Battered Wives and the Law

Some 60,000 cases of women beaten by their husbands were reported in Israel in 1978, according to WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, which offers legal aid to women in Israel.

In 1977, 11 women died of such beatings. Hundreds more were seriously injured or hospitalized.

A report filed by Marion Kwartler for the Jewish Student Press Service states that the Israeli police have generally adopted the attitude that “family violence is not a matter of ‘police concern’ and that, when possible, they should avoid such cases. … Few battered women file complaints because they are not offered protection from their husbands during the filing process.”

According to Kwartler, the problem is complicated by the rabbinical courts:

“Since 1951 the rabbinate has been given full jurisdiction in family law (e.g., divorce) —and because of a civil law which states that any legal complaint lodged by one spouse against another can be deferred to the rabbinical courts, the rabbinate also deals with assault and battery cases brought against husbands.

“The problem is complicated by the fact that the rabbinical court has virtually no power to punish. While a civil court of law can hand down a sentence of up to 15 years for a case of personal assault, the rabbinical court can only order a man out of the house. Usually the rabbis will try to make ‘shalom bayit’— peace in the house —and get the feuding couple to reconcile, leaving the woman with absolutely no recourse.

“If a woman were to leave an untenable household situation without the permission of the rabbinical court, she could be termed a rebellious wife and be deprived of all the rights granted to her in the marriage contract (financial support, custody of children and even a divorce).

“The burden of proof in a rabbinical court case of this nature rests with the woman. This proof generally consists of a police file —if one exists—and a medical certificate from an emergency room or a private doctor. (Rabbinical courts do not, however, acknowledge the testimony of women —victims, neighbors, or social workers.)

“But, as with the police file, most women are unaware of the importance of a medical certificate, which is not given out automatically. A social worker in Jerusalem’s Shaare Tsedek hospital emergency room pointed out that doctors rarely bother to advise women to request a certificate.

“As a result of the complicated legal procedures, last year there were only two men jailed on charges of beating their wives.”

In Israel, as in other countries surveyed by various women’s groups, wife-beating knows no class boundaries. Kwartler reports that Lo (“No”), an organization formed to combat family violence, was told by an Israeli police chief that “there are battered wives in affluent Herzliya Pituach as well as in the slums.”