have an uncontrollable temper, be sadistic or nervewracking, be blind to the impact of cruel and brutal treatment of a spouse, be selfish or unbearably critical, be greedy or dishonest, have disgusting and rude midos, be punitive or intrusive, be violent or terrifying, be judgemental or disparaging, be in profound psychological denial of fault or neurosis, see him/herself as perfect and the other one as totally blameworthy or crazy, become unreligious, avoid being responsible to duties and obligations, avoid making time for the other spouse or for the children, and present any number or combination of ethical, religious, midos (character) or psychological issues.

What we have to always say is that neither man nor woman can be branded as automatically blameworthy or unhealthy, especially since both spouses often contribute to marital problems. I have seen many examples of your "run of the mill old fashioned blockheaded male brute." Yes, they're out there. Many are abusive, irresponsible or "emotionally blind" to their wives.

However, I have also dealt with cases, for example, in which:

* a woman looked for her husband's weaknesses to emotionally control and sadistically pain him,
* a woman thought nothing of slapping her husband's face to "punish" him,
* a woman treated her husband so miserably that he stopped coming home to her because he couldn't stand the pain and tension,
* a spoiled and juvenile woman left her husband because he couldn't afford the luxuries her father gave her and which she demanded uncompromisingly from him,
* a woman steadily and rigidly demanded the opposite of whatever her husband would say or like and when he wanted to get counseling she left him rather than work the marriage out,
* a huge woman who had a body twice his size used to viciously beat her skinny "98 lb. weakling" husband,
* a woman stubbornly held out for a delusionally high and unattainable financial settlement in a break-up,
* women were incapable of fulfilling basic and necessary obligations of being a wife or civilized human being,
* women who were unbearably nagging and verbally abusive, and
* various women with profound psychological difficulties and backrounds, etc.

Note: to protect privacy and identity of clients who come to me for counseling, all above representative examples are actually from 15-22 years ago.

In Jewish law, every person who can not be proven by bais din to be a rasha (evil person) is granted by the Torah a "chezkas koshruss (presumption of innocence)." Even after someone is proven guilty in bais din, how we behave towards him/her must accord with Torah laws. Bais din authorizes agents and specific methods for carrying out its directives and it rarely authorizes the public, or any "volunteer" from the public, to be its agent. We must always be fair, careful, objective and even-handed. We may not believe gossip, hearsay or slander. Sometimes, in practical marriage counseling, the different stories given by the two sides would appear to be descriptions of people who never met each other and who don't know each other. I often feel like asking myself, "Are these two talking about the same marriage?" A person in any strife with another has his/her own agenda, interests, bias, pain, defenses and perceptions. When you hear one side without the other, the story is probably nowhere near true, valid, reliable or complete. It takes hard, volitional and good-faith work by a counselor and both spouses to get to even perceive an issue in a way that the couple can constructively and meaningfully agree on and work with (never mind to work further on and resolve!).

Seeing either man or woman as guilty is really missing the point, and losing true perspective. The Torah obligates us to: love, respect, have compassion and patience, be gentle and friendly, give benefit of doubt, prioritize and sacrifice for peace, humbly direct every deed 1. by da'as Torah and 2. for the sake of Heaven, be good-hearted and view all Jews kindly, male or female. All our treatment of any Jew must cause no pain or harm, and must be a Kidush Hashem.

G-d told Moshe to give the commandment to be holy (kedoshim tihiyu) to the entire people assembled together. The Chasam Sofer writes that this unusual requirement of assembling the entire Jewish populace teaches us that you can't be a "holy hermit" on a mountain or in a desert. The mitzva says that we are commanded to be holy because G-d is holy. We have no choice but to emulate Him by seperating from selfish drives and inclinations. Parashas Kedoshim, which contains the mitzva to be holy, is the one parsha which has by far the largest number of interpersonal commandments in the entire Torah. The fact that Hashem Yisborach commanded Moshe to say this one parsha in front of the entire Jewish population, assembled together, teaches that you are only holy, a Torah imperative, when you can be holy in your every-day interaction with all other people!

The bottom line is that every individual situation must be viewed on a fair and two-sided "case by case" basis, with all parties seen as having a "clean slate" and as innocent until proof, that satisfies Jewish law, proves otherwise.

If there is trouble, our job is to care and help; not to take sides, judge, attack nor condemn. If you can't care and help (effectively and halachically), stay out of it, remain silent and tell yourself, "I really don't know the whole true story."

Generally, according to Jewish law; if you decise on your own to have any opinion about any person - male or female, you're probably not qualified to have one; and if you act negatively against any person - male or female, you're acting negatively against your own soul; and this all applies no matter how exquisite, deserving or special you think your explanation is. G-d's standard of holiness remains at all times for us - especially when dealing with other people.