It puzzles me when certain religious leaders – and because I do not want to offend anyone, I will refrain from giving names – talk about how women should be modest (certainly), home-centered and spend most of their time at home (so far so good), and without pausing for breath they say that the true Wife of Valor is supposed to shield her husband from all the evils of this world, so that he can dedicate all his time to studying Torah – they go as far as saying that men shouldn't even know what a supermarket looks like or how to pay the bills.
How does that work, exactly? They conveniently gloss over the matter of where money would come from, and say that God will provide. Though undoubtedly God is the only source of every spiritual or material blessing we possess, it does not cancel the fact that in the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, a man promises to care for and provide for his wife.
In every generation, I suppose, there were a few men who were nearly detached from this world, so much that they didn't really know how to handle everyday transactions. However, I don't believe this is the ideal situation for most people, and I don't believe that a woman should feel guilty every time her husband does the shopping.
As for homemaking and childcare, though I agree that it is primarily a woman's calling, I don't believe that when help is desperately needed and the husband lends a hand, he is "wasting time that could be spent in learning". Surely it's not only a matter of studying the Torah, but also of living out its principles – which include helping the needy, especially those closest to oneself, such as a wife who is about to collapse under the burden of several small children, advanced pregnancy, and a house which is in the process of being cleaned for Pesach.
I have an issue with the following message: You should be a modest, quiet, home-centered wife. You are supposed to delight in raising a large family. Your energies should be devoted entirely to your family. You are also supposed to be the main breadwinner, and you must never ask your husband to help you, even though you feel you are about to snap under the load. If you don't manage, you are weak.
It seems to me that not too many women are strong enough for this kind of life. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. While there may be SuperMoms who did it all and truly and really lived out every line of the description of the virtuous wife from Proverbs 31, every day of their lives, most of us will fail to achieve this standard. Some days we can do more, some days less. A home is an enterprise, and I do not believe that husbands and sons are supposed to be entirely detached from its management.
I feel that by spreading the message I referred to above, Jewish religious leaders are cheating women out of their basic right to be supported by their husbands. When someone boasts of the fact that his mother never had any hobbies or friends, never received household help and never went out just to breathe some fresh air, I see danger in setting this as a general guideline for Jewish women. Most of us do need help and refreshment, and acknowledging these human needs will, in my opinion, help to establish a healthy family life much more than telling women they mustn't ever speak about their needs.
And don't get me wrong – I'm talking about rabbis whom I greatly respect, and whose books I read for daily inspiration and encouragement. But just on this point, I beg to differ. Perhaps I'm not spiritual enough, but I know that following these standards would wreck havoc in the lives of families who currently have a happy balance. What good would this do to anyone?