Healing Ritual for Abused Jewish Women

Found In: Healing from Trauma & Abuse

Tags: handwashing, Marcia Falk

By Faith Rogow | Complete Ceremony

Victimized women often feel rejected by, or uncomfortable within the Jewish community. We offer a healing ritual by F.R. Solelo in which the Jewish woman is assured that she is not alone and through which the community can demonstrate its compassion and concern. During a public ritual, Solelo suggests adding the phrase "victims of family violence" to the list of those mentioned in their public prayer for comfort or healing. Additionally, they might add "For the sin wherein we have sinned before You by battering women and children" to their recitation of the "Al Chet" on Yom Kippur. By including the issue of domestic violence in public worship, the community acknowledges its responsibility to combat that violence. In a situation where both the batterer and his victim belong to the same synagogue or chavurah, public declarations would assure the battered woman that the Jewish community supports and welcomes her.

The private ritual offered by Solelo aims at affirming the battered woman's attempt to change her situation, and assuring her that she has the inner strength to create a new life for herself. Solelo acknowledges the importance for battered women to establish security in their new lives while coping with an array of complicated issues. She therefore suggests that healing rituals for battered women be both simple and familiar.

Healing Rituals for Battered Women

When a battered woman first seeks counseling or enters a shelter, she could join a counselor in saying the blessing for delivery from danger:

Blessed are You, Holy One, Source of Life, who bestows great goodness on me. Amen.

Or she could affirm the beginning of her new life by reciting Shehechiyanu:

Blessed are You, Holy One, Source of life, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this day. Amen.

The second step would be to add a special prayer to a personal ritual the woman already performs, such as lighting Shabbat candles. Possible texts for such prayers appear below:

Holy One, bring me comfort,
For I have seen terror;
Cradle me and I will feel safe,
Heal me and I will become strong,
Nurture me and I will grow.
You have taught me that to do righteousness and justice
Is more acceptable to You than sacrifice.
You have taught me that, with You beside me,
Fear is not eternal.
Help me to live by Your teachings.
Blessed are You, Holy One, Source of Life,
Who guides, who protects us, who sustains us.
Amen.

(based on Psalms 6 and 21)

In distress I called on the Source of Life,
You answered me and brought me relief.
God is on my side, I have no fear;
What can man do to me?
With God on my side as my helper,
I will overcome my foes.
I shall not die, but live
And proclaim the works of the Holy One!

(from Psalm 118)

As with the Mourner's Kaddish this added prayer is meant to ease the woman out of her distress, and like the Kaddish should be read as part of a year-long cycle weekly for six months and then monthly for six months. The final recitation of the cycle should be marked as a quiet victory celebration. The following, a reinterpretation of a text traditionally understood to applaud subservient rather than independent women, might be added to, or replace the text the woman had been reading:

I am a woman of valor,
My arms are new with strength.
My hands will plant vineyards;
With dignity will I tend them,
With laughter and with wisdom will I make them grow;
And I will seek goodness all the days of my life.

(based on Proverbs 31)

It would be appropriate for the woman to read this aloud to a small circle of friends, perhaps at a Shabbat dinner they have made for her. The group could respond with the phrase "Chazak chazak v'nitchazek From strength to strength are we strengthened." Here, as in the phrase's traditional context (the completion of public reading of a book of the Torah) the words remind us that new insight brings new power.

The woman should also be encouraged to make a contribution in time, goods, or money to her local crisis center or shelter for battered women as an expression of her new strength and as an acknowledgement that she participates in the ongoing cycle of healing, as a healer as well as one healed.

Rabbi Sandy Sasso has created a ritual with a Unitarian Universalist minister which is also aimed at aiding the victimized woman to feel welcomed by her religious community and to find acceptance and affirmation:

GATHERING

(Music may be selected to open the ceremony, to set a mood for the gathering.)

NAMING OF WHO WE ARE

Blessed are you in your coming. We bless you in your going forth.

(Members of the community alternate reading, concluding with the woman for whom the ritual is being enacted. She adds her own personal statement.)

I am Abraham's concubine, Hagar, cast out in the desert.
I am Lot's wife, who stands eternally accused of disobedience.
I am Jacob's daughter, Dinah, whom history blamed for her own rape.
I am Jepthah's daughter, still a child, who was sacrificed for a father's rash vow.
I am the young girl who was beaten and raped at the hands of laughing soldiers.
I am _______________...

(Alternative poetry may be chosen)

A Reader :

The first rain
a plethora of freshness
with no sign of Cain.
And agony will no longer
whisper to my soul:
I am the king.
No longer will it say:
I am the ruler.
Each and every drop
is a link
between me and things,
a link
between me and the world.
And when night conjures up the abyss,
the abyss conjures up
fields and gardens.

(Zelda)

CLEANSING/PURIFICATION

Woman:

I have known hands raised against me
hands that beat me down
hands that cause flesh to tremble.

Community:

But hands can be raised in blessing
Hands can lift up
Hands can cradle and embrace.

(After every reading of Miriam's well (below), a member of the community pours water from a pitcher into a bowl over the woman's hands three times. Some may choose to do a completed immersion in a body of flowing water [Mikveh]).

Woman:

From Miriam's well I draw cool waters of sustenance.

Community:

Miriam's well watered the earth
So it grew trees
Lush with fruit, herbs, fragrant with perfume and grass
Soft like pillows.
Its waters tasted sweet, of milk and honey.

Woman:

From Miriam's well I draw sweet waters of healing.

Community:

Water is God's gift
To cleanse, to purify, to sustain, to renew, to bless.

Woman:

From Miriam's well I draw sacred waters of renewal,
Now life.

(A wand of sage, sweet grass or cedar, or any combination of spices and herbs may be used for ritual purification.)

Community:

All that has been shamed, disgraced, abused
Your face, your arms, your breasts, your womb is sanctified again.

Woman:

This is my body, my face, my arms, my breasts, my womb
Created in God's image
Not to be defiled

A sacred trust and holy.

BLESSING

(Alternative poetry may be selected.)

A Friend:

The sky is soft as a grandmother's quilt, fleecy as sheep sheep as you imagine them to be, not as they are.

The leaves and grass are soft, too.

They seem to heal you with their green fingers, their heady perfumes rising.

The wind will open its arms,
the field will catch you in its lap,
they will rock you, rock you like a baby as you dreamed it in your deepest longing,
not as it happens when you wish for it but as it's told in an old, old story,
a story you were born knowing and later forgot.

(Marcia Falk)

Community:

Our hands are joined (raised) to hold you, to lift you up,
to bring you blessing, now and always.

May God bless you and keep you.
May God show you kindness and be gracious to you.
May God grant you a life of blessing, of healing, of peace.

A community meal may be shared at the end of the ritual.