Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

38P Rabbinical Response to Domestic Violence

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Amanda Sisselman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Yeshiva University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Domestic violence (DV) persists as a social problem throughout the United States, impacting 20-25% of the general population. This poster will address the response of Rabbis to DV, an area that has not yet been widely researched. Researchers have just begun to examine the variable of religion in terms of its relationship to DV dynamics. Although little has been done to study this relationship, more has been done to examine Catholic and Christian denominations and their experiences with DV than Jewish experiences with DV, including clergy response. Anecdotal literature and preliminary studies show that there are several unique factors within the Jewish religion and culture that present specific concerns with regard to domestic violence, leaving this population particularly vulnerable. Preliminary research also indicates that clergy often receive visits from victims of DV, in search of advice or refuge. This poster will outline exploratory research that examined the opinions of 30 Rabbis and 173 lay participants with regard to domestic violence, comparing the Rabbis' opinions to those of the 73 Jewish lay participants. Methods: Data were collected from 30 Rabbis and Rabbinical students via purposive and snowball sampling methodology. Data was also collected from a clinical sample of 173 lay participants regarding opinions on DV. Rabbinical participants were recruited through congregations and Rabbinical seminaries. Written survey methodology was utilized, adapting questions from prior research on public opinion and DV. A scale was created using 10 items adapted from prior research to understand how individuals define DV. Primarily descriptive and bivariate statistics were used to analyze this data, as the nature of the study was exploratory. Rabbis were also asked to respond to 2 vignettes. Each vignette described a potentially abusive relationship and asked the Rabbi how he or she might respond to the congregant in this situation. One vignette presented a woman whose husband was potentially abusive and the other presented a man who was potentially abusive to his wife. Content analysis was used to analyze the qualitative written responses. Results: Jewish participants greatly minimized the existence of DV within their own communities, while Rabbis were more accurate in their estimation. Rabbis generally defined most actions on the scale as domestic violence and scored significantly lower on the scale than the lay participants in the study, indicating an overall disapproval for DV. However, written responses to the vignettes did not support this disapproval. One major theme in the written responses was the Rabbis' determination to support the family as a unit, regardless of the violence. Secondly, Rabbis sought to support the victim of domestic violence if reconciliation was not a possibility, yet reported feeling powerless and without resources to provide such support. Conclusions and Implications: These important findings imply the need for Rabbinical training and connection to clinical resources. Providing proper training and connecting Rabbis to appropriate resources could significantly improve response to DV in a community that has not yet fully recognized the existence of the issue. Implications for community involvement, education, and prevention are discussed.