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Volume 34: Number 106

Wed, 31 Aug 2016

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Message: 1
From: Aryeh Frimer
Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2016 05:42:53 +0000
[Avodah] Mourning an Abusive Parent

I deal with the issue of Mourning an Abusive Parent  in my Review of  Joel
Wolowelsky's book. "Review Essay: Insights into Mourning. A Review of Dr.
Joel B. Wolowelsky's The Mind of the Mourner: Individual and Community in
Jewish Mourning," Aryeh A. Frimer, Tradition, 44:4 (Winter 2011), pp.
41-46.	PDF available online at http://traditi
onarchive.org/news/_pdfs/0041-0046.pdf.  {The last note is a more
recent addition}.     I write as follows:

Perhaps the toughest - and to my mind, the most controversial - issue
discussed by Dr. Wolowelsky is the question of mourning an abusive parent.
The waters here are very much unchartered and the author deserves much
kudos for bringing the issue to the fore. Clearly, there are degrees of
abuse, ranging from harsh language up to repeated sexual assault. The
author in this volume argues that even in the latter case of sexual abuse
the child should be encouraged to mourn the parent. This is basically
because of a debt of gratitude and, hence, respect that the child owes the
parent for bringing him/her into this world. But there are important
psychological reasons as well, which the author delineates. That being
said, it is made clear that if the mourning practice would be detrimental
to the emotional or psychological well-being of the abused child, this
mourning may be forgone.
The many lines of reasoning - halakhic, philosophical and psychological -
used by the author to buttress his position are beautifully interwoven and
multifaceted. I have spoken to many psychologists who agree that "closure"
is a central issue ? as Wolowelsky argues. But this requires a case?by-case
I would, however, like to focus in on two of the halakhic arguments presented by the author, with which I take issue.
(1) Based on Massekhet Semakot (2:10), Maimonides (M.T., Hilkhot Avel,
1:10) and R. Joseph Caro (Shulhan Arukh, YD, 345:5) rule that one who
deviates from the practices of the community ("ha-poresh mi-darkei
tsibbur") is not to be
urning%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn1> The category of poresh
mi-darkei tsibbur is understood by the commentators to include those who
regularly violate halakha. Indeed, Rema (YD, sec. 340:5) reiterates that
one who "regularly violates Jewish law is not mourned." Nevertheless,
normative practice nowadays is to mourn all, irrespective of their level of
religious observance. This rule should be extended to the abuser as well.
It would seem, however, to this reviewer, that the comparison is
questionable if not improper. It is one thing to allow the community to
honor an individual who may not be truly deserving; sadly, we do this all
the time! It is totally a different matter to demand from the severely
abused to pay homage to their unrepentant abuser ? parent or
ng%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn2> Judaism disapproves of revenge, but
it does not require or even advise turning the other cheek. Furthermore,
the reason given for not generally invoking the category poresh mi-darkei
tsibbur is because most non-observant Jews are tinokot she-nishbu -
uneducated in, and insensitive to the significance of religious
 0Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn3> On the contrary, the majority secular
 Jewish society as a whole often belittles the importance of kiyyum
 ha-mitsvot. By contrast, sexual abuse of one's progeny is acknowledged by
 all as a heinous transgression of universal morality. An individual guilty
 of such a crime is certainly way beyond the pale, and certainly falls into
 the category of those who "deviate from the practices of the community."
 To our mind, the author's suggestion, that the actions included in this
 category must be "done deliberately to outrage the community" (The Mind,
 p. 87), is creative - but without basis and support.
(2) The author cites R. Shabbetai haKohen (YD, 240:18, no. 20) who
maintains that while one is not obligated to honor an evil parent, one may
not cause them anguish. This is indeed an important argument when
discussing the parameters of counseling an abused individual while the
parent is still alive. These parameters are indeed discussed by the author
and other scholars at
rning%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn4> However, once the unrepentant
sexually abusive parent has passed away, I find it hard to accept the
suggestion that this could be an argument against abstaining from mourning
him/her. In addition, airing serious abuse, rather than sweeping it under
the carpet, will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on the psychological
well-being of the religious community as a
 to%20Mourning%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn5> the abused would be
 more willing to come forward for treatment and the abuser more rapidly
 exposed. Hence, such an act is certainly permitted, since it is le-to'elet
 (beneficial) and
As noted above, the question of mourning an abusive parent is a truly
complex issue ? and unfortunately not one discussed at any length in
published responsa. Much of the literature that is available are conference
reports of the questions asked by religious psychologists from leading
posekim ? but not the responsa of the posekim themselves. Surveying the
recent rabbinic literature has revealed two responsa not mentioned by the
author, one by Rabbi Joseph
ourning%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn7> and another published by
Makhon Erets
ning%20Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftn8> Considering the complexity of
this issue, it is perhaps not surprising that they come to opposing
positions on whether the ab
 used child should be encouraged to publicly mourn the abusing


adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref1>  [1]. In actuality, Massekhet Semahot
writes that "their brethren and relatives should wear white and ? rejoice."
Maimonides modifies this slightly by writing "their brethren and other
relatives?." It would seem clear that Maimonides added the word "other"
specifically to include all relatives, including parents and offspring, in
the prohibition of mourning ? contrary to Dr. Wolowelsky's suggestion (The
Mind, top of p. 92). In addition, the term "bretheren" may refer to friends
and distant relatives; see, for example: Genesis 13:8 and 19:6; Exodus
2:11; Judges 19:23.

adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref2>  [2]. Regarding hazara bi-teshuva, R.
Dovid Cohen (Congregation Gvul Yaavetz, Brooklyn) maintains the following.
A person who behaved in a manner that made him a rasha cannot simply say to
bet din: "I did teshuva, so now you are obliged to accept me as a witness."
Similarly, a parent who was deemed a rasha cannot merely say to his child
"I did teshuva, so now you are obligated to treat me with respect." In both
cases the person has to demonstrate, to the bet din or to the child, over
time and in a consistent and convincing manner, that he has sincerely
repented. See: R. Dovid Cohen cited by Benzion Sorotzkin, "Honoring Parents
Who Are Abusive," Parts 1-3, The International Network of Orthodox Mental
Health Professionals - NEFESH News (2004), note 10 therein; available
online at: http://www.drsorotzkin.c

adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref3>  [3]. See, inter alia, R. Isaac Yosef,
Yalkut Yosef, Hilkhot Bikur Holim ve-Avelut, sec. 16.
adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref4>  [4]. (a) Seymour Hoffman,
"Psychotherapy and Honoring Parents," Israel Journal of Psychiatry &
Related Sciences, 38:2 (2001), 123-126. (b) Seymour Hoffman, "Halacha and
Psychological Treatment Dilemmas and Conflicts, ASSIA ? Jewish Medical
Ethics, 4:2 (2004), pp. 36-38; available online at: http://w
ww.medethics.org.il/articles/JME/JMEB1/JMEB1.23.asp; (c) Benzion
Sorotzkin, supra note 4.

adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref5>  [5]. See Benzion Sorotzkin, supra note
2 ? Addendum to part 1, citing R. Dovid Cohen.

adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref6>  [6]. See the discussion in the
references cited in note 6, supra.

adition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref7>  [7]. R. Joseph Alnekaveh, Kaddish al
Av Akhzar, Makor Rishon, Dec, 29, 2009, p. 10 ? encourages mourning
practices in the case of a very abusive father (abuse not stipulated).

0Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref8>. Responsa be-Mareh ha-Bazak, VII,
sec. 83, pp. 247-249 ? the sexually abused daughter may refrain from
0Tradition%20FinalRev.doc#_ftnref9>. R. Eli Turkel (personal
communication April 9, 2012) has informed me of a case of a father who had
abandoned his family when his daughter was young. The latter did not want
to sit shiva for her father and the psak that she received was that
formally she had to sit shiva but there was no requirement for her to
receive visitors. She was not sorry about his death and had no need for
consolation. She simply posted an announcement that she was sitting shiva
for her father, but had no hours for visiting. Recently (Nov. 25, 2012),
Rabbi Samuel Shapiro, Rabbi of Kokhav Yair, discussed the case of a man
that was abused sexually by his father when he was a child and bears
tremendous anger against him. Although there is a three way dispute as to
whether a son owes respect to a father who is a rasha, Rama rules
  that no respect is owed to the parent unless the latter repented. In this
  particular case, however, the child is the object of the wickedness;
  hence, the son is not to be expected to respect his father.  See:  http://ww

Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer
Ethel and David Resnick Professor Emeritus
   of Active Oxygen Chemistry
Chemistry Dept., Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan 5290002, ISRAEL
E-mail (office): Aryeh.Fri...@biu.ac.il
Homepage http://ch.biu.ac.il/frimer

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