Let there be no doubt that the Torah is eternally a relevant and profound guide to the lives we lead today: That we are reading the Torah portion Balak during the week that I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that will establish a new fund to establish programming to prevent domestic violence in Rhode Island.
What is the connection to the Torah portion? Bilam, the prophet who is retained by the Moabite king Balak to curse Israel, overlooks the Israelite encampment and, as instructed by God, intones: מה טוב אהליך יעקב, משכנתיך ישראל / mah tovu ohalecha yaakov, mishk'notecha yisrael / how good are your tents [people of] Jacob, your dwellings, Israel...
How good are the dwellings of Israel? Domestic violence, which includes physical, emotional and verbal abuse is the hidden shame of the dwellings of Israel . . . in urban and suburban, wealthy and modest Jewish homes, here in Rhode Island, across the United States and the world.
The proposed legislation in support of which I testified reads as follows:
It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:
SECTION 1. Chapter 15-2 of the General Laws entitled "Marriage Licenses" is hereby
amended by adding thereto the following section:
15-2-9.2. Additional fee for domestic violence prevention. -- For each license the town or city clerk shall charge and receive an additional fee of forty-six dollars ($46.00), of which he or she shall retain two dollars ($2.00) and shall transmit forty-four dollars ($44.00) to the general treasurer to be provided to the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence to fund domestic violence prevention programs.
How good can our dwellings be if spouses and partners are afraid to turn the key and walk into our own homes? Will we be greeted with a hug or hostility? Is a smack across the cheek or a kiss on the cheek waiting for us? Our Jewish tradition establishes "Shalom bayit" / "Peace in the home" as a fundamental building block of the family and the community. We may struggle for shalom bayit, but we may not always be able to attain that domestic tranquility without help, counseling, intervention and, in the most drastic cases where there is no hope of shalom bayit, we need safe shelter.
It may seem ironic that at the most optimistic moment in a couple's journey, as they are applying for a marriage license, that they will be handing over a fee that includes funding for programming designed to prevent domestic violence in our state. I think it's a great cautionary moment. I think it is a very fine thing to point out to loving couples that it is those who are closest to us who can hurt us the most and that if abuse and pain should find its way into your home, you will find help and support nearby.
May the dwelling places of Israel . . . and the dwelling places of Rhode Island . . . be truly good. May every dwelling be a place of "shalom bayit" and let us do all that we can to make this possible.
Please contact your state senator and let her or him know that you want this legislation to pass.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.