Changing the Current Policy towards Spousal Abuse: A Proposal for a New Model Inspired by Jewish Law

80 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2009

See all articles by Yuval Sinai

Yuval Sinai

Netanya Academic College School of Law

Benjamin Shmueli

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 19, 2009


“A woman is entitled to reasonable, tranquil living conditions, that will allow her to live her life and carry on her occupation, whether at home or outside, and to raise her children. It may be that emotional abuse is harsher than physical abuse, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the ‘intrusion’ into the life of the other. The guiding principles are these: ‘she was given [to her husband] to live with, but not to suffer pain,’ and ‘no one can live with a serpent in the same basket’ - the court must therefore consider each case, depending on the circumstances, and decide according to and in light of these principles.”

Abuse in general and of a spouse in particular, is a scourge that the legal system should uproot. When abuse takes place in the context of an ongoing, intimate relationship, it can embitter the victim’s life. Sometimes this is as true for verbal violence and emotional abuse as it is for physical or sexual violence. It is often extremely difficult to detect or prove emotional abuse because, unlike physical abuse, it is invisible and leaves no perceptible marks. But “many words hurt more than swords,” and verbally abusive behavior, particularly when ongoing, may be just as painful as physical or sexual assault, or even more so (and sometimes these behaviors occur together). However, the general community, much less the legal community, does not always comprehend that emotional abuse can be severe and should merit appropriate legal treatment and response. However, modern law does not address emotional abuse to the same extent and with the same level of determination with which it attempts (at least in theory) to deal with other types of violence, physical and sexual. Indeed, we will see that these too are not dealt with sufficiently by the modern law.

In this paper, we will examine two models that relate differently to the issue of spousal abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) - modern secular common law and religious Jewish law. The modern secular model will be represented by two legal systems - the American and the Israeli - two common law systems, which share certain characteristics and underlying bases. In analyzing those legal systems (in the following chapters II-III), the paper examines not only the gap between modern secular American law and religious Jewish law, but also that between the secular law of the modern democratic State of Israel and ancient Jewish law.

Keywords: Jewish Law, Spousal Abuse

Suggested Citation

Sinai, Yuval and Shmueli, Benjamin, Changing the Current Policy towards Spousal Abuse: A Proposal for a New Model Inspired by Jewish Law (November 19, 2009). Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, Vol. 32, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Yuval Sinai (Contact Author)

Netanya Academic College School of Law ( email )


Benjamin Shmueli

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 5290002


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