Does Tzipi Hotovely Represent Religious Zionist Women?

Tzipy Hotovely

Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

32-year-old Likud member Tzipi Hotovely is Chairwoman of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women. In honor of International Women’s Day, Haaretz asked Hotovely whether Women’s Day was a happy day for Israeli women.

Here is part of the interview, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

Do you yourself feel that a glass ceiling gets in your way?

No. For women just setting out and dividing time between personal and public life, the situation is more complicated. Women who reached the Knesset when their children were grown are more similar to the men. When I become a mother I’ll have to determine my limits at work. It’s an all-encompassing occupation, and men have fewer pangs of conscience, while fewer demands are made of them at home.

Have you ever been discriminated against as a woman?

No. Let me think. Maybe about security issues there is a feeling that the male milieu doesn’t like women expressing opinions. Personally, I appreciate remarks based on knowledge when it comes to matters of state.

And in the religious environment in which you were raised?

I come from religious Zionism. Women are empowered there. It’s something I always take with me. In my world there are no real barriers.

Have you ever been sexually harassed?

I think my behavior as a religious woman puts up barriers that protect me. When I got to politics it was important to set limits. I don’t shake hands and try to avoid being be hugged and kissed. It’s very important to me to set limits, and the religious matter really helps because the political world is informal.

On Facebook, Elana Stzockman responded and gave me permission to share:

What’s worse is her answer to the questions about women working and glass ceilings. She is basically saying that women with children cannot be expected to work, that she is of course going to work less than men when she has children,… that she has once or twice encountered women ‘who have had children’ who work, but mostly it’s only when a woman’s children are grown that she can work ‘like men’. It’s so upsetting that she is representing women’s issues when she has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about.

I am strongly in favor or parenthood, and a big believer in making workplaces comfortable for parents, changing workplace cultures to accept parenthood as a norm rather than as an aberration. Hotovely’s statements that as soon as she becomes a parent she’ll work less and assumes that all women do that — it’s so completely the opposite of what an advocate should be saying. Instead of conforming to the inequalities currently impacting women’s lives, she is the person who is supposed to be fighting!! She is so young and inexperienced and just has no idea what she’s saying
Also — the statement about negiyah protecting from sexual harassment is horrifying. there is an implied blame the victim there.
AND — the idea that religious Zionism in general ‘protects’ her from the glass ceiling completely flies in the face of reality. the only way in which having a religious boss is better than a non-religious boss is if you’re covering your hair, and then there are fewer assumptions. that’s it.
How many religious Zionism women are there who are CEOs of large companies? How many? If anyone out there can name even one, I would be impressed. How many religious Zionist women have done a powerful hi-tech “exit”? One that I know of. And she says she has no peers at all.
Not to mention the fact that even where religious women get ahead, such as in education where women are often principals of girls’ schools, it is not unheard of for a man to be hired as a school rabbi and make more than a woman. It’s also not unheard of for schools–religious and non-religious — to advertise for a male-only position in religious issues. Yachad in Modi’in opened a track for gemara in the high school and advertised for men only, ‘yeshiva graduates’. So much for the absence of a glass ceiling….
Her ignorance and naivete and condescension, as if she is personally unaffected, are, as I said, shocking, especially for a woman in her position.

I’d like to ask female, religious Zionist readers: Do you feel that Tzipi Hotovely represents you? Are there barriers to women in the religious Zionist world, and if so, what are they?

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  1. I think it is sad that she wants to represent women and is so clueless about her status. unless she is just lying.

  2. I have a carreer in academia and I cannot tell you how mnay times I have been descriminated against because I am a woman!
    I have also been verbally sexually harrassed both in Israel and in the states. Where does this woman live?

  3. Can I also mention when I was a student at Hebrew U there was a religious zionist faculty member who was way too touchy! We would only go to his office in the company of one another. Boy does she make me mad

    • Well, Ariela makes me mad. The question Hotovely addressed on sexual harassment and discrimination was whether or not she was ever victim of same; NOT whether or not Ariela was. Ariela didn’t get the answer she wanted. I guess the interviewer’s question should have been worded, “You have surely suffered from sexual harassment and discrimination, haven’t you?”

  4. I’d be inclined to be a little more generous to her than Dr Stzockman was. I thought she was saying that she knew that work-family balance was an issue for women with families, and she was uncommittal about how she would strike that balance. I think that’s the only fair position for a single woman to take: if she had said “all women can work, regardless of their family situation”, then mothers with small children would accuse her of cluelessness towards the challenges they face.
    I also read the comment about how being shomer negiah protected her from sexual harrassment as just parroting the apologetics she learned in her religious zionist education, not anything sinister like blaming sexual harrassment victims.
    Personally I think Israeli society has a ways to go: while all of my employers have been sympathetic to my childcare responsibilities, none of my husband’s have, and how much can I really get ahead if I’m stuck with all the early pickups, staying home with sick kids, etc?

    • Agree with Channa. I don’t understand Elana’s comment “women with children cannot be expected to work”. Ms Hotovely was merely observing the reality of today’s workplace. Women with children generally don’t put in the hours that single women and men can.

      Why aren’t there more RZ female CEO’s? Because that position requires an insane number of hours that effectively prevents a mother from attending to young children. When I was offered a management position in the startup I work for, I told them straight out I just couldn’t put in hours they needed. I kept my part time position because that’s what worked for my family.

      My husband is a founder of an IPO-track startup. He travels often 2 weeks out of the month and when he’s in the country, he doesn’t get home before 9 pm, earliest. That’s what it takes to get ahead. What mother of young children could really afford that time away from home?

      Is it fair? Could there be better legislation of work hours? I’m not sure that kind of legislation would be good for our national economic growth that’s allowed us entrance into the OECD (becoming a developed country).

      IN any case,I didn’t see anything in this excerpt that showed the MK prescribing what women with children or religious women should and shouldn’t do. She was reflecting reality. I don’t know why she should be derided for that.

  5. Michael Makovi says

    First, I am baffled by Stzockman’s opposition to Hotovely’s statements about motherhood. It is an objective fact that motherhood and careering are going to conflict, simply because a person cannot do two things at once. Now, there may be ways to solve the conflict, but the fact remains that children do take time, and a person has only 24 hours in a day. Those are objective facts. How can Stzockman oppose Hotovely’s expressing these? And if Hotovely’s person solution to the dilemma, is to work fewer hours, on what basis can Stzockman protest? It is Hotovely’s own life. If she wishes to solve the dilemma in that manner, that is her own prerogative. I am reminded of my mother’s saying that some feminists seem to believe that you’re not a woman unless you have an abortion; Stzockman seems to believe you’re not a woman unless you choose to have your motherhood not affect the number of hours you spend at work. (It is of course also a woman’s prerogative to make Stzockman’s choice, but I protest Stzockman’s belief that every woman must make the same choice as her.)

    Second, while I have always loved Hotovely’s views on security and territory, seeing her economic views here, absolutely dismays me. Frankly, her economics are abysmal. Well, most politicians have abysmal economics, ignoring the most basic principles of the laws of economics, but I was hopefully expecting better of Hotovely, alas. For example, the idea of subsidizing childcare and maternity leave is laughable; after all, the money must come from taxes paid by the very same people benefiting. In other words, you must tax mothers to pay for childcare and maternity leave. Government cannot create wealth; it can merely redistribute it. At best, then, unmarried individuals without children will be penalized and coerced to pay for the childcare and maternity leave of others; how is that fair, to tax someone (without his consent!) to pay for something from which he will have no hope of benefiting? That’s about as just as taxing the hilonim to subsidize yeshivot.

    And her idea of funding parties with >35% women, is simply horrifying; it is a blatant violation of due process and equality under the law, because it would entail the government’s bestowing its own favor and encouragement on those political parties which it prefers. What’s next, a subsidization for parties that are especially secular or especially religious? In other words, what right does the government have to discriminate and favor some groups over others? We are supposed to have a government of laws, not men, and equality under the law for everyone.

    And she wants to ban multiple common-law marriages? Whereas the Talmud says that the י of איש and the ה of אשה form י-ה, and that the Shekhina dwells between a man and his wife, apparently, Hotovely, like the rest, wish to replace God with the Government. Why cannot we all just do our own private qidushin, and get the government out of our bedrooms? (Myself, I am planning, God willing, that when I get married, I will use private contracts and business incorporation to achieve all the benefits of marriage without having to get either the institutions of civil marriage or the Chief Rabbinate involved.)

  6. The feeling I get from Stzockman’s comments is that something must wrong with Hotovely because her experience is not what it “should” be. How can you view the facts honestly when you dismiss everyone who does not have your experience as being in denial? Maybe you are the one in denial? Is it so hard to show people the basic respect of admitting that their experience might really be like they say it is?

  7. Tzippi’s young and single and wise enough to know that when (G-d willing) she does marry and have children there’s a good chance that her priorities will change.
    At this point, she has been enough of a novelty in Israeli politics to be “protected” and given opportunities. There’s always a question with the youngsters who suddenly, without fully paying their dues, working their way up, become MK’s. Tsippi’s no different.

  8. I think Elana Stzockman is making a mountain out of a moehill for taking her task over her position on Negiah. It is not apologetics. I am a man who works in a hi-tech company. The morals are quite loose, especially when it comes to touching. If I would not be Shomer Negiah, it could be very easy to go down the slippery slope and end up touching a collegue inappropiately. Being Shomer Negiah is not foolproof, but it does put up an implicit barrier btwn men and women.

  9. My daughter-in-law finished her degree in social work and gave birth to her second child. She did not begin working in her hard won profession until a year later and even then only a 1/3 time job. Why? In order to cover daycare expenses for the two kids she worked 3 mornings a week at her social work and the 4th morning she cared for another woman’s child so that she only had to pay for two mornings of care for the baby.
    For young mothers it’s not about glass ceilings but more like a glass cliff!
    More of my thoughts on Stzockman here:

  10. Nurse Yachne says

    Stzockman’s quite the ideologue. Fanatics like her (“You cannot feel what you feel! It does not look right! YOU do not look right!”) are the reason I don’t identify as a feminist.

  11. “Are there barriers to women in the religious Zionist world, and if so, what are they?” ….

    I believe that when MK Hotoveli says she doesn’t feel discriminated against — that women are “empowered” in the RZ sector — she’s referring mainly to the fact that women in the sector generally do work outside the home and bring in an income that is much needed by their families. The fact of bringing in an income is itself empowering, whether it is a high or a low income.

    What I suspect, though, is that young RZ women are being channeled, socially and culturally, into specific occupations from an early age. It’s not that once they enter the business world they encounter a glass ceiling; it’s that they are moving on from their Sherut Leumi gigs as helpers in kindergartens, to careers as kindergarten teachers — without having been exposed to anything else.

    This is a kind of barrier, but not the kind that can be legislated away by MKs.

    I have nothing but esteem and appreciation for a skilled and devoted ganenet, but I wonder how many of the young women who perform their national service in educational settings are being implicitly encouraged to stay permanently in these settings, whether it suits their talents or not.

    • I think it starts before that. Many ulpanas (girls’ high schools) don’t offer a “megama” (major) in science besides biology.

      • Actually, all of the “top” ulpanot offer chemistry and/or physics, and the girls in those schools are encouraged to “do” (note the Heblish) 4 or even 5 point math.

        young RZ women are being channeled, socially and culturally, into specific occupations from an early age.
        This hasn’t been my experience. Many women in our RZ community are lawyers, doctors, university professors, engineers, scientists, computer programmers, etc. And many of their daughters are going into similar fields. But I suppose, like anything else, YMMV…

    • My MIL is a bookeeper for a biotech startup and many of the labworkers are RZ women. Maybe chardal is different, but I really don’t get the sense that RZ women are being “channeled” in any way.

      • Agree with you.
        We are long past the gananet days (actually it was always special ed).
        Girls go into a wide variety of different careers. In our RZ/hardal community apart from lawyers and accountants, there are occupational therapitsts, speeach therapists, social workers, programmers and more.

        Unfortunately I agree about the lack of chemistry magamaot.
        Too many girls schools still do not offer chemistry or physics, (although mine did), possibly because of the cost of setting up a lab.
        There are many schools, some of which are quite school, so I think they have budget problems, and also cannot offer enough magamot.

  12. May I open up a complete new can of worms? Last night I saw a film called “Women Unchained” about the agunot issue (women whose husbands refuse to give them a “get”). Let’s try asking these women about feeling discriminated against, not by their workplaces or government but by their religion. The film portrayed women who did everything right, halachically, but when their marriages fell apart, they were basically blackmailed by their spouses for huge sums of money before they could be freed. They had little support from the Rabbis. The film was one thing, I have a friend who went through this and lived her life in limbo for years before she was free. I’m sure plenty of you know someone in this situation.

    Does that kind of discrimination count?

    • Absolutely counts. But it’s not something Tzipi Hotovely (or anyone else for the meantime) can legislate away. Yes, it’s built into our religion. And it’s going to take a lot of courageous rabbis to get rid of it. You and I may not see it happen.

    • Michael Makovi says

      It’s for that reason, that I plan on doing my best to try – assuming my someday wife agrees with my following plan – to have a marriage that is recognized as a marriage per se by neither the civil government of Israel nor the Chief Rabbinate. I want to try to craft financial contracts and business incorporations between myself and her, such that the government will recognize it as nothing more than a business partnership. Meanwhile, the erusin and nisuin and such will be done without the Rabbinate, and so we can do all sorts of prenuptials (qidushei tenai, i.e. marriage on condition: e.g., I marry her on condition that if she asks for a get and I refuse to give it to her, the marriage never happened) and whatever else we want, and specify our own chosen rabbis as the agreed arbitrator. That way, neither the civil government nor the Chief Rabbinate will be able to stick their noses in our bedroom.

  13. Nurse Yachne says

    My daughter, who is studying to be a licenced tour guide, was “channelled” in matters of career preparation by her friends and by her upbringing more than by her ulpana.

  14. As a doctoral candidate in Biology in Hebrew U I think the glass ceiling in science is not just for religious women sadly its for all women. In my department 60% of students are women but only 25% of the professors are female. When we sit around at lunch and chat its really infrequent to hear of any of my female friends doing the academia track here in Israel. In Israel to get a job as a professor you need to do a post doc for 4-7 years in Chutz L’Aretz. Come back work a long day publish lots of papers until you get tenure. That is when you are young ie when your kids are young. There is no mommy track that I know of.

    • Y: I know a male Ph.D. in biology, also a father to small children. He was unemployed for a very long time. He told me that he was unwilling to go abroad for a post-doc.

    • I know that women “have” to publish more papers than men do in order to get their tenure.

    • A friend in the US said in his wife’s academic field they discriminate against women if they even *have* children!

    • What’s sad is that there is such a brain drain here in Israel because people go abroad for a post doc get great working conditions and then don’t come back. If the Israel academic institutions respected themselves more they would respect a post doc here in Israel and retain some great scientists.

  15. Ms. Krieger says

    I am not sure why everyone has been offended by Elana Sztockman’s comments. I interpreted MK Tzipi Hotoveli’s comments the same way – obviously she is young and inexperienced in the ways the world really works (against you) when you are a working woman with children.

    And yeah, the shomer negiah thing really, really irked me. Blame the victim implicitly, ugh.

    I hope she is able to continue her political career even after she, g-d willing, marries and has children. That is one thing I admire about former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. I did not agree with her politics, but I was thrilled that a woman with a large family was so prominent.

    Interestingly, male politicians in the US who are very religious (Christians) have criticized Palin for her career. (Rick Santorum, who has seven children, said Palin shouldn’t be spending so much time away from her family…he is a world-class hypocrite.)

    I hope Tzipi Hotoveli does not encounter such hypocritical attitudes when she advances in Israeli political life.

    • She’s young? 32 is hardly a teenager. I think it’s condescending of you to pat her on the head and claim she doesn’t “really” know how the world works. In her case, she’s lucky she doesn’t have to face the challenges of balancing her career with a family. She can devote herself fully to work now and when she does have kids, she’ll be far enough ahead that she’ll be able to call her own shots and work as she pleases. Most religious women don’t get that opportunity because they marry much earlier and are balancing everything right out of the gate. Actually, in the “real world” (ie: non Jewish America, for example) most professional women organize their lives like this these days.

      As for the shomer negiah- once again, she was talking about *her experience*. What victims is she blaming? Did she say all women who are harassed had it coming to them because they didn’t practice SN? No, actually she said: “I think MY behavior as a religious woman puts up barriers that protect ME.” (emphasis is mine) What you or any other woman does in that area are really none of her concern.

      • Ms. Krieger says

        Hotoveli is older than I am. I was not condescending to her because she is young – I was saying she sounded young, from her comments. And no, she really doesn’t sound like she has encountered any of the discrimination, harassment and general crap that the average career working mother encounters. Or even average woman, bar kids at all. I started experiencing, or hearing from other women, about discrimination on the basis of gender and assumed family status when I was in college.

        I live in non-Jewish America and believe me, just because you wait until you are 35 and advanced in your career before having children doesn’t make it any easier to deal in the working world. Maybe if you are already a C-level executive with a private office. Maybe. Mostly, it just makes it harder. Harder to arrange your work life priorities, harder to advance, and of course – harder to conceive.

        • Bottom line, she’s talking about her own experiences. I don’t know why she should be criticised for that. So she herself hasn’t experienced discrimination or sexual harassment. Why does that make her less capable of doing her job? I just don’t get it. She didn’t say she thinks these things don’t exist. Just that she herself hasn’t experienced them.

          I imagine in her scenario, once she marries and has kids, she’ll have a lot of consulting opportunities if she wants to give up public life. Then, yes, she’ll be able to call her own shots.

  16. JerusaleMom says

    A few things:
    One, just to note, Hotovely is the Chairwoman of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women. Gila Gamliel is the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office for Women’s Affairs.

    Two – The difficulty I’ve found as a young mother in Israel with a very demanding full-time job is that all-too often, Israeli childcare is summed up by the wonderful comment “what, you don’t have a grandma or aunt around to pick them up from preschool at 3:30?”. That is the exact line that I heard when I was forced to turn down an offer from the Foreign Ministry because NIS 5500/month couldn’t begin to cover the child care costs that I would incur to participate in FM Cadet’s Course. This is particularly true for immigrants (like me) for whom “grandma” is a 12-hour flight away.

    Three – I agree that employers seem to expect that husbands work despite sick kids etc, and that moms stay home. That has been my (and my DH’s) experience as well.

    Four – I am not visibly religious (no head covering), but I have not found that hand-shaking goes one way or the other in encouraging sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, the ability to “strong-arm” someone who is edging in for a hug (which I AM uncomfortable with), is a nice way to avoid inappropriate contact from either sex.

    In any case, this isn’t the first time that TH has implied that women with children don’t have much business in the workplace. At first, I considered being offended by her assertion, but then I realized that if or when she decides to have kids, she’ll have to deal with the difficult personal questions that young, working mothers have already confronted. Because as a woman who has obviously prioritized her career advancement to a certain degree, if she choses to start a family, she may find it harder than she thinks to give it up in exchange for wife/motherhood.

  17. My God, half the people in this thread sound like hilonim. From the perspective of a male religious Zionist:

    1) “I am… a big believer in making workplaces comfortable for parents, changing workplace cultures…” Are you kidding me? My mother was a real estate agent and kindergarten teacher until she had children. Once she had children, she ELECTED to stay at home to care for me and my brother. And thank God she did! It wasn’t just a matter of her being home to make us a snack when we got home from school, it was a matter of her being able to take care of us when we were sick, of her being able to attend frequent special-needs meetings with my brother’s educators, of being there to listen to us when we had a really bad day at school, etc. What does Ms. Stzockman think a working mother’s workplace ought to do? Allow the mother to use her sick days when her children are sick? Somehow rush the mother home whenever her children are crying and need her despite an hour or more commute in each direction? Do I seriously need to link the numerous studies showing the benefits for children that are brought by their mother being a stay-at-home mother, which often include the “little” things like ensuring that your children eat healthier by virtue of not having to order out food all the time because you’re too tired after a day of work to cook?

    2) “there is an implied blame the victim there…” What liberal claptrap! OF COURSE The Whole Idea of Shomer Negiah and other Tzniut practices is that the “victim” is to blame. We, the victims, choose what we wear! A secular woman often chooses to dress scantily while a religious woman chooses to dress with loose, full-length clothes. But feminists like Ms. Stzockman would have us believe that both the secular woman displaying cleavage and the religious woman who covers up will be stared at equally by men. Common sense dictates otherwise! Unfortunately, Ms. Stzockman doesn’t seem to realize that dressing modestly in this day and age is as much of a statement as wearing a slogan. Dressing according to Tzniut, aside from causing men to pay more attention to you as a person rather than you as a body, displays the slogan, “Don’t even think about it!” What message could be more conducive to productivity? What message could be more conducive to treating each other with professional respect and courtesy? What other message would we ever desire our religious politicians to promote?

    Ms. Stzockman is yet another liberal in a long line of liberals who misunderstands Orthodox Judaism to be the promotion of women as idiots, baby factories, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth! My mother, who I brought up earlier as an example of a stay-at-home mother? She plays the stock market in her free time, and by God she’s gotten pretty good at it. There are plenty of ways for women to make their families extra money either from home or in the community in jobs that are already children-friendly. Ms. Stzockman, who are you to say what the “advancement” of women is or not?! I think that, if we look at the secular sector, and we look at what plagues it – drug usage, pregnancy out-of-wedlock, promiscuity, high divorce rates, etc. – we can see the liberal “advancement” of women as the commoditization of women, of viewing women as a series of numbers – how much will they cost my company? How much will I have to pay them? What are her physical characteristics – which may or may not lead to greater sales for my company? I, as do the majority of Orthodox Judaism, see this as a REGRESSION of of women. And that is precisely how Tzipi Hotovely seems to view your position.

  18. Sol, you rock Religious Zionism! Love what you wrote in the comments! I hope I’m raising my own son to see women in a respectful way.

    People who aren’t religious often mistake laws and limitations in our religion as “enslaving” and as a religious woman, I completely agree with Tzipi Hotovely… our religious values and modesty actually set us free…

    “I come from religious Zionism. Women are empowered there. It’s something I always take with me. In my world there are no real barriers.” amen to that and I’m proud to be passing such values and strength onto my own children.

  19. I would be proud to have Tzipi Hotovely represent me. Look at our society in Israel… violence and aggression starting in PRE-SCHOOL! Children raised by babysitters so their mommies can be CEOs? Look at the kids… 36 3-year-olds being cared for by 2 adults – see what it does to them. I’ve observed it in more than several gannim. Women feel the need to be “valued” at high powered jobs and moving up the career ladder while leaving their own children to be educated and cared for by people… some of them I wouldn’t trust to walk my dog. I know most people won’t agree and some will send angry responses… but there is NO GREATER “career” in the entire world than raising the next generation. Women like Tzipi Hotovely value that. Women like Elana Stzockman belittle it.

  20. I would like to argue that not all woman feel that they can contribute best to their children’s welfare by being a stay-at-home mother. I think it is wrong to suggest that a woman who does not stay at home with her children is less of a mother or that she is less religious. Personally, I tried staying at home with my first child when she was born. I took a year off of my PhD studies to be with her and for the most part felt miserable. Once I started back to work, I felt much better knowing that my children were with people I knew and trusted, who preferred to be stay-at-home mothers, and kept to a similar religious standard as myself and my husband.

    Also, what world do you live in that you can get by on a single income?! My husband and I both are completing PhDs – me in the sciences and he in the humanities – and we know I am more likely to have the decent salary starting out. Therefore, he is the one looking for a more flexible type work situation. With no family in Israel, my husband and I can only rely on each other and the people we pay to watch our children. So we have managed a more equal partnership than most in caring for our children. We alternate working late and pickup/drop-offs and give each other the extra time and space to get critical projects done as they arise. That’s the trade-off of having kids before tenure – very little money so you can not afford a lot of childcare.

    I think one of the greatest challenges of being a working mother fighting the glass ceiling is finding QUALITY childcare. All of the women I have met who are successful in academia and who have children have said that is the critical component of a successful woman in academia or the sciences. If you are worried about your children when you should be working you won’t be as productive as you need to be….and a woman’s success has to exceed that of a man’s in order to make strides in an academic and/or scientific field.

    As for tzniut, I dress modestly and cover my hair. While working in the states I felt it sometimes created more barriers than I would have liked. For example, when giving a presentation I sometimes felt like I was being scrutinized because of my hat rather than being listened to. For this reason, and others, I started wearing a sheitl to work and wore my hats and scarves at home. The more “normal” I looked, the more I was taken seriously at work – especially when pregnant. Anyone else have this experience?

    As for shomer negia, I have found it to be useful in protecting myself from those who would try to become too relaxed in the work relationship, but I don’t find that it protects me from discrimination or sexual harassment. You just have to stand up for yourself and what you believe to be appropriate using all the resources at your disposal…this is something that comes from within and is not necessarily connected a frum upbringing IMHO.

    • Unfortunately, halacha isn’t about what we make of it, but rather what is expected from us by God. There are plenty of examples in Halacha where we are forced to do things that make our stomachs turn – everything from the still-contemporary brit mila, to the example in (I think) Sanhedrin where, given the unanimous finding of guilt by a court in the case of a capital crime leads to the release of the man accused, a ruling is issued that a man should rule according to his opinion and not according to the outcome he wishes, i.e. if everyone else is voting guilty and you want to convict, then you should vote guilty and set him free rather than vote not-guilty and send him to the gallows. What’s the point? That we follow a Torah system because, if we follow it correctly, then the result is what God intended, and that is all that matters – not our personal feelings on the matter.

      Part of the deserved criticism for Modern Orthodoxy is that many of its members adopt the tenets of Judaism that cause them to feel comfortable – finding comfort in prayer, holidays, modest dress, family values, etc. This isn’t Judaism! Judaism is about submitting to the yoke of Heaven, period. The difference, and where Modern Orthodoxy is arguably a legitimate stream of Orthodox Judaism, is in the interpretations of what various tenets mean in modern society. Does watching Hollywood movies violate “bchukoteihem lo teleichu”? Can one roll up their sleeves to the elbow and still be considered “modest”? Is hair still an object of attraction in a society where uncovered hair is the norm? While all of these questions can be answered either yes or no with appropriate evidence for both sides, these aren’t the kind of questions that attack the gender roles inherent to Judaism. If they did, we’d have Modern Orthodox shuls calling women to the bima, which is absurd.

      “I think it is wrong to suggest that a woman who does not stay at home with her children is less of a mother or that she is less religious.” I think that it is wrong to suggest that a woman should not count as a person for purposes of a minyan; I think that it is wrong that electricity is prohibited on Shabbat; I think that it is wrong that vegan restaurants – so strict on vegetarianism that any insect discovered in leafy vegetables on a customer’s plate would ruin the restaurant’s reputation forever – are not considered automatically Kosher in the same way that we don’t need to look for a hechsher on produce at the super; I think that it is pointless that Diaspora Jews still observe two days of Yom Tov despite knowing exactly when the Yom Tov falls due to our satellites, telescopes, and other modern technology; and I think that it is wrong that Jews need to follow the Law of the Land in a Jewish state rather than following halacha. Un/fortunately (depending on your viewpoint), the halacha is clear on these matters, and it’s not my place to dispute it. Why is it your place to dispute that halacha?

      • Sol, since when is it halacha that a woman has to stay home with her children? Seems odd to criticize Modern Orthodoxy for this when the haredim set up their women to support their husbands in learning. There is a lot of room in halacha for different lifestyles.

        • It’s one of those halachot that are “you should” rather than “you must” in contemporary times. Every woman must fulfill the mitzvah of Chinuch, which translates to “educating” her children but also means “raising” her children as well. Although it is an accepted and preferred practice to send our children to schools when they are ready – for they can learn far more academically, in a multitude of subjects from people familiar with the material, in school than at home – Chinuch also deals with raising your children to be a mensch, in the sense that you need to “teach” your children good middot. In olden times, people often couldn’t afford school, and mothers had to stay home and teach their children what they could.

          And this is where the “you should” rather than “you must” comes in – religious schools teach middot, and the term “day school” came from the fact that children were spending all day long in these institutions anyways. So there is some flexibility, and many hareidi families leverage this when faced with the economics of a father and husband who spends all day in the kollel. But there is still no denying that being a stay-at-home mother is the highest form of the mitzvah, and certainly mothers should fulfill Chinuch from the earliest ages of their children when they would otherwise talk about needing “day care”.

          • So, basically, you’re giving your interpretation of halacha. That’s nice for you, but nobody is obligated to follow your interpretation that being a SAHM is the highest form of a woman’s role according to halacha. Otherwise, why do we sing Eishet Chayil every Friday night?

            She seeks wool and flax, and works with her hands willingly/
            She is like the merchant ships, she brings her bread from afar/ She arises while it is still night, and gives food to her household and a portion to her maidservants/She plans for a field, and buys it/She knows that her merchandise is good. /With the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard/She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong/Her candle does not go out at night/She sets her hands to the distaff, and holds the spindle in her hands.

            I’m sure you can get the rest. There is one line towards the end about her chesed and wisdom but the majority of this piyut is praising a woman’s business acumen, not her ability to stay home and tend to children and not even her cooking skills. So, while you may personally believe that women halachically belong at home solely tending to children, I don’t think the sources bear this out.

          • @Abbi

            Re-read the postion of Eshet Chayil that you quote. It describes a woman who takes care of the household.

            “She seeks wool and flax” – which were instrumental in spinning, weaving, and sewing
            “works with her hands willingly” – compliant, not a rebellious woman
            “Gives food to her household and a portion to her maidservants” – i.e. cooks for them
            “She plans for a field, and buys it” – discussing, shall we say, “ingredient sources” for her kitchen
            “She sets her hands to the distaff, and holds the spindle in her hands” – sewing clothes for her family

            Now obviously, in contemporary times most families do not own fields, and it is economically idiotic for women to spend their time sewing when good-quality clothes are readily available for sale cheap. Nevertheless, the psalm says “v’lechem atzlut lo tochel” – that she is never idle for want of something to do. As a result, if she ever finds any free time, “sadin astah vatimkor” – that she will make a cloak and sell it!

            Is there any contemporary difference between the mother I describe – someone who makes a little money on the side trading stocks at home – and someone who sews a cloak in the free time she has? Indeed, you have to wonder – if Eshet Chayil was trying to make the case that a woman should, as her primary profession, do some kind of work not related to the household – why would it specifically bring the example of a seamstress? Why not a merchant, a dock worker, some kind of tradesman? Because the woman was already tasked with sewing clothes for her household. “Marvadim astah lah shesh v’argaman l’vushah” – she makes covers for herself, her clothing is fine linen and purple. Whatever work she takes – if she takes work – should not even remotely endanger her primary purpose, which according to Eshet Chayil is taking care of family and household.

            The essential difference is, of course, that Jews don’t think their wives and mothers to be stupid, relegated to the house because the “female mind” is incapable of understanding the complexities of the world. Of course not! “Piha patchah v’chochma v’torat chesed al l’shonah” – she opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her tongue. Judaism has known since the beginning of time that woman are as smart or smarter than men!

            So please, bring other sources. Eshet Chayil doesn’t hold up to the feminist standard.

          • Sol, again, you and your wife are welcome to enjoy your own interpretation of the sources. However, it’s simply not universal. And since the bulk of the piyut focuses on the woman’s business dealings, this wasn’t something she did “on the side”. It was the bulk of her day. You choose to believe she does these things for her family, but that’s not necessarily so- why would she need to “buy a field” daily to plant food for her family? Shouldn’t her husband be taking care of that icky financial stuff, if she’s supposed to be focused on her family? It’s obvious she regularly engages in real estate transactions for the financial benefit of her family

            She got up early to make some food for her family, but that was it. She wasn’t home teaching the alphabet (so much for your “chinuch” excuse) and she was barely involved with the kids all day. Which accurately reflects a Jewish woman’s role for most of history (read up on Gluckel of Hamln). SAHMing is a modern luxury made up in 50’s American suburbia. It has no basis in halacha. My Bubby’s mother ran the general store in Bukcac, Czecheslovakia. Women have always been involved in business (rather than solely focused on the home) from the time of Eishet Chayil up until today, whether you choose to believe it or not.

  21. rivkayael says

    Kiddushin 30-31 which describes gender specific obligations clearly states that talmud torah is a man’s obligation and chinuch is therefore a man’s obligation.

    • Chinuch is not just limited to Talmud Torah. The belief that Chinuch is limited to Talmud Torah stems from mistaken interpretations of such concepts of “v’talmud torah k’neged kulam,” because hareidim often point to this and say that all of our time should be spent studying Torah and not worrying about our personal finances, so all of Chinuch is about Talmud Torah and not about other matters. Chinuch refers both to a Torah education and to a secular one, so that children can eventually become gainfully employed and put food on the table. Trying to claim that Chinuch is a men-only obligation is like trying to claim that Tefilla is a man-only obligation because Tefilla is related to time. That’s only a half-truth: of course we expect women to pray – just not necessarily on the same schedule as men. Similarly, we expect women to teach their children – just not the same “subjects” that their fathers are teaching them. And, as previously noted, Chinuch also refers to raising children which is a much broader subject.

  22. …and if only all people in our society could view women as “Eshet Chayil”
    Sadly in most cases that I encounter, it’s WOMEN who try to demean and side-line the SAHM.

    SAHMs – the few of you who are out there… thank you for BELIEVING that future adults (our children) are the most important people in your lives.

  23. for the children's sake says


    Thank you for your intelligent responses; this is a subject that is very close to my heart as a mother of a young child, and also someone who has spent a lot of time looking after other women’s children to earn some money. I think that at the very core of the issue is: what impact does it make on a precious, developing little individual so new to this world to be looked after by a mother who loves him, who is there for him, and who is attached to him throughout the day both in a physical and emotional sense VERSUS another baby who is one of many babies being cared for by a child-minder who does not love him, but is merely ‘looking after him’? My interest in my child’s well-being is so intrinsically bound up in my own well-being; his happiness is my own. Is this the case with a baby-sitter? Let me remind you also that a baby being looked after by child-carers in a facility or even in his own home will probably go through several different minders (due to staff turn-over or baby-sitters quitting, etc.) What kind of bond does that creat? I have never loved any of the children I have looked after; to be honest there have been times when I even didn’t really want to even be with them- it was just a job and I needed the money. I wonder whether women who leave their babies at daycare centers think that the child-minder’s face lights up with joy when her baby smiles the way mine did every time with my little baby? Just think about these things. For that reason, there is no way I would have ever left my baby in a day-care (I am writing from Belgium, where babies get stuck in day-care from the age of 8 weeks- 8 weeks!!) My heart goes out to them.

    I am certainly not against women ‘working’ (all women work, by the way, unless they sit on the sofa all day and have a full-time maid.) There has to be a distinction made though in what kinds of work are appropriate for a mother of young children which could allow her to be economically productive in some way while not contradicting her priority as a primary nurturer. The type of woman described in Eshet Chayil was based in a domestic environment; whatever kind of business she was running could have easily been accomplished with a suckling baby at her breast or a toddler on her knee. Women in all cultures and in all times have been productive; the difference is that they worked in environments that did not preclude ‘maternal’ work such as nursing a baby. They had no need for day care. A woman working a field carried a baby strapped to her back as women still do today in many countries; a woman weaving cloth could always put down her work when the baby needed to nurse. There was no contradiction. Her domestic and ‘professional’ work were interwoven in seamless harmony. For reasons of breastfeeding a baby alone, how can a professional women today even spend the majority of her day away from her few-months old baby? Hashem created a woman’s body to be a source of physical and emotional nourishment for her baby; why should I contradict that in order to be able to afford some extra gizmos for my house ? The only mother I have ever met that needed the 2nd income of her job was a Filipino woman who had two young children and lived in a one bedroom apartment with her husband. And even then, she managed to get her mother to look after the baby instead of a day-care. I have yet to meet a family in which the children could not be clothed or fed but for the additional income that the wife’s career provided. We are living in a time of abundance; sometimes I wonder whether ‘needing to work’ means needing to afford a holiday abroad. One of the client’s whose toddler I looked after was a professional woman working for a big pharmaceutical company; she seemed to have had a very successful career. And yet, she came came home around 7 pm every day, and dropped baby off at daycare early in the morning; considering that the child’s bed-time was around 9 pm, that is a grand total of no more than 3 hours a day with the little one. The child, interestingly enough, called me (as well as it’s mother of course) ‘mama’. I would never, ever have traded places….

    I applaud all the women who have made raising their babies and young children their number one priority and have not delegated the job to a girl of a lower economic background so that they could get to sit on an ergonomic office chair all day while someone else changed the diapers. Ladies, your babies need YOU. A lawyer can competently and professionally do the job of another lawyer, a doctor for another doctor- but could anyone else be your baby’s mother?

    • for the children’s sake:
      I hear what you are saying about daycare. I used to hang out in the park with a home care provider. I knew the mother of one of the 2-year-olds. The child was very sweet, played happily, got attention from the provider and one would have said that she was getting good care–and she was. Yet once I saw the mother pick her up at the end of the day. The child underwent a striking transformation. With her mother she was smiling, lively, and responsive. It was clear that in day care she had only been biding time until her mother showed up.
      That being said, there are many reasons parents (let’s not put the burden on moms alone) choose day care. Besides finances, there is career advancement,personal satisfaction and more. Also, the amount and quality of day care do make a difference.