I always have to stifle a little laugh when people, after finding out I’m an Orthodox Jew, ask, “Are you allowed to work?” There is always a look of concern and wonder for my identity, my college education, and feminist progress. I’m often tempted to say, “Allowed? I have to! Have you ever tried chasing a wet toddler around the living room trying to get his diaper and clothes on? Now that’s work!”

But, of course, that’s not what they mean. They are referring to the myth that “Orthodox women aren’t allowed to have jobs or run businesses.” These kind-hearted, if misinformed, people think that Orthodox women can only be involved in activities related to homemaking and raising children.

She is not only a supportive wife, and a loving mother, but she is also a businesswoman

When faced with this kind of question and concern, I tell people about the “Eishet Chayil,” (“Woman of Valor”) described in Proverbs 31. The Eishet Chayil is the Torah’s description of the ideal Jewish woman. Surprise! She is not only a supportive wife, and a loving mother, but she is also a businesswoman. (Hey, how did that post-modern-feminist idea get in there?)

“She seeks out wool and linen, and works willingly with her hands…She considers a field and buys it, out of her earnings she plants a vineyard…She sets about her work vigorously, her arms are strong for her tasks. She realizes that her enterprise is profitable; her lamp does not go out at night…She makes linens and sells them, she provides the merchants with belts.”

The Eishet Chayil is truly an example to all of us because she has not sacrificed her family for her career. She seems to perfectly balance all of her entrepreneurial activity with her roles as a wife and mother:

“The heart of her husband trusts in her, he lacks no gain. She treats him with goodness, never evil, all the days of her life…She rises while it is still night and gives food to her household…She does not fear for her household in the frost, for her entire household is clothed warmly in scarlet…Her husband is well known at the gates, as he sits with the elders of the land…She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue…She watches the conduct of her household…. Her children arise and proclaim her. Her husband, he praises her…”

If only the Eishet Chayil had written a detailed book on how she managed to perform the miraculous feat of “having it all;” a happy marriage, a home imbued with Torah learning and values, physically and emotionally healthy children, and numerous profitable enterprises. Her book certainly would have been a bestseller today! Work-family balance issues seem to be the issue of the day for women. Balancing our demands at home with those of the office is a typical concern. Raised to want it all, now we have it all. Yet we are still totally clueless about how to manage it. Every magazine cover seems to be filled with help for finding the right balance, making time for yourself, the secrets of the busy woman.

And these pressures are multiplied for the working Jewish mother who is not only facing the challenges of balancing her life that other women face – she must balance it around Shabbat and other holiday preparations and celebrations, and the additional tasks related to keeping a kosher home. Though these tasks are often a source of joy for Jewish women, they involve extra “juggling” nonetheless.

A home business is the solution that I needed

Unfortunately, the Eishet Chayil did not leave us a detailed guide to balancing our work and family life, but she did give us at least one clue. It seems that most, if not all, of her business endeavors were done from home. Perhaps this is one of the Torah’s solution to the modern woman’s dilemma of balancing the demands of her role as “Akeret Habayit,” the foundation of the home, with the need for an additional income and a project that brings her personal fulfillment?

Indeed, I have found that having a home business is the solution that I needed. And it doesn’t just work for me; it works for about 12.6 million American parents. There are several advantages to having a business at home:

The first advantage is, of course, financial. Simply put, you can start bringing in a second income to pay for your children’s Hebrew school tuition, your phone bill to your relatives in Israel, or for a kosher family vacation. You reap the rewards of your efforts directly – so you determine your salary. Start-up costs for home businesses are usually very low and you may be able to write off many of your business expenses.

The second advantage of starting a home business is deeply personal. No doubt about it – you get a major self-esteem boost from running your own business and having a meaningful project of your own. Home business owners tend to experience a sense of ownership in their work, gaining a new feeling of pride about their accomplishment. For many stay-at-home mothers, this can breathe new life into a day that sometimes feels like it is filled with diaper changing, floor cleaning, and toddler chasing.

Another advantage of starting a home business is its inherent flexibility and informality. You can plan your work around Shabbat, holidays, and your family’s schedule. You can take breaks to nurse your baby — which you usually can’t do at a traditional job. You can be available for school events, plays, and those days when your baby wakes up sick. And you don’t have to ask for your boss’ permission to do these things because you are the boss!

And most important is the effect that starting a home business can have on your family. You set an example for your children. They see you work to successfully combine a job, family, and a Torah life. They also learn about business and being an entrepreneur. And most importantly, you remain the primary caretaker for your children. You get to watch them grow up and they know you will be there whenever they need you.

In short, having a home business can be a great solution for a modern Eishet Chayil who wants to bring in some extra money, have a fulfilling project of her own, save valuable commuting time, and be able to put her family first whenever she chooses.

You are the boss!

So, now it is time to practically figure out how to go about starting such a business…

I remember when I was first looking into starting a home business; I had a brief conversation with a Career Counselor about my skills. (Of course I didn’t think I had any, at the time.) Then he sent me to a book store to look at the ‘bazillion’ books with titles like “5001 Home Businesses to Make You Rich” or “43 Home Businesses for Women….” I felt totally lost and overwhelmed. There were so many possibilities. With today’s technology, almost any job can be done from home. There was everything from pet sitting to accounting to network marketing. How was I supposed to choose? It would have made my research and choosing a lot easier if I had been clear about what I wanted from a home business before I even opened a book.

What I have learned is that there are six main questions to ask yourself that will help you find the right home business for you. I recommend that you answer these questions before you spend your precious time researching the myriad of home business possibilities.

The Key

Now, one more thing before we go into the questions. I want to say three little words that will make a world of difference in this process. Ready? Here they are: Write it Down! Writing things down is almost magical in its ability to transform an idea into reality. Brainstorm with pen and paper. Don’t edit and judge your writing – this list is for you alone to use in finding the right business for you. I don’t care where you write it down –in a notebook, on napkins, on your computer – anywhere. Do it all in one sitting or over a period of time. Just write it down and keep it all in one place. The answers to these questions will not only help you to choose the right business for you right now, but if they are periodically referred to they will also shape the way your business develops and help you to maintain your original vision of success.

The Questions:

1) What do you love to do?

Notice, I didn’t ask for your skills first. While your skills are important, I think your passions are even more important when choosing a home business. It has been my experience that if someone is passionate about the business they are building, they can learn almost any skill they need to succeed. But if they are building a business they don’t really enjoy, they end up avoiding many important tasks, especially things they are not skilled at doing.

Therefore, consider your passions first. List things you really enjoy doing and could get lost in for hours. List things you would do if no one ever paid you for them. Don’t worry if they don’t seem related to any kind of future job; list them anyway. Answer the following questions: What gives you energy? Satisfaction? Pride? Joy? If you are having trouble naming your passions, try to remember what you loved to do at different stages of your life. What did you love to do when you were eight? Fifteen? Twenty-five?

2) What are you good at doing?

Next, consider your skills. Look at old résumés, letters of recommendation, volunteer work, and perhaps most importantly, personal projects. Don’t forget, if you are a parent, you are also the manager of a household – that job takes plenty of skills. List the things that don’t sound “marketable.” You don’t have to show this to anyone, it is just a list to guide you in picking a home business. Make sure to ask your friends and family what they think you are good If someone is passionate about the business they are building, they can learn almost any skill they need to succeed at. It is imperative to ask others about your skills because your friends and family often see strengths in you that you don’t see in yourself. Don’t forget – write it all down – it will help you get clear about your skills and make you feel great!

3) What do you need to get from your business?

What does your business absolutely have to accomplish in order for it to be successful for you? Answer this question on many levels:

Financially – what is the minimum amount of money you need to earn in order to make your business worth your time and effort?

Socially – do you need to have daily interaction with people, or do you enjoy working independently?

Intellectually – do you need an intellectual challenge or do you want work that doesn’t require much brainpower?

Globally – must your business make an impact on the world, or on causes that are important to you?

Personally – what impact must this business have – or not have – on your family life?

Creatively – must your business be an opportunity for a creative/artistic outlet or not?

The answers to these questions will help you eliminate the home business options that are not right for you.

4) What do you want to get from your business?

Question #3 is about the minimum standards your business must meet. This question is your place to go wild and fantasize about the best success you could achieve. Answer this question as it relates to areas discussed above (i.e., financially, socially, intellectually, globally, personally, etc.). The answer to this question will guide you to the right kinds of businesses for you.

5) What do you have to give to your business?

Building a home business is much like raising a newborn baby. It’s fun and challenging. It requires a lot of time, patience, energy, and money to do it right. Take the time to work out exactly what you have to give to your new business venture. How much time per day or week do you have to spend on it? (Don’t forget to account for the time you spend preparing for Shabbat and holidays). How much money do you have to invest in it? How long are you willing to wait until you see a profit? How much energy do you have to give to it? How much space do you have in your home for an office? Is your family willing to give time, space, and energy to your business too? Do you have a support network to help you give the business what it needs to grow? Get crystal clear about what you have to give. It will help you narrow down your home business choices.

6) What is success to you?

Now is the time to capture the picture of your ideal home business that is in your head. Take some quiet time and visualize how your perfect home business fits in with the rest of your life and write down every detail you can think of. Come back and tweak this vision as often as you like, but use it to guide you toward creating the home business you really want!

Once you have answered these questions you will know what you love to do, what you are good at doing, what your business must achieve minimally to be successful, and what you want your business to ultimately achieve. But whether you work from home, or you work in an office, or your work is dedicated solely to raising your family, what is most important is that you are fulfilled, happy, and healthy—for every Jewish woman is truly an Eishet Chayil, a woman of valor, just waiting to be revealed