Hoping to keep victims of domestic violence in the hearts and minds of Jews over the High Holy Days, a major Jewish women’s organization is circulating a prayer it hopes will be read in synagogues across the country next week.
And not just any prayer.
Jewish Women International has drafted a domestic violence Misheberach it hopes will be acceptable to congregations of all four major streams of Judaism.
The Misheberach is traditionally the prayer for healing. Many congregations recite it following recitation of a list of members who are battling illnesses.
In this case, the illness is abuse.
It’s the second time JWI’s clergy task force has drafted such a prayer, but the first time it has actively distributed it to congregations and the rabbinic associations of the major denominations. The Misheberach also is available in English and Hebrew, and with JWI guidelines on how to deal with domestic abuse cases at the congregational level.
“Our strategy was to get it to rabbis at the congregation level and also to their leadership,” said Deborah Rosenbloom, JWI director of programs, “so we’re hoping because it will be coming from their own leadership, that they will be more inclined to use it.”
She suspects though that how many congregations choose to use the prayer will depend on the experience each has with domestic violence — whether they’ve done related programing in the past, how familiar their rabbis are with the issue, etc.
Here is the text of the Domestic Violence Misheberach:
“May the One who blessed our ancestors Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, provide protection, compassion, care and healing for all those who have known violence and abuse within their families. May those who have been harmed find pathways to understanding and wholeness and those who have caused harm find their way to repentance and peace. May our community be a source of support for those who have suffered in silence or shame. May those whose homes have become places of danger find their way to a sukkat shalom, a shelter of safety.
The prayer was created to be multidenominational, according to Rosenbloom. Indeed, the JWI Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse, which produced the Misheberach, consists of 16 rabbis and two cantors representing all four major denominations.
JWI also is making the prayer available with other domestic violence prayers and resources for Jewish clergy.
Two Pennsylvania rabbis — Richard Hirsh, executive director of Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association Wyncote, and co-chair of the panel; and Ron Muroff of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg — serve on the task force.
“We were looking for something that would be familiar to people in the structure of the liturgy,” Hirsh told the Chronicle. “We were looking for something that would be minimally problematic in terms of any halachic
The clergy who drafted the prayer — Hirsh and Rabbis Marla Hornsten and Donna Kirshbaum — deliberately addresses the abusers and the abused, Hirsh said. The framers also intended to keep it short.
“That was a marketing strategy, to make it brief.”
For example it would have been difficult to infuse a domestic violence prayer into the Amida portion of the service, he said, while the Misheberach falls more under custom than law.
He also said it is “customary to use the opportunity of the Torah service for this mode of petitionary prayers,” Hirsh said, “so it seemed like a good place to put it.”
“When rabbis mention something in public, it signals that they are approachable and available to talk about the issue,” Hirsh said in a prepared statement. “It may help someone who may be ambivalent to step forward.”
While in the past many Jews have denied social problems such as domestic violence and spousal abuse were prevalent within the Jewish community, Hirsh doesn’t expect that kind of pushback as the Misheberach is read.
“Maybe that was true 20 to 30 years ago, but I don’t think that’s the case now,” he said. “I don’t pick that up from my colleagues; I don’t pick that up from my rabbinical students. People are just more open.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)