Monday, May 19, 2008

A Woman's Right to Work!!! ("The Jewish Way")

Comparing patriocentricity to the practice of Orthodox Judaism according to Rabbi Maurice Lamm in “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage

In many camps that embrace the teachings of patriocentricity, women are not permitted to work outside of the home. This has been communicated both formally and informally, and patriocentrics cite many different reasons why women are to remain within and function only within the “sphere of the home,” a concept promoted to be the only “Biblical” way of proper conduct for any and all Christian women. In an effort to promote the very honorable vocation and profession of motherhood, encouraging women to remain at home to care and educate their children, this teaching has been extended to all women under all circumstances to such an extent that if a woman does not comply with these standards, she is said to blaspheme the Word of God.

I found these strong rights that have been traditionally extended towards women under orthodox Judaism to be quite enlightening. If Jewish law would grant a divorce to a working woman who was denied the right to work by her husband, so long as she provides for her family, from what or where did these teachings of the patriocentrics arise or originate? They did not originate from the traditional practice of orthodox Judaism.

From Pgs 157 - 158:

A woman cannot be willingly compelled by her husband to lower her social status or economic level. Furthermore, if she and her husband are living in her mother-in-law’s home and a quarrel develops between the two women, the wife can insist that the couple move out at the pain of compelling him to divorce her.

According to the Torah, the husband also has no legal rights to, or power over, his wife’s personal finances. In every period of Jewish history, including the early patriarchal era and the Middle Ages, the wife had an independent right to property. Technicalities concerning the wife’s property fill many folios of the Talmud. The rabbinic laws concerning use and maintenance of the property were designed for the furtherance of domestic tranquility (she’lom bayit), which they considered superior to all other considerations.

Throughout the history Judaism, women have had the right to work. In fact, during the Middle Ages, Jewish women often earned the major portion of the family budget. They engaged in a wide variety of commercial occupations, especially moneylending, a business often focused upon the Jewish community by the restrictive policy of the State regarding ownership of real estate. Community organizations frequently appointed women as trustees with the right to invest funds at their own discretion. Impeding a wife’s right to work, which is a complicated legal issue, is considered by the Talmud to be legalistic grounds for compelling divorce. Such laws are not actionable outside of Israel today, as no divorce can be compelled by a Jewish court in the Diaspora.

The Rabbis guaranteed a married woman the right to work, but in the name of healthy family unity they decreed that her earnings must go into the family fund, just as her husband’s earnings go to support her and the family. If she relinquishes her husband’s support, she may keep her wages. (The law does not give the husband the opportunity to refuse to support his wife when she works.) For the sake of domestic peace, the Rabbis ruled that there should be a household division of labor; (e.g., if the husband works the wife has to keep house or, if they are wealthy, at least manage the house. The wife, however, can refuse to do housework if she herself works and pays someone else to clean house in her stead).

These legal decisions clearly and unequivocally reflect the ideal of the independence of Jewish women. Rabbi Johanan said, “Thou shalt call Me ishi (my husband) and shalt call me no longer baali (my master)” (Hosea 2:18).

In the next post:

Judaism denies servitude of women and children and supports a woman's personal independence within marriage.

Copyrighted material quoted here
under fair use for educational purposes from
by Maurice Lamm. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1980.