I recently went to hear Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski speak of the respect the Torah demands in relationships. He quoted the Talmud, which says, “a man must love his wife as himself and respect her more than himself.” He spoke of the fact that the Talmud forbids rape within marriage, something the western world only began legislating a century ago.
He spoke of how some Jews who are abusive, especially knowledgeable ones, quote things in the Torah to defend themselves, such as from last week’s Torah portion. “…and he (Adam) will rule over you (Eve).” And the Talmud’s statement that a woman must respect her husband by doing what he says.
I asked Rabbi Twersky, how he thought rabbis could help to tweak the Jewish people’s views of relationships so that it would be clear that relationships which are abusive are always wrong? He did not have a specific answer to the question but did add that it is rare to change an abuser.
I would say that even if we can not change individual abusers and control freaks in marriages, how we describe the Torah’s views of men, woman and relationships, how we as rabbis color the glass through which our people look is everything, and can, over time change our views as a people. What we quote from the Torah, what attitudes we depict and which we leave aside, is the way that in their preaching and writing rabbis construct a Jewish worldview for their congregants and for the Jewish nation. In this way, over time, we can change (for the better) the way in which the Jewish people see the Torah’s image of relationships, and for that matter most things.