The Jewish mother is a personality type very common among mothers who are Jewish. If you were an unborn soul making an informed decision about what sort of mother to be born to, in any part of the world, at any point in history, you would certainly choose to be born to a Jewish mother.

Here are eight reasons why:

1. It’s very unlikely that a Jewish Mother will kill you on your first day of life.

Look, all things considered, in many cases that might be the sensible thing to do. And for most of history, disposal of unwanted infants was considered perfectly acceptable. Even a wise guy like Aristotle agreed.

Do the math: Economically, the little critters are often just not worth the upkeep and who says they’ll support you some day (major concern in many cultures, especially with little girls).

Mom wouldn’t have to outright murder you (although that was often the case). She could just abandon you to the wolves. Or better, allow you to be sacrificed to appease some deity.

“Infanticide,” writesInfanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations … Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule. Historically, Jews have been the exception. anthropologist Laila Williamson, “has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations … Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule."1

Historically, Jews have been the exception. Okay, Egyptians in Hellenistic times were also exceptions. But, uniquely, Jews have always believed that from its very beginning, human life has inherent value. Larry Milner wrote the definitive work on infanticide. Here’s what he has to say about Jews:

As a result of this unique respect for human life, infanticide, which was widely practiced in pagan society, was simply unknown as a phenomenon in Jewish history and as a distinct rubric in Jewish law.

Many authors of that era remarked on this unusual behavior. Tacitus recorded that the Jews “regard it as a crime to kill any late-born children.” Strabo noted that the Egyptians and the Jews rear every child that is born and that this custom was “jealousy observed.” Diodorus of Sicily also distinguished the Egyptians and the Jews from the rest of the Greco-Roman world by their devotion to raising all of their children.2

Consider this: When Moses wanted to describe the abominations of the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan to his people, he told them, “They sacrifice even their children to their gods.”

To another people, that line wouldn’t make sense. Even their children?

But to Jews, children came first, adults a distant second.

We also have evidence from ancient Jewish tomb inscriptions. Attention was paid to the deaths of young children in ways that were unheard of in other civilizations, including ancient Egypt.

Then there’s the story of the midwives disobeying Pharaoh to save Jewish babies (first recorded instance of civil disobedience!). And little Miriam, who couldn’t allow herself to just watch her kid brother’s cradle float away, and had the chutzpah to walk up to the princess of Egypt and suggest she get a Jewish wet-nurse for little Moses. These are the narratives of a nation that loves children.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t Jewish mothers who did the wrong thing. There are rebukes of all sorts of abominations in the prophets. But, interestingly, one thing very common in every other society that no one ever accused any Jewish mother of: Killing a baby just because it’s a girl.

Jewish mothers value life, just because life is divine. It has nothing to do with what the worth or fitness of this child. Just because this is a human life.

Art by Adele Steinberg
Art by Adele Steinberg

2. A Jewish Mother won’t abandon you if you’re weak or she’s hungry.

A Russian friend once told me, “I had a younger brother. He was often sick. My mother took him to the doctor, but it wasn’t a Jewish doctor. The doctor said, ‘You have another son. Why hold on to this sickly one?’”

Shocking? That’s been the default attitude even in the most advanced countries until very recently.

Keep in mind that the dramatic decline of infant mortality is arguably the most salient feature of human progress over the last 150 years. Think of this: If you would be born to a German mother in the mid-19th century, for example, you had a 50/50 chance of making it to the age of five. In Today, make that 99.7%. Today, there is no country in the world scoring lower than 90%.

What changed? Sanitation? Greater abundance of food? Medical advances? Historians are still quibbling over all that. But one thing we know: Jewish mothers were ahead of the game by half a century.

In 1860, getIn 1860, get born to a mother in Europe or America, and you had a three out of four chance of making it through your first year of life. Get a Jewish mother and your chances rise to six out of seven. born to a mother in Europe or America, and you had a three out of four chance of making it through your first year of life. Get a Jewish mother and your chances rise to six out of seven. Or skip ahead to 1910, when the rest of the population had caught up. By now Jewish moms had it down to nine out of ten.

Get this: From 1819 to 1967, from Russia to England to Canada and the USA, Jewish infant mortality rates were lower by 30 to a whopping 80 percent than those of their host populations.3

And we’re talking about an era when Jews were experiencing severely oppressive treatment in the Pale of the Settlement in Russia, mass emigration, life in cramped and unsanitary slums in America and the U.K.—often under far worse conditions than even the poorest non-Jews.

Recently, a sharp Italian researcher named Renzo Derosas decided to get to the bottom of this.4 He figured, “Let’s compare infant mortality in the Venetian Ghetto to the rest of the city. Not just how many died, but what they died from and when. If we can pinpoint the secret behind the Jewish mother’s success, we can also isolate the key factors behind the modern drop in infant mortality.”

In the 19th century, the Ghetto stank. People were cramped four times as densely as the rest of the city, but infant mortality was less than half.

Derosas was surprised to find that Jewish children were dying at the same times of year, from the same illnesses as the rest of Venetian children.

His conclusion may seem outrageous, but it’s the only one that works: The major cause of infant mortality was negligence. As Derosas wrote in a later paper, it wasn’t so much a decrease in infant mortality, but in infant over-mortality.5

In other words, it wasn’t so much what Jewish mothers did as it was what non-Jewish mothers didn’t do. If a child was sick, that meant it was a weak child. You tried a few home remedies, and if that didn’t work …

Wherever Jews traveled, no matter how much they were persecuted, they multiplied and replenished their population quickly. Because Jewish mothers care, are aware, and involved. And when other mothers started caring, children began to live.

3. A Jewish Mother won’t put germs in your soup.

True, there are other factors to Jewish infant health.

Many historians of medicine point out that Jews always religiously washed their hands before eating, as well as after relieving themselves or touching anything unclean. So when doctors told mothers to wash before nursing, that just made sense to them. We now know that this reduces childhood diarrhea by up to 90%.

In much of Europe, the commoner bathed perhaps once or twice a year. Jews bathe and cut their nails every Friday, in preparation for Shabbat. A Jewish woman would also have a very thorough bath seven days after her menstrual period was complete, before immersing in the mikvah.

Then there’s the kosher kitchen. The Jewish mother was continually inspecting all food for signs of bugs or worms. Meat and poultry was salted and washedTo a Jewish mother, food is a means of communicating love. well. As one historian of medicine put it, “continuous vigilance was required. A meal could never be prepared absentmindedly.”6

The Jewish home, by all accounts, was known for its cleanliness, long before Drs. Pasteur and Lister. Why? Because food is holy. To a Jewish mother, food is a means of communicating love. Obsessive love. Preparing a meal is a sacred service, just as an offering upon a divine altar.

Jewish mothers had always taken their little baby to the doctor at the first sneeze. And by Jewish law, a doctor is obligated to heal a patient whether the patient can afford payment or not.

A popular misconception is that society picks up technology as it comes off the inventive conveyer belt. The facts are that no technology gets anywhere without its “early adopters”—those who have the vision to see how it can be applied to make their lives better.

Jewish mothers,Jewish mothers were the vital early adopters of infant health care advances. then—and I believe this is Derosas’ strongest point—were the vital early adopters of infant health care advances. So as medicine progressed, Jewish children’s health progressed—50 years in the lead. Because they had Jewish mothers. The rest of the world eventually followed along.

It’s not just Jews, then, who owe their lives to Jewish mothers. The whole world owes a debt of gratitude to what Lara Marks, a historian of modern medicine, calls “the model mothers” of progressive infant health.7

You’ve heard those jokes about Jewish mothers screaming, “Nobody who hasn’t sterilized their hands is allowed to even look at the baby!” And “The main thing to making chicken soup is to not put any germs in there.” Maybe you’ve wondered why Jewish mothers are so fastidious, obsessive and nit-picky.

Thank G‑d. That’s why we’re still here. And that’s where the rest of the world got it from.

4. With a Jewish Mother, you’ll come out an educated mentsch.

For most of history, about 5% of the world was literate. Today, that’s boomed to over 80%. Amazing.

What’s even more amazing is that Jews experienced that boom millennia before the rest of the world.

From the time of Moses, every Jewish child was to be educated. This was radical. Other cultures went to great lengths to ensure that knowledge remained the domain of the elite. The Jewish idea was to preserve a nation by promoting learning among all classes. In fact, Jews instituted a compulsory education system 1700 years before any other nation. And the system relied totally on Jewish mothers to make it work.Jews instituted a compulsory education system 1700 years before any other nation.8

And the system relied totally on Jewish mothers to make it work.

Take Rabbi Akiva, unquestionably the most significant scholar of Mishnaic times, compared by his colleagues to Moses himself. Akiva was a simple shepherd until he married a young woman named Rachel who inspired him to learn. As he told his students, “All I have, and all you have, belongs to her.”

True, girls didn’t always get a formal education. That depended on the time and place. But it was certainly far more common among Jews than among others.

Here’s a letter from an ailing Jewish mother living in Egypt in the first half of the 12th century, addressed to her sister:

If the Almighty should decree my death, my greatest wish is that you should take care of my little daughter and make an effort for her to study. Indeed I know that I am imposing a heavy burden on you. We do not have the means for her upkeep, let alone the cost of tuition. But we have an example from our mother and teacher, a servant of G‑d.9

Get that? At least two generations of women were educated and saw to the education of their daughters—despite the fact that they were certainly not well-to-do. Indeed, this was the primary wish of this Jewish mother.

Then there’s the oft-quoted line from Proverbs: “My son, heed the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother; for they are a graceful wreath upon your head, a necklace about your neck.”10

You see, there’s a distinction between what you learn from your father and what you learn from your mother. Your father teaches your head. Your mother lays a necklace about your neck, where the head meets the heart. It’s your mother, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra comments on the verse, who “puts you on the straight path.”

In his 16th century classic Shnei Luchot HaBrit (knows as “the Shelah”), Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz explains that the principal burden of educating a young child is upon the mother. He explains that the woman is there with the children at home more than her husband.11 Jewish mothers knew about this. We have the 17th century diary of Glückel of Hameln, a nice Jewish mother who frequently quotes the Shelah.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, provided another reason: A father often has too many expectations of his child, and so his teaching is harsh and even impatient. The mother is the one who is able to sit with the child and learn with the child at his or her level, with gentle, loving words.12

The stories we remember from our youth are principally those told to us by our mothers and grandmothers.The words that affect us most deeply are the words that came to us from deep within their hearts, and so penetrated our hearts to the core. Our love for learning is our inheritance from our Jewish mothers. The words that affect us most deeply are the words that came to us from deep within their hearts, and so penetrated our hearts to the core. Our love for learning is our inheritance from our Jewish mothers.

What happened to Jews who didn’t provide their children an education? As Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein point out in their book, those Jews just disappeared.13 Natural selection gave us an even more education-obsessed people.

Isaiah is the prophet of a beautiful future. Formulas such as swords-->plowshares, wolves + lambs—that’s all Isaiah. But his prophecies often come with warnings of judgment, war and destruction stirred into the mix.

Except to the women. “Dear Jewish women,” Isaiah says, “you will walk into these beautiful times calm and confident.”14

In the Talmud,15 we find the great scholar known simply as “Rav” asking his teacher, Rabbi Chiyah, “What sort of deal is that?” (Okay, I’m elaborating here. Talmud is kind of cryptic.)

“We are the scholars, the leaders, the rabbis—and they get a greater promise than us!”

So Rabbi Chiyah answered, “Rav, who taught you to say Shema Yisrael when you were still an infant?”

“My mother, of course.”

“And who dressed you warmly and brought you to school every morning?”

“Same mother.”

“And who did you tell everything you learned when you came home? Who kvelled over every word?”

“Mom.”

“And who makes sure all your students come to listen to your lectures now?”

“Their mothers, and their wives.”

“And who inspires you most to keep studying now, waiting up for you every night with a warm dinner, eager to hear of all that you have learned and taught that day?”

“My wife. Okay, I get it.”

Eventually, a middle class arose in Europe that emulated Jewish values. Education was one of those values. Mothers started doing homework with their kids, like Jewish moms.

But, as with health care, there always must be those early adopters. Again, those were the Jewish mothers.

5. Jewish Mothers provide lots of hugs and kisses.

Hey, this is no small thing.

Today, we’re starting to think of EQ as yet more vital than IQ. And all the research shows that emotional intelligence is deeply affected by the degree of physical, unconditional closeness you receive as a child—as well as higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu made a big hit with his 1978 book, Touching, in which he describes how vital affection is for human development. Research since then has verified much of what he wrote. It’s that motherly hugging and holding that triggers much of the initial neural development of the infant cortex.

Montagu Montagu was convinced that the most affectionate, touchy-feely people in the world were the Jews. If you’ve lived in a traditional Jewish community, it certainly seems that way.was convinced that the most affectionate, touchy-feely people in the world were the Jews. If you’ve lived in a traditional Jewish community, it certainly seems that way. Jewish parents can never seem to get enough of hugging and kissing their children and grandchildren. As Montagu wrote:

The Jews, as a tribe, culture, or people, are characterized by a high degree of tactility. "The Jewish mother" has become a byword, for her deep and consuming care for her children. This meant that until recent times the children were breastfed on demand, that there was a great deal of fondling of children by mother, father, and siblings.16

Montagu isn’t the first to note the Jewish mother habit of providing breastfeeding on demand for as long as you can handle it. Social historians commonly note that Jewish women continued to breastfeed much longer than other mothers, while supplementing with other, healthy-for-baby foods.

In common parlance, little schoolchildren, aged 5-6, are called “tinokot shel beit rabban”—which literally means, “suckling infants of the schoolhouse.” And old-timer from a Jewish village in Poland confirmed to me that this reflected actual practice: Children were still coming home to nurse at 5–6 years of age.

Next time your Jewish mother kisses you loudly in public, kiss her back.

6. A Jewish Mother will negotiate with G‑d on your behalf—and win.

Some call it prayer, but Jewish mothers are known to talk to the Master of the Universe much in the same manner as they talk to their husbands.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Jewish mother who took her child for a stroll on a windy day along the seashore. The temperature being below 60F, of course the child was neatly bundled in a warm coat, comfy boots, a scarf, gloves and a woolen hat.

Suddenly, a great wave roared in, soaking the mother and viciously sweeping away her little child into the sea.

The mother raised her arms to the heavens and cried out, “Oh my G‑d! How could you take my little boy away! Shall the Judge of the entire world then not do justice?”

Immediately, another wave came and swept the child back to shore.

The mother checked, and yes, the child was fine. His coat was fine. His boots were still on his feet, his gloves on his hand, his scarf … but, hold on …

The mother raised one hand up to heaven, the other pointing down to the child, and yelled, “He had a hat!”

The Zohar tellsThe Zohar tells us that parents continue to intercede on their children’s behalf even after their passing. But, really, who do you think is doing the majority of the pleading up there? us that parents continue to intercede on their children’s behalf even after their passing. But, really, who do you think is doing the majority of the pleading up there? And who do you think the Master of the Universe is going to listen to first?

Rachel, it is said, insisted that she be buried on the road leading from Jerusalem towards Babel. She foresaw that one day her children would be taken into captivity in that direction. She wanted to be there, even though it meant being parted from her husband’s burial place, so she could plead on their behalf as they left.

A cry is heard in Ramah—Wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted For her children, who are gone.

Thus said G‑d: Restrain your voice from weeping, Your eyes from shedding tears; For there is a reward for your labor —declares G‑d: They shall return from the enemy’s land.

And there is hope for your future —declares G‑d: Your children shall return to their borders.17

7. Jewish Mothers make strong, enduring shareholders.

A Jewish mother is walking her children in the park. “What cuties! How old are they?” asks a Jewish bubby.

“The rabbi is three, the doctor is five,” she answers.

There’s the key. All those jokes about Jewish mothers who won’t let go, who are calling you daily, advising you and meddling in your life even after you’re married and are marrying off your own kids—where does that come from? What is that all about?

It’s all about investment. Investment is a very Jewish thing. John Maynard Keynes, may your mother forgive him for his other statements about the Jews, was convinced that we invented it.

Think ofOther mothers are stakeholders in their kids. Jewish mothers are shareholders. it this way: Other mothers are stakeholders in their kids. Jewish mothers are shareholders.

Stakeholders are concerned that they should have healthy children to help out on the farm, be the pride of the family, and care for them when they are elderly.

Shareholders are different. They hold shares in their children’s future. Not stakes, shares. A Jewish mother is her child.

So, yes, that Jewish mother looks at her children and she doesn’t see the present alone. She sees their future as well. She’s there, already, living it through. And she continues, living through her children in proxy as long as she’s around. And, I’m sure, afterwards, as well.

8. A Jewish Mother gets you a Jewish Father.

Around 1880, pogroms in Russia triggered one of the greatest migrations in history. With Jews getting to the U.K. from Russia en masse, the British got worried. The fear was that these impoverished immigrants would bring disease and filth to a country whose empire was already beginning to flounder.

Britain was likely the most socially progressive country in the world at the time. To their credit, the Brits decided to study the situation and see what was actually happening. So they set up the RC Alien Immigration Inquiry.

This is from the testimony of J. Prag, member of the St Pancras Health and Insanitary Areas Committee, to that inquiry:

In the care of their children, the Jewish mothers are a pattern to their Gentile neighbors in the East End. Go and visit the schools in the East End and see the Jewish children. They stand out in marked contrast to other children for brightness and healthy appearance. That is only due to Jewish mothers.18

But Prag was not telling the whole story. It takes a good Jewish father for a Jewish mother to do her magic.

For that insight, we are indebted to Dr. Henry Ashby, an English physician who practiced in Manchester. Writing in 1915, he described astonishing differences he observed in infant mortality between Jewish and non-Jewish working-class families.

What explained this distinction? Ashby pointed to a habit apparently quite rare even in socially advanced England at the time: Fathers turning over “their entire income to their wives, who in turn spared no effort to maximize the welfare of their children,” granting them “high standards of cleanliness or medical care”19

On the contrary, he wrote, no similar behavior could be observed among other working-class families, “whose earnings were mostly dissipated in pubs and whose children were generally neglected by their parents.”

Well, Prag sort of noted the same thing. With an air of astonishment, he commented, “You won’t see a Jewish mother taking the boots of her child to pawn them for alcohol.”

Meanwhile, in America, social workers observed the same phenomenon: Whereas other immigrants squandered their earnings at the bar and put their young children to work, Jewish families scrounged every penny so that their children could eat well, get a good schooling, and go off to college.

Yes, Jewish mothers are known for their assertiveness. TheyThey say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Well, a Jewish mother’s home is her fortress. get their way. They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Well, a Jewish mother’s home is her fortress.

That doesn’t mean she has no work outside of the house. The Woman of Valor of Solomon’s poem20 is conducting international trade, for goodness sake. But she knows, and she let’s her husband know, that that’s not where it’s at. Where it’s at, for both of them, is the family and their home. Which she alone knows how to run.

Which means that if you marry a Jewish woman, and you listen to her advice, you’re likely to win a great battle. The battle of raising a good family in a crazy world.

My own mother, may her soul continue to rise higher and higher, as soon as my father proposed marriage to her, responded, “Yes, if you buy me a house.” Which he did.

Years later, I attempted to engage my dad in a discussion about the purpose of life. He looked up from his mystery novel and quietly explained, “Son, my purpose in life is to keep your mother happy.”

In astonishment, I answered, “Dad, is that all there is to life?”

Dad looked up again. “Son,” he said, “have you ever had an unhappy wife?”

It wasn’t until years later that I found his wisdom in a small book of advice, written by the great kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero:

There is another issue about which a man must take great care, and that is to ensure that the Shechinah be always with him and never part from him.

Now before a man is married, obviously the Shechinah is not with him at all, since the principal element that draws the Shechinah to a person is the feminine element.

In fact, each man stands between two females: The corporeal woman below to whom he must provide food, clothing and affection. And the Shechinah which stands over him to bless him with all these things so that he may turn around and provide them to the woman of his covenant.21

Neat thing: The title of that small book is “The Date-Palm of Deborah.”

Remember Deborah, the biblical prophetess? She sat beneath a date-palm and the people came from all around for her counsel and wisdom. She commanded Barak to fight off the oppressor, King Jabin of Hazor. At Barak’s request, she even led the army in battle.

The battle was victorious, and Deborah sang a song. She praised herself in the song. Not as a sage. Not as a counselor. Not as a warrior. But as a mother. A Jewish mother.

Deliverance ceased, ceased in Israel! Till you arose, oh Deborah! Arose, oh mother, in Israel!22

Assertive, yes. And Jewish men are known to be, well, a little more feminine. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz in his 16th century classic Shnei Luchot HaBrit urges the woman to “gird her loins with strength” and assert herself in her household, while chiding the man that “his words should be gentle” as he conducts his family along the right path.23

This is This is what it means to liberate and empower the feminine in society, so that we have a more compassionate, caring and nurturing world.what it means to liberate and empower the feminine in society, so that we have a more compassionate, caring and nurturing world. And for men, a little more of that nurturing attitude will only make them stronger, more resilient men.

That’s all the world needs: more Jewish mothers. They will take the entire world to that beautiful vision of Isaiah with confidence and perhaps a gentle nudge.


—Dedicated in loving memory of my mother, Leah bat Serach.