Volume 15 Number 97
                       Produced: Sun Oct 23  0:37:53 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Jeffrey Woolf]
         [Irwin H. Haut]
         ["Yaakov Menken"]
Wifebeating, History and Apologetics
         [Marc Shapiro]


From: Jeffrey Woolf <F12043@...>
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 94 13:37:11 IST
Subject: Wife-abuse

I feel Rivka Haut is trying to be outrageous in a just cause. However,
pegging the Rambam as a license for wife-abuse is incorrect (as already
pointed out by others). HOWEVER, we ought to liberate ourselves from
being too closely bound by careful reading of the Mishneh Torah and
admit that:1) The Orthodox community IS dismissive of women (especially
in the Haredi world) 2) The inertia factor leading women to stay in
abusive situations is stronger in the religious community than it is
elsewhere 3) even where spousal (or child abuse) is allowed (prima
facie) in some authorities, that does not mean it is appropriate EVER
today ....On early medieval views of wife beating see Abraham Grossman's
article in the journal Jewish History, about 1990 or 1991. There was an
MA done on the subject in Hebrew University by Yaakov Greenwald. It may
be in a local library.
                                 Jeffrey Woolf


From: Irwin H. Haut <0005446733@...>
Date: Wed, 19 Oct 94 21:41 EST
Subject: Wife-Beating

        Despite the apologetics poured on the subject of wife beating,
any fair-minded student of the literature must conclude that the
absolute and utter propriety of the beating or flogging of a wife by her
husband is supported by eminent authorities from ancient times to the
present. That such was indeed also the view of Maimonides A learned
treatise on the subject of women under Jewish law, dealing peripherally
with the issue of wife-beating, is that of Dr. Samuel Morell, "An equal
or a Ward: How Independant is a Married Wommen According to Rabbbinic
Law", Jewish Social Studies, vol. XLIV, nos. 3-4, Summer-Fall 1982,
        He traces this time-honored and most noble institution as far
back as the ninth century and to Tzemach Gaon, who calls upon a man to
flog his wife if she is guilty of assault, "so that she be not in the
habit of so doing." (Otzar Hageonim. B.K p.62, no.199). Another early
geonic view cited by him takes it for granted that a man may strike his
wife if she curses his parents or hers.
        These views predominated and were brodened over the years, with
the approval of other giants of Jewish law, although not without strong
dissenting opinions by Rashba, Radvaz, and others, as discussed by Dr.
        That Maimonides held that the husband himself could flog his
wife is supported by the following:
        1. In the first place, the languge of Maimonides, despite the
plural "we force" clearly refers to the husband and not the Bais Din.
        2. That such was his view is clear from the comments of his
older contemporary, Ravad, who asserts:
                "I never heard of flogging of women with whips. But,
rather HE reduces her necessaries, until she is subdued."
        It is thus quite clear that Ravad took Maimonides to refer to
flogging by ther husband himself and not by the Bais Din.
        3. Maharshal also took Maimonides to refer to flogging by a
husband, and asserts that his view is rendered nugatory by that of
Ravad. Maharshal, in the context of a discussion of the evils of
wife-beating, states (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma, ch.3, sect. 21):
                "And even according to Maimonides, who holds that if the
wife does not fulfil the duties incumbent upon her, that he can flog
her, such would apply only where there is a gross violation of law; and,
furthermore, the view of Maimonides has been negated by that of Ravad."
        4. Ma'ase Rokeach, Ishuth, 21:10, while disagreeing with
Maharshal, and asserting that Maimonides permits flogging only by the
court, nevertheless conceded that Ravad understood Maimonides as
permitting flogging by the husband, and adds that perhaps Ravad had a
variant of Maimonides' ruling which read,"he flogs her" and not "we flog
        I have checked Frankel's edition of Mishneh Torah, and the first
edition of Mishneh Torah and find no evidence of any such
variant. However, it may have existed and I leave it to other readers of
mail-jewish, with better access to libraries to check this matter out.
        The foregoing reflects that Maimonides' statement is far from
anbiguous and is in line with the long respected and established
tradition, already in his time, of permitting beating of a wife by a
husband for what we would now term minor marital offences, such as
refusing to make the beds, or wash his hands or face, or for that matter
his feet.
        Incidentally, with regard to washing of feet, we have here
another instance of a glaring omission by silence. In Shaul's listing of
duties by the little women, who fails to perform them at the peril of a
whipping, he strangely omits washing of feet, listed by Maimonides as
one of those wifely requirements at Ishut 21:7. I wonder why? Do not the
little women so do in B'nei B'raq? I am surprised.
        Furthermore and in any event, I am utterty astounded at the
attempt to whitewash the view of one whom I have taken as my great
Rebbe, Maimonides, having spent a large portion of my life studying his
views, by attributing the flogging prescribed to the Bais Din.
        In the first place, it just is not so, as understood by the
giants, whose views are discussed above.
        Secondly, are we prepared to say that the little women is
properly to be subjected to flogging by the Bais Din for refusing to
wash her husnband's feet, which is apparently not even done in B'nai
B'raq, or his face, or make his bed, or pour his wine, or even to nurse
his (her) child.
        It is no answer to say that such was never done, if it could be
done. As noted by Rivka Haut, it is precisely the attitude of male
domination which is engendered thereby which poses the greatest danger
in my opinion to modern Jewish marriage.
        I submit that such should not  be the law in an ordered society.
        And last to Robert Klapper, as to the attitude today to
wife-beating, see straightforward discussion of the legal aspects of
wife-beating by a modern, the Hazon Ish, at Ishut 21:10.

Rabbi Irwin H. Haut     

From: "Yaakov Menken" <ny000548@...>
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 94 11:00:35 -0400
Subject: Re: Wifebeating

I'm sorry to write again on this issue so quickly - but I really have
trouble with attempts to discover Rabbinic approbation for behavior
appropriate for rock-crawling lizards.  I must admit (remaining
unfamiliar with the majority of Rabbinic literature) that I do worry
that sources might be found that would actually permit such readings.  It's 
therefore a pleasure when the so-called "evidence" doesn't pass muster.

>>From: Naomy Graetz <graetz@...>
[continuing the debate surrounding the Rambam, Hilchos Ishus:]
>If you look at the Migdal Oz ... it is clear that it is the husband who
>is the referrent despite the use of kofin (forcing her in the plural)...

I'm afraid that's anything _but_ clear to my eye.  The Migdal Oz states
the "the way of Kfiyah [forcing] is whatever seems appropriate to the 
judge, whether with words, curses or even sticks."  Note that the source
case is a husband who refuses to grant a divorce - we beat him, if needed.
Again, from this and the Halacha itself [which says that if the two 
parties disagree, we bring another woman or neighbors in to supervise, and 
all is according to what appears possible and appropriate to the JUDGE],
it is obvious that the force is applied by the courts, not the husband.

At the very least, anyone who read the entire Halacha and Migdal Oz,
in context, would be forced to admit that if the husband lifts his hand,
it is with clear court supervision of every action.  Go out in the street
and find a court that will permit an ignoramus to beat his wife at will...

[Detailed history of the Trumas HaDeshen and its writer (R' Israel 
Isserlein), including high approbations and praise from other Rabbonim, 
>     He is asked whether a man can hit his wife in order to keep
>her from cursing her parents.
>     Answer: Even though Mordecai [b. Hillel] and R. Simcha wrote that
>he who beats his wife, transgresses, and is dealt with very harshly, I
>disagree with this strict interpretation.  I base my interpretation on
>R. Nachman b. Yitzchak who wrote that all was in order in the case of a
>Cananite slave woman who was beaten in order to prevent her from
>transgressing.  He of course should not overdo it or else she would be
>freed.  Anyone who is responsible for educating someone under him, and
>sees that person transgressing, can beat that person to prevent the
>transgression.  He does not have to be brought to court.{Responsa, #218}
>The implications of this responsum are that a wife is like a slave in
>that the husband/master is permitted to strike her in order to save her
>from committting a transgression.  Thus in this case, in Isserlein's
>opinion, a man can hit his wife.

All well and good, but what we have here is clear proof that wife-beating
is a most severe transgression.  The Trumas HaDeshen disagrees with the
Sefer HaMordechai because the wife here is transgressing herself.  In 
ordinary cases, he would obviously agree that "he transgresses, and is
dealt with very harshly."

"A wife is like a slave??"  Only in the very limited sense described in
the latter half of the sentence - but the emphasis here is on the similarity
between a wife and a slave, which is inaccurate (to say the least).
A husband _does_ have authority over the home, and makes the Halakhic 
rulings.  Therefore it is the opinion of the Trumas HaDeshen that he
must take responsibility to prevent any member of his household from
violating the law.

"Thus in this case, in [Rabbi] Isserlein's opinion, a man can hit his wife."
Thank you.  It is also well known in Rabbinic sources that if your wife is
coming at you with a knife, in order to kill you, that you are permitted
to hit her if necessary to ward off her attack.  "Wifebeating?"  Hardly.

If necessary to prevent transgression, it may sometimes even be deemed 
necessary to hit a transgressor - witness the "Makos Mardus" - a
beating administered by the courts _not_ because the Torah has been
violated, but because the person is disobeying Rabbinic law.  No one 
questions the authority of a father to hit his son in such cases -- are
we about to undertake a discussion of "Rabbinic approbation for child abuse"
(Chas M'l'hazkir)?!?

The discussion revolves around a woman who will curse her parents, should
her husband not stop her.  The husband is holding his wife back from
violating a death-penalty transgression.  Most people would rather be
hit by those that love them, instead of killed by the courts.
What we see from all of these submissions is that yes, a husband may be
permitted by the courts to hit his wife in certain _extreme_ situations.

What remains lacking is one whit of evidence that any Rabbi would permit
the sort of wifebeating that is unfortunately not uncommon - and has
even crept into the Halakhic community.

Our Halakhic sources clearly show that hitting _anyone_ - wife included - 
or for that matter, even getting angry and _yelling_ at one's wife - is 
under almost all circumstances a most severe transgression, and reserved 
for low people.  Our Rabbinic literature, and the Torah, requires that we
follow a higher standard than society demands; all the more so does it
demand that we stay away from such revolting behavior.

Yaakov Menken


From: Marc Shapiro <mshapiro@...>
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 1994 22:26:13 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Wifebeating, History and Apologetics

	I have been reading the discussion re. wife-beating with much
interest. I find it amusing that so many people are adamant that no
medieval sages ever permitted the practice. I think what we have here is
the outcome of apologetics substituting for history. Hopefully the day
will come when we will have a good historical study of the place of
women in Jewish law and society. Such a study will put the nail in the
coffin of the apologetics which claim to be history. Don't get me wrong,
there is a place for apologetics, but it must not step out of its
borders. When it tries to take over the realm of history it is invalid.
	I had thought I would provide a number of sources of great
rabbis who permitted wife-beating. However, this has already been done
very well by Naomi Graetz, who is (she says) working on a project
concerning this. Rather than people throwing out their own suppositions,
they should learn from those who have spent time investigating the
issue. People should learn to listen to those like Naomi who know what
they are talking about.  Otherwise, you will have people posting things
which are refuted as soon as they appear.
	As for Rambam's view, it is clear to my mind that he was
referring to the Bet Din, but the fact remains that not only Rabad, but
also R. Shlomo Luria believed he was referring to the husband. So, it is
somewhat presumptuous for people to criticize Rivka Haut so strongly
when her interpretation is a possibility. I also think that her
interpretation could be fit into Maimonides' conception of the role of
women. As I said above, I have no doubt (actually I *know*) she is
wrong, but she is not dead wrong.  Also, I don't think feminists will
take much comfort knowing that the Bet Din is to do the
wipping. Battering is battering, at least as far as they are concerned
	Naomi refers to the article by Grossman on wife-beating. I have
to say that this article overlooks some sources. E. g. it doesn't
mention the view of Ramban (quoted in Bet Yosef) that a husband can beat
his wife if she curses him. He also doesn't mention the view of Ramah
(Abulafia) that one who continuously beats his wife will have his hand
chopped off by the Bet Din, since he is obligated to honor her more than
himself (physical mutilation is not unheard of in Spanish Batei Din, in
particular we know they chopped off noses, and cut off tongues as well
as other things which appear horrible to contemporary eyes but which
were common in Gentile society [so much for the assertion that the
Gedolim are not influenced by their environment])
	Although it is true that the supporters of wife-beating are a
minority, they do exist,even as we approach modern times. I have sources
on this and readers will just have to believe me that I am not making
this up. I don't have the time to give everyone text and page number and
I also don't want to publicize all these sources since I hope to one day
write something about the subject and I don't want to give up some of
the great texts I have discovered.  However, since some people will
probably not believe me, and others doubt that these things are true, I
will call attention to a book written by a leading Yemenite rabbi in
Israel, Shalom Korah of Bene Berak. This book is published in 1994, you
got it, this year. It is entitled Teshuvah ke-Halakhah and in siman 38
he discusses wife-beating. And his conclusion is that while generally it
is forbidden, if the wife deserves it, e.  g. she curses the husband
than she can be beaten. He also points out that even though the Rambam
only says that a Bet Din can beat the wife, this refers to her not doing
her wifely duties. However, if she curses him than even Rambam would
agree that he can beat her (It is interesting that many of the
discussions about wife-beating concern a wife who wants to be divorced
because the husband beats her and the Bet Din refuses to grant the
divorce if the husband agrees to stop beating her. The notion that Jews
can get divorced just like that is historically incorrect. In some
countries, e. g. Morocco, it was almost impossible to have the rabbis
grant a divorce. It was almost as if there was no difference between the
Catholic attitude and our attitude. All throughout history rabbis have
refused to grant divorces, forcing people to remain married. I think
today we would all agree that it is very short-sighted to force people
to stay married even if only one of the partners wants a divorce. This
hardly makes for a happy marriage. However, romantic love was not
usually a consideration, but that is a discussion for a different time.)
	What is interesting about Korah's responsum is that he also 
concludes that if the man doesn't fulfill his husbandly duties properly, 
than the wife can also hit him! It seems that this is the formula for 
another Battle of the Roses. In any event, he concludes that his decisions 
are in accordance with the law, but any house that conducts itself like 
this will eventually fall apart (no kidding!)
					Marc Shapiro


End of Volume 15 Issue 97