Monday, January 7, 2008

Women supporting their husbands?

I was asked by a reader to give my opinion about women working outside the home in order to support their husbands while the men dedicate most of their time to religious studies.

For those of you who don't know, these situations are common particularly in strictly observant, very conservative and very traditional Orthodox Jewish communities. Supporting one's husband while he studies Torah all day long is considered a virtue, a merit, a peak of spirituality and self-sacrifice. That's why I understand that some of the things I'm going to say might go down badly; but still, on this little corner of the web, I'll allow myself to voice my humble opinion.

To give you a better perspective, I'll mention that birth control is usually out of the question in these communities, and so having 8, 10, 12 or more children isn't uncommon. Are you starting to see what's bothering me here? Exactly. Imagine you are a mother of 10 children, a homemaker, AND a PRIMARY wage-earner. Doesn't it seem like a wee bit too much?

Just because something is normal in religious, traditional Jewish communities doesn't make it good and right in my eyes. Yes, Jewish men are commanded to study the Torah. But where does it say that studying the Torah liberates men from the obligation to provide for their families?

In my eyes, the Torah is the perfect guide for a pure, holy life. It wasn't meant for theoretical learning alone. How can a man continue studying full-time while he sees his wife is nearly collapsing under the unbearable workload?

Please note I never said that working outside the home for women is sinful as of itself. But working "by the sweat of his brow" is a curse given to the man, not the woman. Women are called to be wives, mothers and homemakers. How on earth are they expected to pull it all off while also providing for a husband, and maintain their physical and emotional health?


Kristy said...

I agree with you, Anna- if a man is truly "spiritual" he will DESIRE to care and provide for his family. My husband, being a pastor, is an individual many consider very "spiritual" simply because he has devoted his life to serving in the ministry. While of course he loves to study God's Word, he is very ambitious and very busy working on a daily basis... yes, I mean physical labor! He even held a part-time job during his years at Bible college even though his parents were paying his tuition and he didn't necessarily "need" to work. My honest opinion: if a man is worth his salt, he won't be looking for excuses not to provide for his family, especially not in "religious" work.

PhDCow said...

You have an interesting perspective. I didn't realize how important the study of the Torah is.

My husband went to school at night to get his bachelor's degree. At one point, he left me home alone with a colicky newborn while he went to class several nights a week and I'm convinced that contributed to my severe post-partum depression.

Now that I'm working full-time, we've talked about him going back to get his MBA (it would be free since I work for the college). I do have to say that we're blessed with an amazing child care provider who views our children as her own grandchildren. But it would still be a challenge. Not only would he be gone a couple of nights a week, but he'd spend others studying. I teach in the MBA program -- I know what's required of the students.

So we've decided to hold off until I get tenure and the pressure is off me to be a high-performing faculty member.

But it's a very interesting dilemma and one facing many couples today.


Avigayil said...


Am I allowed to stand on my desk and CHEER?? LOVED today's post. You are SO right! I couldn't agree more.



Terry said...

Anna, this is so well said. Like you, I don't believe it is sinful for a wife to work outside the home. I simply believe that because it is primarily the wife's job to manage the home, it it near impossible to do the primary job well if you spend most of your day doing a secondary job. Of course, I guess it depends on what your husband expects and is satisfied with, since he is the head of the home.

As to the issue of a wife supporting her husband while he pursues his studies: I've heard of it being done, but not while the wife is giving birth to babies! Wow! That seems like an unbearable load for any woman. I didn't realize that this arrangement would be viewed as acceptable among orthodox Jews. I agree with your position on this as well.

Buffy said...

Hmmm, maybe the Jewish wife in this situation should try telling her husband she can't make his dinner/change the baby/clean the house because she's too busy studying how to be the perfect wife to actually do anything about it.

Gothelittle Rose said...

I agree with you... in part. In most part, really.

I did make the right choice a few years ago, and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was a different situation than simply having a husband study Scripture. I suppose whether I would support or not depends on the purpose of the study!

My husband had no college degree when we married, and I worked for three years, starting with a toddler in the house, full-time outside the home so that I could support the family while he studied for his degree. The good man got his bachelor's (four-year) in three years of hard work. He had been jobsearching for months before deciding to return to school... upon graduating, he picked up a good job in a couple of weeks and I left full-time work for good, as far as I'm concerned.

He might have decided to go into the seminary. If so, then it would have been a similar situation (I'm non-denomination Protestant Christian) in which he studies for a couple of years and then takes a full-time job as a pastor or missionary. In both cases, we had a man who should have prepared for his life's work before marriage, but didn't for some reason. It was terribly difficult on all of us to go through those years, but we are now reaping incredible benefits!

Rebekah S. said...

What a wonderful and very wise post, Anna! It really blessed my heart and I couldn't agree with you more, dear sister!

I know you're familiar with Crystal Paine. Her husband, Jesse was going through law school and money was very very tight. She could have easily gone out to the workforce in order to provide more money for the family. Instead, she joyfully coninued to live out the commands of God, and she remained a homemaker, though finances were low. She was able to provide some money through her family business, but she ensured that she didn't compromise her beliefs. I have the utmost repect for her! She trusted fully in the Lord and in His wisdom, and He blessed them because of it! Thank the Lord for examples like Crystal Paine!


Anna S said...


Your situation was different. You and your husband agreed on the arrangement of you working and providing for the family for a limited time. And as soon as you could, you quit to be home for your family. You didn't decide to go into the workforce because you saw it as more noble to provide for your husband. That's just the difference between what you describe and what I'm talking about here.

Ahuva said...

Good post. I feel horribly sorry for those women. Like you, I can't imagine that this is what G-d intended for them.

Kat said...

I wish more people would think about this issue. I have a 9 month old and am about to start work full time again. It is daunting. Religious women are basically told that if their husbands require them to work then they need to work full time AND do all of the housework because it is still their responsibility. I am not sure how I am going to do it all...and I am tired just thinking about it!

Brenda said...

You know, it's because studying the Torah is considered a "good" thing to do. So no one wants to say that the situation is bad.

We just sometimes forget that a good thing can go too far.

Rebekah S. said...

A man(and woman, for that matter) studying the Torah or any other part of the Bible is a very noble thing to do, and something that needs to be done more that it is. But this doesn't allow the man to abdicate his God-given responsibility to provide for his family!

Once again, Anna, great post! :)

Rebekah S. said...

I'd be happy to pray for you, Kat. Maybe the Lord will work in your husband's heart to show him the importance of you being a keeper at home. You never know what the Lord will accomplish! :)

Anonymous said...

Just a question. What do you think about a woman working full time and being the sole-provider for the home, and the husband being a full-time stay-at-home-dad? Especially if these are the desires of both parents. Just curious what your opinion is on this...

~ Danielle

Anna S said...


Some may find it convenient, but it's clearly against Biblical instruction. Also, when the woman is the one who gives birth and nurses the babies, it makes sense for her to be with them - she is naturally geared for that. Especially if she has many children.

Mrs. Brigham said...

My heart really goes out to these women. I cannot imagine bearing this *huge* burden and am exhausted just thinking about it. :o(

Rebekah S. said...

Hi, Danielle! When you think of how the Lord fashioned women to be so nuturing and caring, it just becomes so natural for her to be the one at home, caring for the children.

The thought of men being the ones who stay home and women being the ones that go out to work first of all causes the women to be under a double curse(Gen.3) and is against Biblical commands. The man's commanded to provide for his family and the women is commanded to be a homemaker. It may seem hard to obey if both spouses want to live in this other way, be we have to unquestioningly obey the Lord's commands no matter what. The kind of thinking like that which you mentioned above came as a result of feminism, which was begun in antient times by Gnostics, who believe that Christ was evil and that the serpent was good, etc. They completely flipped things around and taught the opposite of what the Bible teaches, and this is where our modern feministic thinking came from(more on that in an upcoming article on the history of feminism, as well as one on the destructiveness of feminism.)

Thanks for allowing me to share with you as well. :)

Warm wishes,

Kaysie said...

What a awesome and wise post. I agree with you completely, and it is so encouraging to hear about others who are living their lives according to the Scripture.

Keep up your awesome writing.


Kim said...

I agree so much and am so glad I am not the only one! I know that for a time, it is sometimes necessary for a woman to work full-time outside the home, and this is very common among the circle of friends I have who attend seminary. And yet, it bothers me. It is extremely counterintuitive to what the seminary teaches about women and their roles in the family. It is extremely counterintuitive to what makes sense, even in a non-biblical context. I completely understand it in a family that does not yet have children, but once kids enter the picture, it should be that the husband makes sure that he can find a job that also allows him to attend school. Yes, it's a lot of pressure, but so is raising a godly family!

tales_from_the_crib said...

thank you again for a well thought out/executed post!

Anonymous said...


You make a marvelous point. Good for you for- saying what you think even if it may be unpopular in some circles. I think really what it all comes down to is selfishness. God can be found easily in the little sacrifices of time and energy if we seek Him, it need not always be in quiet study or prayer that He teaches us.


Karen said...

Sounds like your classic case of too much of a good thing - for the man!

This reminds me so much of a story...but it's kinda long so I'll just post it in my blog I think. :)

Stephanie said...

My husband is a full time student (presently in his third year of a four year program). We are very happily living in a small apartment on money considered at the bottom of the poverty line. I am a stay at home homeschooling mom, who does some volunteer secretarial work at our church (I bring my kids with me and they play with the pastor's kids while I work). There is nothing that would convince me to leave my duties at home to make a little more cash to live a more "comfortable life" while my hubby goes to school. I love my life and wouldn't trade it for anything. (Not even a house with a yard!) One day, we will be blessed with "more stuff" (if we really need it!), but that is not at all what is important in life.

Tammy said...

There is an entire ideology behind the Orthodox women supporting their families. Throughout history, learning Torah has been considered a man's highest calling. For centuries and more, the most prized groom was not the richest but the one most learned in Torah. It was considered a great honor for a father to wed his daughter to a scholar and support them for the rest of their lives.
Of course, in those days usually only the best scholars stayed on; today, in certain circles, all the men stay on to study. There's a whole socio-political explanation for this, but the rabbis will tell you that our world today is in such dire straits that it needs as many full time Torah scholars as possible to 'save' it.
There are too many scholars today for them all to marry into rich families who can support them. And so it falls on the women's shoulders. They have internalized this ideology, and in certain circles – far from all Orthodox, btw! – a woman will not even agree to meet a potential suitor if he is not a full time scholar. She wants to marry someone who will learn Torah, and considers it an honor to support this learning. (BTW, even in these conservative Orthodox groups, a woman decides who she will marry. She does NOT need to follow her father's will, as many posters here insist).

Anna, I agree with you, it's a very heavy load to bear. I know many of these women. I must say their children generally become good citizens of the world, and their houses usually are full of the smells of home-cooked meals, some homes sparkling clean, some far from it (depending on the personality of the owner). Most of the husbands help out, and when the families become large, most husbands do work part time. Many of the wives, btw, are teachers, and come home by 3 everyday, not 6 pm as perhaps some expect. Many live not far from the poverty line.
The wives are exhausted, you can see it in their eyes. I am not sure the home suffers as much as they do.

To the posters who pitied these women, I must comment: I am not sure their lives are more difficult than that of the traditional Christian woman. Yes, they work outside the home and have large families. But the Jewish Orthodox do not home-school at all (OK, maybe a fringe handful). They support collective education, trust the teachers, and happily send their kids to school. Just as you wonder how a woman can work and raise a family, I am sure they look at a woman who home-schools 5-10 kids with incredulity and wonder how she can do it without going crazy. I know I do.

Finally, this is not in direct response to this post, but to many others. As a Jewish woman, Anna, where do you find support for the entire 'serve your husband and father' approach? I'm truly curious, and definitely mean no offense. Yes, in Judaism the woman is called on to be the essence of the home, but I don't recall seeing the word 'serve' ever mentioned in this context.
The only case I can think of is the term 'osa et ratzon ba'ala'…. But that is very ambiguous, and sages have said has three translations: the 'kosher' woman does her husband's will (in other words, follows it); the 'kosher ' woman makes her husband's will (in other words, molds/forms it herself); or a middle ground, where the 'kosher' woman develops her husband's will.

deb said...

I wish that we had some orthodox Jewish women to respond. It would be interesting to hear how they feel. Looking at it from the outside, it does seem overwhelming and unfair to the wife.

My husband's cousin is a Hasidic Jew but he married after he had lived a yessim(is that the correct word) and studied awhile. Now they are both in New York City.

deb said...

Huge Doh slap to my forehead. I have been coming on and off to your site for a long time and I never knew you were Jewish. I know that I read your profile before, maybe I just forgot. LOL This shows you what an airhead I can be sometimes.

Anonymous said...

It *is* too much! To expect one person to raise a lot of children, plus take care of house and husband *and* work full-time somewhere else?? I can't imagine the woman would be still standing at the end of the day--and to dread waking up in the morning...agh...

I talked with my bf about working and home-making when we're married, and thankfully, he'd love for me to stay home, or work from home for money. I told him, even if all my religious convictions were out of the picture, I'd still want to stay home for the sake of my sanity!! I have enough trouble now keeping part time work, school, and life balanced as it is as a student, imagine as a married woman!! Anyway, just my thought on it : )

Calamity Jean said...

This was an interesting post...I haven't known any Jewish couples in this situation but I do know women who are completely overworked and there husbands are not studying religion. My grandmother who always worked told me when I got married that we should never depend on my salary, that no matter how much money I made or successful I became I should always let my husband support me. We have actually set up our finances based on that advise. My husband pays all the bills and I manage the household accounts (groceries, dr visits, decorating, gifts). Naturally most of the housework falls to me but he is always willing to jump in or help and he never questions me bringing in additional help. I cook every night and every night he does the dishes. It works for us but I don't have children yet and I cannot imagine having having my job and keeping my house plus carrying the financial responsiblities.

Stefanie said...

What I have observed with women who claim to do it all: work, home, etc - they suffer and along with it their marriage suffers.
Something has to slide in the superwoman situation, either their health, their career, their home, (and then)their marriage, or their children do.
So it seems to me (based on the people I know), that they don't do it all, something slides and then crashes. Sadly it is most often a slide that wipes out the people they love as well as their own sanity.

Anna S said...


I see "ezer kenegdo" in the way that a woman was CREATED to be a man's helpmeet. He wasn't created to be HER helpmeet. Also, in Gen.3 it says, "he will rule over you". That's just what I have up my sleeve right now.

As for serving the father - a woman should respect and honor both her parents of course, but especially her father as head of the family. Of course that's very different from being a "helpmeet".

Rebekah S. said...

Anna and Tammy,

I agree, Anna! I don't think a daughter should be a "miniature helpmeet" for her father. That would be strange, for this is the wife's job solely! But, as a way to show the world and our families the love of God, we need to serve all those around us and help them in any way we can(this includes fathers, mothers, siblings, citizens in the community, etc.). We're also commanded throughout the Scriptures to use our time wisely, and to wisely redeem it-to use it to the best of our ability to serve Christ by serving others. Therefore, just as learning homemaking skills, I think it's a great idea to learn how to be a helpmeet by serving your father and others. We're born as selfish people, not humble servants, and therefore, this is something that must be learned! If we spend all our lives serving our own wants and selfish desires, then when we enter marriage and attempt to be the best helpmeet to our husbands that we can possibly be, then we may very well find ourselves losing our sanity, for we don't know what to do! Just like how my mother felt when she got married, not having the slightest idea as to how she was supposed to cook. :)

Blessings to you both,

Rebekah S. said...


I began a Hebrew/OT study on the other post you and I were commenting on, for your benefit. I will be cotinuing it later today, after I get my schoolwork done.

Thanks for posting that study despite its HUGE length!! I'm sorry for the length of it. :/

Rebekah S. said...

Hi, Tammy! You said, "BTW, even in these conservative Orthodox groups, a woman decides who she will marry. She does NOT need to follow her father's will, as many posters here insist." I'm unsure of whether or not I was the main one whom you were referring to, but if I was, then I would like to be able to exegetically present to you where I'm coming from, and why I believe as I do, based on the Scriptures. That way, you can better understand where I stand on this issue, and where I'm coming from. :)

First of all, daugthers(and sons of course, as well) are called on to obey and honor their parents(unless of course, her parents are ungodly and are wanting her to do something that is clearly against Scripture, in which case, she should obey God and His commands above those of her parents.). This is a command given for the dauther's protection, as her parents are far wiser and have more discretion than she does, since they are older, and have thus, had the time to acquire more wisdom. Oftentimes, her parents can see something in a young man that she can't see (for as they say-love is blind!). Also, we females(as we see from Eve's example) are oftentimes more gullible and more easily deceived. So, it's very possible that our fathers(and mothers) may see something in some young man we're interested in, that is very bad-perhaps, some ungodly trait, etc. And, for that reason, we should be thankful for, love and welcome our parent's very important and wise guidance in this area-for it is truly a blessing from God!

Also, I gain my convictions from Numbers 30, as well. In it, we see what the Lord has commanded regarding the authority of a husband and father and the protection and care of a daughter or wife. I won't quote it all, as it is long, but basically, that passage teaches that a father(or husband) has the ability and authority(given to him by God Himself) to reverse an oath or vow that his daughter(or wife) has made and commited herself to, if that father(or husband) sees it as being harmful, detrimental, or dangerous to her. If you stop and think about it, this is shocking! Because, we read in Eccles. 5:4-6 that in God's sight, vows and oaths are no small little thing! Eccles. 5:4-6 says, "When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed-better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?" This passage shows us in a crystal clear way, the huge importance that vows be kept. When we vow something, we're not only binding ourselves to the person on earth to whom we vowed, but we are binding ourselves to God Almighty! Vows are an extremely serious thing to God and we see this solemn truth in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6. The passage shows us the major seriousness of vows-they're not something to be taken lightly, or to be discarded. Yet, amazingly, in Numbers 30, fathers and husbands are given the authority by Almighty God to reverse and cancel out a vow that his daughter or wife has made. That's amazing! Simply amazing. That shows the loving heart of God, that He would give a father/husband the authority to reverse a dauther's or wife's oath, in order to protect her. Because as women, we're easily deceived, and at times gullible, God has very very lovingly given us the protection of our father's or husband's authority. That is such a blessing. Vows are very very important to the heart of God, but even more so are the authority and loving leadership of the father or husband and the protection and care of the daughter or wife. How loving this passage shows God to be! That's such a sweet picture that this passage paints of the special love and care and protection God has for women! The end of Numbers 30 says, "These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter in her youth in her father's house." And we know from the Psalms, that the Lord's statutes bring great joy to the heart and health to us!

This is why I believe as I do. To disregard our father's protection and authority is not only an unwise and harmful thing to do, and is a dangerous decision, but it is a slap in the face of God Almighty, who loves us so abundantly much, as to provide us with protection.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you my beliefs, Ma'am. :)

Praying that you have a peaceful day and a wonderful week!

In Him,

P.S. I posted the rest of what that theologain said in his book in the comments section of where we were holding our discussion, in case you were curious about or interested in what else he had to say.

Rebekah S. said...

oops: theologian** sorry for the typo! :/

Jenny said...

Was this practice promoted by any Jewish rabbis? Or did it just develop as a cultural thing?

Anna S said...

Jenny, I'm sure many rabbis support this, but still, it doesn't make this right in *my* eyes.

Rebekah S. said...

I'm surprised that rabbis support this, when they can't find anywhere in Scripture where it say it's ok. How then, are they able to teach that it is? Wouldn't that disqualify them, to some extent, to be a rabbi, since they aren't teaching the Torah, etc. correctly?

Jenny said...

Even though I'm not Jewish, I'd disagree with the previous comment. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any direct prohibition against working women supporting their husbands in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Arguments are usually made from the Christian/New Testament.

Rabbatical tradition is treated as sacred by many Orthodox Jews, equally binding as the Mosaic Law. It makes sense that they'd follow a model promoted by a rabbi without Scriptural backing. (It would be like a Christian following something from the Gospel of Mark even if it wasn't also mentioned in the Epistle of James. Both are considered binding.)

If a rabbi taught that women should support their scholarly husbands, then they wouldn't be violating the Torah.

Ahuva said...

Rebeka S., there is a lot of support in the Talmud for the idea that the study of Torah is one of the most important and highest things a man can do. In the past, the best scholars were married to the daughters of rich men so that they could continue their studies without having to get a mundane job. These men became the great rabbis and scholars of their age.

The change that has happened after the Holocaust is that some rabbis believe that all men should only study Torah. There aren't enough wealthy Jewish families to support a whole generation of men learning, so they're putting a great burden on the women.

I think that they are wrong in encouraging this, but it doesn't disqualify them from being rabbis. The Torah doesn't stand by itself. Jews consider the Oral Law (the Talmud) to be vital in correctly interpreting the words of the Torah.