How did you come to establish Bat Melech, the shelter for Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women who have suffered domestic violence?
“Seventeen years ago, when I was working as a young lawyer, a Haredi woman asked me to represent her in divorce proceedings. She had fled from her violent husband and gone to a shelter for battered women, only to discover that the shelter was completely unsuitable from a religious point of view: Shabbat, kosher food, the proper atmosphere. Her only alternative was to remain in the street.
“Words led to deeds: We found and made available an apartment with a staff that took in religious women who were victims of domestic violence. Of course, we’ve never suffered from less than full occupancy: The moment we rented the place it filled up, even before all the furniture arrived.”
What is distinctive about battered women from these communities?
“An Orthodox or Haredi woman has to dare to speak out in a way that her community does not really accept or support – in fact, it stigmatizes them to some extent. Thank God, in the past 10 years there is no doubt that we have seen great progress in this area. More women are willing to complain and to dare to demand an end to violence in the home. Regrettably, not enough work has been done among the men; they have not yet internalized the limits of power.
“Another distinctive characteristic here is that an Orthodox or Haredi woman usually comes to the shelters with ties to a local rabbi or a rabbinical court or a community leader. So the work we do preserves all the woman’s interests and allows the community and the rabbis to take part in the overall process of family rehabilitation.”
How many women are in your shelters?
“We have approximately 60 women and 200 children per year in the two shelters we operate. One of the main things about religious women is that they usually have a particularly large number of children. That is due in part to the fact that sometimes it takes time until an Orthodox or Haredi woman manages to testify and do something, and of course there is meanwhile an effort to restore domestic harmony: Rabbis are brought in, attempts are made to resolve the problems and in the interim children are born, thank God. So our shelters are full of children, knock on wood.
“It is important for me to say that the shelters operate in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs, which also provides partial funding, but the funding does not help with the fact that we have many children.”
How has work affected you personally?
“What it’s changed in me is mainly that I believe that social justice is something that each of us can work for every day. I am happy that in the past few years a group of prominent women has joined us. Together with our staff, they are bringing about a very great change in Orthodox and Haredi society in regard to the way in which responsibility is being taken for this subject. People understand that the situation exists and are working for change.”
English website: http://batmelech.org.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now