“You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live”
When our country began to shelter in place, health departments and government officials announced that the safest place is at home. For many people, this is true. However, anyone who has experienced domestic violence knows that home is not always safe, and in fact can be even more perilous during an enforced lockdown. Domestic abuse victims, quarantined with their abusers, might find it more difficult to phone or text for help and may be more afraid to leave dangerous living situations, out of concern that they or children could be exposed to the virus. Earlier this month the United Nations called for urgent action to combat a worldwide surge in domestic violence as a result of the pandemic.
In this week’s Torah reading, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, amidst of all the specifically enumerated rules and prohibitions, the Israelites are reminded that yes, they must keep the laws and the punishments for not doing so are severe. On the other hand, Judaism places a high value on protecting a person’s life. One commentary on this verse even advises not to place adherence to the commandment above one’s personal safety. How then, can domestic abuse victims balance this commandment to place one’s safety above all else with the need to adhere to governmental stay-at-home orders?
Our community is fortunate to have a network of service providers trained in responding to domestic violence. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) serves people throughout the DMV, no matter their faith background. JCADA was a leader in posting information for those quarantined with their abusers, developing safety plans, and reminding the Jewish community and beyond that home is not a safe place for all. In addition, the ElderSAFE Center at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities focuses on the scourge of elder abuse, providing shelter and services to older adults experiencing physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse. Local government agencies, such as Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, have “safe at home” plans available, as well as 24-hour hotlines.
Staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should not have to be weighed against potential injury at the hands of an abusive family member. Each of us can help by sharing information about organizations like JCADA, reaching out to people in your life who may be at risk for abuse during this time, and speaking out when you are concerned about someone’s safety. We have a responsibility to help all members of our community adhere to the laws AND to live through this time.