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What is the Role of the Woman in Judaism?

What is the Role of the Woman in Judaism?

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In a Jewish household, the wife and mother is called in Hebrew akeret habayit. This means literally the “mainstay” of the home. It is she who largely determines the character and atmosphere of the entire home.

G–d demands that a Jewish home – every Jewish home – should have a Jewish character, not only on Shabbat and the holidays, but also on the ordinary weekdays and in “weekday” matters. It must be a Jewish home in every respect.

What makes a Jewish household different from a non-Jewish household is that it is conducted in all its details according to the directives of the Torah. Hence the home becomes an abode for G–d’s Presence, a home for G–dliness, one of which G–d says, “Make Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:5).

It is a home where G–d’s Presence is felt on every day of the week; and not only when engaged in prayer and learning Torah but also when engaged in very ordinary activities such as eating and drinking etc., in accordance with the directive, “Know Him in all your ways.”

It is a home where mealtime is not a time for indulging merely in eating, but becomes a hallowed service to G–d, sanctified by the washing of the hands before the meal, reciting the blessings over the food, and Grace after the meal, with every item of food and beverage brought into the home being strictly kosher.

It is a home where the mutual relationship between husband and wife is sanctified by the meticulous observance of the laws and regulations of Taharat Hamishpachah (Laws of Family Purity, which include Mikvah attendance) and permeated with awareness of the active third “Partner” – G–d – in creating new life, in fulfilment of the Divine commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This also ensures that children are born in purity and holiness, with pure hearts and minds that will enable them to resist temptation and avoid the pitfalls of the environment when they grow up. Moreover, the strict observance of Taharat Hamishpachah is a basic factor in the preservation of peace and harmony (Shalom Bayit) in the home, which is vitally strengthened and fortified thereby – obviously, a basic factor in the preservation of the family as a unit.

It is a home where the parents know that their first obligation is to instill into their offspring, from their most tender age, the love, and fear, of G–d, permeating them with the joy of performing mitzvot. Despite their desire to provide their children with all the good things in life, Jewish parents must know that the greatest, indeed the only real and eternal legacy they can bequeath to their children, is to make the Torah, mitzvot and Jewish traditions their life-source and guide in daily life.

In all that has been said above, the Jewish wife and mother – the Akeret Habayit – has a primary role, second to none. It is largely – and in many respects exclusively – her great task and privilege to give her home its truly Jewish atmosphere.

She has been entrusted with, and is completely in charge of, the kashrut of the foods and beverages that come into her kitchen and appear on the dining table. She has been given the privilege of ushering in the holy Shabbat by lighting the candles on Friday, in ample time before sunset. Thus she actually and symbolically brightens up her home with peace and harmony and with the light of Torah and mitzvot. It is largely in her merits that G–d bestows the blessing of true happiness on her husband and children and the entire household.

In addition to such mitzvot as candle-lighting, separating challoh from the dough, and others which the Torah entrusted primarily to Jewish daughters, there are matters which, in the natural order of things, lie in the woman’s domain. The reason for this being so in the natural order is that it stems from the supra-natural order of holiness, which is the source and origin of the good in the physical world. This refers to the observance of Taharat Hamishpachah, which by its very nature lies in the hands of the Jewish woman. The husband is required to encourage and facilitate this mutual observance; certainly not hinder it in any way, G–d forbid. But the main responsibility – and privilege – is the wife’s.

This is the great task and mission which G–d gave to Jewish women – to observe and disseminate the observance of Taharat Hamishpachah and of the other vital institutions of Jewish family life. For besides being the fundamental mitzvot and the cornerstone of the sanctity of Jewish family life, as well as relating to the wellbeing of the children in body and soul, these pervade and extend through all Jewish generations to eternity.

It is to be remembered that the Creator has provided each and every Jewish woman with the capacity to carry them out in daily life in the fullest measure, for otherwise it would not be logical or fair of G–d to give obligations and duties which are impossible to fulfil.

It should be noted that the very Jewishness of a person is dependent on the mother. In Jewish law, if a person’s mother is Jewish, then the person is Jewish. If only the father is Jewish, but the mother is a non-Jew, then the child is not Jewish. This very fact indicates the woman’s primary role in preserving Jewish identity and values.

The above stated does not mean that the Jewish woman’s place is solely in the home and that she should not follow a career. Rather it is the realisation that the primary role of the Jewish woman is that of a homemaker – the home and family unit being the nucleus of the Jewish community. Modern psychologists are affirming more and more what the Torah has always taught us: that a secure and loving home built on solid moral and ethical values is the basic building block of society. To pursue a career at the expense of shunning one’s obligation and privilege in this area is misguided.

When a Jewish woman creates a Jewish home and educates her children in Torah and mitzvot, she is deserving of King Solomon’s praise, “A woman of worth who can find … a G–d fearing woman, she is to be praised.”

Back to one’s roots

Each and every Jewish woman is a descendant of the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. It is incumbent on every Jewish woman to remember her roots.

In fact by reflecting upon the vital functions of roots in the world of plants one may deduce, by way of instructive analogy, a lesson for the contemporary Jewish woman.

The roots are the source of vitality of the plant from the moment of its birth when the seed takes root and thereafter, bringing it to fruition and constantly nourishing it throughout its life with the vital elements of water and minerals from the soil.

While the roots must also work for their own existence, growth, development and strength, their main function is to nourish the plant and ensure its full development, as well as its regenerative powers through the production of fruits and fruits of fruits. At the same time the roots provide a firm base and anchorage for the plant so that it will not be swept away by strong winds and other elements.

It is in the sense of these basic functions of physical roots that we can understand our spiritual roots. The “primary roots” of our Jewish people are our Patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, as our Sages declare, “Only three are called Avot (Fathers)”. On the maternal side our primary roots are our Mothers, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Each of these founders and builders of the House of Israel contributed a distinctive quality which, blended together, produced the unique character of our Jewish people.

Most typical – and original (in the sense of parentage) – is the Patriarch Abraham, of whom it is written, “One was Abraham”, for he was the only one in his generation who recognised the unity of G–d and, with complete self-sacrifice, proclaimed the Unity of G–d (pure monotheism) to a world steeped in polytheism and idolatry.

His progeny, the Jewish People, is still unique in carrying on his work – a small minority in a world which has many gods. It is from him that we inherited, and derive strength from, the quality of Mesirat Nefesh (self-sacrifice) as well as the supreme obligation to pass on our heritage to our children; for it was his greatest merit that, through his devotion and total dedication to G–d, “he bequeathed to his children and household after him to keep the way of G–d.”

By referring to our Patriarchs as “roots” our Sages indicate a further essential aspect of roots that goes beyond the role of parents. To be sure, parents give birth to children and transmit to them some of their own physical, mental and spiritual qualities. However, children are not directly dependent on their parents for survival; they can move away from their parents and from their parental home, and will continue to thrive after their parents are gone. This is not so in the case of a plant and its roots. The roots are absolutely indispensable to the plant’s existence and their vitalising influence must flow continuously to keep the plant alive and thriving. In the same way, our Fathers and Mothers must always vitalise and animate our own lives.

Every Jew and Jewess should realise that he or she is an integral part of the great “root system” that began with our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and continued to thrive through the ages, nourishing and sustaining our people, whom G–d calls “a branch of My planting, the work of My hands, to take pride in them.”

Yet, sad to say, there are some Jews who, for one reason or another, are not aware of their roots, and some whose roots have become so atrophied as to be in danger of becoming withered (G–d forbid). It is therefore up to the healthy plants and roots to work all the harder to revive and strengthen the others, and help them rediscover their identity and place within the root system of our unique people.

In this life-saving work, the role of the Jewish woman is of crucial importance since she is the Akeret Habayit, the foundation of the home, who largely determines the character and atmosphere of the household, and the future of the children in particular.

In the same vein, there can be no greater fulfilment for a Jewish girl than to prepare herself for her vital role of building the House of Israel as a worthy descendant of the Matriarchs. As indicated above, it is a dual process: actively pursuing one’s own growth and development and at the same time working for the preservation and growth of our people, through spreading and strengthening Yiddishkeit in the Jewish community at large, particularly in areas where Jewish mothers and daughters can contribute most such as Kashrut, Taharat Hamishpachah, candle-lighting etc.

Finally, to pursue the roots analogy to one more significant point: one does not look for flashing colour and external beauty in roots, nor are the latter concerned with what some people might say about their external looks. Roots do their work humbly and modestly, indeed, for the most part, hidden from view altogether. Such is also the work of true Jewish mothers and daughters.

In a world where fashion and vogue hold sway, and where expediency often takes precedence over eternal values and principles, our worthy mothers and daughters are not concerned with what some neighbour or passer-by might say about the way they conduct themselves and their homes in accord with the laws of our sacred Torah. If these appear “old-fashioned” to the onlooker with his “modern” ideas of “new morality”, we Jews take pride in our “old-fashioned” – yet always new and eternal – roots; we strive to become ever more root-like and ever more true to the primary roots of our Jewish people, whom G–d designated as a “Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

True Jewish wealth

We would do well to remember the chassidic saying:

Neither property nor money is the true Jewish wealth. The everlasting Jewish wealth is: being Jews who keep Torah and mitzvot and bringing into the world children and grandchildren who keep Torah and mitzvot.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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artisanrox PA April 16, 2015

Place This is why I haven't exactly run to my (not so local) Chabad quite yet and delved into conversion. I'm a single childfree (not childless) woman with a full time job. There is no place for me here. :( Reply

Kerry Toronto, Canada March 12, 2012

The Jewish woman in the home. My grandmother was Jewish as was my mother but it was my Grandmother who informed me of being Jewish. Still, I was not taught our customs and the reasons were never made clear. I would like to learn them and truly find out what my role in life is as a Jewish woman. Reply

Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org October 25, 2009

Role of Single Women Good question, two of our editors responded to this very question in the past, please take a look at these links: Is there a Spiritual role for a Childless, Single Middle-Aged Woman? and Is there a place in Judaism for the single woman? Reply

Chaya Stein Minneapolis October 24, 2009

this article repeats over and over that the woman's place is with her children.

so what is the role of single and childless women in judaism?

it appears we have no place. Reply

Anonymous Kooskia, Id. USA April 17, 2008

role of Jewish woman Thanks for this post. It confirms what I believe and wrote an article about. Mine is called "Keepers at Home". Reply

Odette Loney San Fernando, Trinidad July 6, 2007

Role of Jewish Women This is an excellent article that I came accross while writiing a book where one of my characters is Jewishy. Thank you since I was attempting to look for what traditional Jewish males do with errant females.

Anyway, I am quite thankful for this information since I consider Jews as having so many laws it is difficult to research them all!

Continue the excellent work. Reply

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