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< Q8.37 TOC Q8.39 >

Question 8.38:
What is the traditional role of women in the decision making in the family?


Traditionally and historically, men were the ones in the workplace. However, Solomon closes Proverbs with a poem describing the "Woman of Valor" (31:10-31). His ideal woman, or woman as a metaphor for the Torah, is one who makes clothing from wool and flax, plants a vinyard, and sells her wares in the marketplace. So Judaism has nearly as many answers to these sort of questions as there are Jews.

There are two permissable fiscal arrangements in Jewish marriage, and the woman has the right to choose which she intends to pursue. Either the property is communal, which gives the man final say over the money, but also the duty to work to keep her fed, clothed, and living in the standard to which they became accustomed. Alternatively, she can choose to earn her own way, and own separate property. At the close of the story of the Tree of Knowledge, womankind is punished for Eve's role in the sin (right before Adam receives a similar punishment.): Genesis 3:16, "To the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply you pain and you travail; in pain you will birth children; and you desire shall be to you husband, and he shall rule over thee.'" And as a matter of historical fact, this is how families ran. This can be taken as an "ought", that the husband has final say in the home (assuming that he is a rational "ruler").

However, technically the verse is not in the imperative. And in Jewish tradition, there is no duty for a person to be the means of fulfilling a Divine punishment. For example, Pharoah was punished sorely for his role in fulfilling prophecy.

One of the finest descriptions of the role of women in the family in East European Jewry is in an essay by Rabbi David Siegel. He writes of a conversation he had with his grandmother-in-law, a woman named Fania, back when he was engaged. Fania came from Stalinist Russia, and once the government forcibly moved his villiage. Everyone was allowed to take two bags. Understandably, most people used the bags to pack their jewels and valuables. Fania insisted that her family pack potatoes—potatoes and only potatoes. When they got to where they were sent, there was no food. Everyone else was starving, that is, until Fania's potato crop came in. So one day, as they were walking along the beach, Rabbi Siegel thought he would ask this wise woman for her thoughts on marriage. Her answer, "Always remember one thing, the man is the head of the household!" Rabbi Sigal was surprised. This was not the answer he expected such an independent woman. So he asked again, and again she said "Always remember one thing, the man is the head of the household!" Finally, he thought to ask, "And the woman?" "She is the neck. It moves the head."

As for education, the duty of formal education, in Torah, in a trade, and in basic survival skills (including swimming), falls to the father. However, childrearing and cultural education (the kind you don't get in school), is historically the woman's.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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