Sins of Omission: The Jewish Community's Reaction to Domestic Violence - What Needs to be Done By Dr. Carol Goodman Kaufman
Reviewed by Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, LCSW
"In the earliest days of television, Ralph Cramden's weekly threats to hit his wife Alice on The Honeymooners (`One of these days!' he would bellow) had audiences laughing themselves silly," (37) writes Dr. Carol Goodman Kaufman in, Sins of Omission: The Jewish Community's Reaction to Domestic Violence - What Needs to be Done. Yet, as Dr. Kaufman carefully and clearly documents, threats to body and life, far from being a source of popular entertainment, are a very serious matter that too often rest unspoken and ignored. Dr. Carol Goodman Kaufman, an industrial and organizational psychologist, is Visiting Scholar at the Brudnick Center for the Study of Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, in Boston, MA. In Sins of Omission, she artfully blends sharp research skills with a comprehensive understanding of complicated social, religious and legal factors, and, as a gifted writer, offers a lucid, inviting - and unsettling - scholarly study. Dr. Kaufman surveyed Massachusetts Jewish communities - Boston, Worcester and the Berkshires - interviewing victims, rabbis (including the author of this review), and other Jewish professionals. She interwove secular and religious sources, as well as a survey of regional and national policies and practices to produce Sins of Omission. The book is a professional, albeit troubling, picture of women - across all educational and economic levels - going without the help they need. She also finds that many rabbis are untrained and unskilled in addressing domestic abuse. Her conclusions are all the more surprising for her focus on a small and insular Jewish community with a longstanding reputation for valuing family and taking care of its own. Dr. Kaufman opens her convincing argument with traditional religious material. She cites the social safety net of biblical proportions from the book of Leviticus (19.16), "Do not stand by idly while your neighbor bleeds." Vivid citations culled from first-person interviews describe the physical and emotional torment and efforts - if any - find security. Too often, she claims, the Jewish community fails to honor its mandated responsibility to protect the victimized. Some women turn to rabbis and other professionals and get assistance. But too many domestic abuse allegations get discredited or denied by prospective helpers, perhaps with the lecture to "keep things quiet" until the "problem" goes away on it own. Other victims keep the matter to themselves; they may find clergy and social service agencies intimidating or they fear that the resulting social stigma or legal and financial complications would make a bad situation even worse. Dr. Kaufman presents the full cast of abuse enablers, the stifling, toxic blend of paternalism and parochialism, victim blaming and wishful thinking. When victims are told to live with violence, their prospective protectors heap injustice upon agony. Dr. Kaufman reserves special attention for potential caregivers that lack training and experience to respond professionally. Many a rabbi, for instance, is inadequate to the challenges of making an appropriate abuse referral into a shifting landscape of medical, psychological, legal, financial and spiritual resources. And, in a rabbi's day chock-a-block with the demands of too many other pressing pastoral, educational, administrative, and birth-to-death life cycle responsibilities, the silent cries of domestic abuse, alcoholism, addiction and depression and more, for instance, do not get the attention they deserve. While Dr. Kaufman discusses a Jewish community within the larger community, she addresses universal issues of pastoral care. All national religious organizations articulate policies against domestic abuse and other pressing issues, policies that too often fail to trickle down to local implementation. Across all faiths, many a soul struggles with the inconsistency of professional and lay leaders; scrupulous about details of religious observance, they ignore or repress reports of domestic abuse and other human needs. And many victims, instead of bringing their problems to church or synagogue, go out of their way to leave their sorrows at home and keep unseen the unseemly. Would that every call for assistance, from the shout for help to soft whimper, be sensitively and forcefully addressed! Dr. Kaufman brings a painful topic to the forefront. Her unwavering single-issue focus speaks articulately, passionately and professionally. She includes practical guidance along with the sources, full notes, a glossary of religious terms and description of research protocols. Sins of Omission will hopefully stir many to action. Less experienced lay and professional leaders will read this book and hopefully seek more training and better skills. A stifled or overlooked suspicion of domestic abuse can haunt a responsible individual for years. Our community leaders need to know that there is a time when it is appropriate to ask a woman: "Has he ever hit you?" And if the answer is positive, an appropriate response could save a victim's life, in the very least safeguard her well being. And, knowing how to deal with suspected abuse can spare a well meaning religious leader a future of being haunted by the refrain, "I should have..."
This is a hard topic to talk about in the non jewish worrld as it is. Most americans brush it under the carpet. Then you want to talk about the Jewish world. The women are ashamed. It is always a hard topic to talk about. A shanda. But the Rabbi's need to talk about it in their congrregations. I was recently aproached by someone, who said thank g-d it doesn not happen in our community. Most will not talk about it unless it is brought up in our community. No one in the jewish community talks about it on the bima. The biggest thing is to educate, the adults as well as the chikdren.
The author gives some good tips for the community. The community does the assessment, but there is not any jewish organization that has followed through. Unfortunately But, she does give the problems in the jewish community. The organzations and the great jewish volunteers. But there is not enough man power. We have a problem. Action speaks louder than words.
It would be great if there was a author who address the national jewish community, not just Massachusettes. She does put resources in the back of the book.
2 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
I thoroughly liked Sins of Omission, and am grateful to Goodman Kaufman for having so articulately, fully, and acutely written about domestic abuse. As I titled this review, I will say again how it is about time that someone wrote about domestic abuse in the jewish community. The author's suggestions for what to do in the future are what really inspired me - there is hope, there are options, and practical things can be done. I admire her courage for writing about such a taboo subject and hope that her efforts will not go unmatched by communities' responses and actions to combat domestic abuse. The individual anecdotes of victims and survivors are what truly spoke to me, as they should for anyone who reads this book. I fully recommend this book as a necessary read.
5 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?