Soul Sisters

Sociologically speaking in general terms, the life cycles of women who are born into traditional Orthodox society vary greatly from those women who became newly observant as adults. Women who are frum from birth were hardly touched by the feminist trends and changing mores of our modern world, as they are socialized in a clearly defined traditional female role reminiscent of an earlier era.

The newly observant women can be coming from almost any socioeconomic background and, she could have had any of a myriad number of life experiences. Most likely, if she is of university age or older by the time she entered the fold, she had had a semblance of independence that most frum from birth women could only imagine. Not that this is necessarily good or bad, as I am not making any value judgments—only observations.

I have known newly observant women who were quite accomplished in careers, in the arts or sciences, and who were well travelled. Many of them moved in educated and sophisticated circles and were exposed to the world of culture that most frum from birth women have no connection with. There are also many ordinary women who become newly observant, humbler types who cannot boast of anything more than a mediocre existence before becoming frum. Yet, whatever end of the social or educational scale a newly observant women was on before, for the most part it is safe to say that she was heavily influenced, in one way or another, by the modern post-feminist world she came from.

This would mean that most of the newly observant women had gone to co-ed schools, and had some dating experiences. Some were actually married , or had live-in defacto situations before they became religious. Most had lived on their own, outside their parents’ homes for several years, and some even independently owned their own property. All this means that it is not an a outrageous generalization to assert that women who become newly observant as adults have had a great deal more independence and freedom and a wider variety of worldly experiences than their frum from birth counterparts.

The average life cycle of frum birth women is the following—she grows up knowing that her main vocation in life will be as a wife and mother. Although many frum girls study hard, and have ambitions to become educated, they do not ‘shoot for the stars’ and dream about becoming the first female President. She knows that her G-d given role is more important so she sets her sights on more achievable aspirations that will fit into her frum lifestyle.

Furthermore, the frum from birth women does not usually have as much independence from her parents as her newly observant counterparts have had, as in most cases she lives in her father’s house before marriage. She may have a brief stint in a seminary, or if she does not get married before the age of 23, she may briefly live in an apartment with relatives or friends while she works, all the while bidding her time until she embarks on her true avocation as a Torah observant wife and mother.

To the newly observant woman, the life cycle of the frum from birth woman can seem a bit staid but secure, a straighter path than hers often was, with less trauma and struggle along the way. The frum from birth woman, having been more protected from the plagues of modern society, can seem somewhat naïve but wholesome to the woman who came into Judaism from the tumultous modern world. On the other hand, the frum from birth women may look at her newly observant sisters somewhat askance, and may see her as fascinating but, slightly off balanced. Mutual repsect, tolerance, and ahavas yisroel is called for and we can enrich each other’s lives.

63 comments on “Soul Sisters

  1. And I should note as the child of an abusive, violent mother, that the mother IS NOT in all cases the best person for the job. There is a spectrum of individuality that I feel isn’t being accounted for here. It does take a village.

  2. This editorial strikes me as heavy-handed, among other things negative. The generalizations about “FFB” and “BT” women strike me as extreme caricatures. It seems to be going in the direction of that age old fight between stay-at-home moms and working moms.

  3. B”H

    I didn’t read all the comments here (just too many of them….) but as Modern Orthodox woman, it bothers me that there seems to be an assumption that “FFB” refers only to the Hareidi/Black hat/Yeshivish crowd. I’m FFB (in the MO sense) — I went to Yeshiva day school and Yeshiva high school.

    I went to college (several, actually), I watch TV, I go to movies, also learn Gemara and most of my female friends, “FFB” or “BT”, live on their own or lived on their own at some point in their lives and most of them are also professional women and college graduates (or more).


  4. by Tziporah Sofi. My point of view as a non american soul sister.

    “We don’t have to experience it all to know better, and less good things can happend to the best of girls, nothing is new under this Sky of history, but the skyies them selfs that will change. And to be a minority of a minority of a minority is equivalent of being born Frum in a secular Ghetto, this is also true even when you woulden’t see it happen, that’s why G’d give you 2Binah”

  5. In Lubavitch many couples aspire to be shluchim and they work together as a team in their Chabad House. The women often run the day care centers and schools, work with women giving classes etc. When they have kids, they also play their role as shluchim, in their own small way as they grow up, so it is an entire family endeavor.

    I have rarely met children of shluchim, even those with very busy mothers who are active outside the home, who showed any symptons of being neglected. On the contrary, most of them are the healthiest kids I have ever seen.

    I believe this is because it is not just about how active a mother is but in how she sees her role. If she sees herself as a Jewish mother and an Akeres Habayis PRIMARILY then her kids will absorb a sense of being cherished and feel secure.

  6. >>and there are women who work because they have been pressured by the feminist indoctrination around them.

    I think that in the frum world more women have been pressured to work to support a husband in kollel or a husband who married before he was able even remotely able to support a family that pressured to work by feminism.

    Most women have not been so indoctrinated by feminism as they have been just plain indoctrinated that it is their responsibility to be the breadwinner.

  7. Ora,
    You don’t have to apologize or explain yourself to me because economics dictate that you work. I did touch on that point more than once. Many women have to work, I realize this. Everyone’s situation is unique to them.

    I am broadly addressing hashkafa issues.

    There are women who do not work out of neccessity, but to support a luxurious lifestyle, and there are women who work because they have been pressured by the feminist indoctrination around them. You may not fit into either of those two catagories, but the issues I addressed regarding our hashkafas still stand.

    As for my past, I sacrificed to be a stay at home mom, went to many thrift shops, stood on line getting food stamps. And I was happy to do it. That was almost 15 years ago and it was my choice and I do not regret a second of it.
    Things are much better for us now b’gashmias, thank G-d, but I look back on that early time as some of my happiest years.

  8. Shoshana–
    I think you’re missing the excellent point that several other posters have brought up: if a woman has to work to support her family, she should at least have the education to do it properly. The better her level of education, the more money she will be able to make, and the fewer hours she will have to work. The fewer hours she has to work, the more time she can spend with her children.

    Of course the ideal situation is for the woman to have all day free to raise her children. But the fact is, there are some situations in which that is simply not possible. You haven’t really related to those situations in any of your posts, which is frustrating.

    I will tell you my situation: I have to worry about the money for now, since my husband is still in the army (we’re Israeli). I do the best I can, but it’s not much. I am working on a degree, but in the meantime, minimum wage is about $4/hour and a decent apartment costs at least $400 a month, then there’s utilities, bus fare, food–you see how quickly it can add up for only two people, let alone three. And b’ezrat Hashem soon we will be three. So I am working very hard to get a degree as soon as possible. Not because I want the societal reward that comes with a more “glamorous” job, not because I’ve been brainwashed by feminism, and certainly not because I think my children will need designer clothing. I know many women who have to work to help support their children, and they all do it with great pain, not because they’ve succumbed to feminist pressure or forgotten their true role. To suggest otherwise is insulting.

    It frustrates me very much to read about how working mothers are a sign of self centered society and wrong values, etc. Maybe for some women that’s the case, but for many, working mothers are a sign of the family desperately needing money, nothing more. You are very lucky that you were able to stay home with your children, and I am jealous already. You should appreciate how good you have it and be careful not to make those who are less fortunate feel even worse. A woman’s central role in the home needs to be recognized and respected, but women who are unable to fill that role the way they would like to are to be sympathized with and supported, not preached to.

  9. Shoshana–Of course there are people of all ages who struggle with money. But, an 19 year old who gets married will probably need to work full time, while someone a bit older has probably had more opportunities to get ahead with Hashem’s help.

    And, of course, Hashem provides. But, that does not take away from the fact that people need to make wise decisions and keep their eye on the goal if they want to be home with their children.

    Rachel-I prefer a parent to be home with a child over no parent home with a child. But, there are very few men who will do such a thing because men are just not wired that way generally and they need to be out in the world to get the satisfaction they seek.

    But, I applaud the men who are making the sacrifice.

  10. I guess it is the old nurture–nature controversy.I fall on the nature side of the argument and I believe that because Torah informs me this is the case.

  11. Rachel,

    i do not agree, I believe a mother is given her intrinsic nurturance abilities specific to her by G-d, as a father is too. Both can be good parents, but I do not believe that they are interchangeable. A father can stay home while the mother works, but this does not mean he is capable of giving the same type of parenting that a mother can. Torah recognizes motherhood, we should too.

  12. Shoshana,

    While I agree it is important for a child to have as much parental involvement as possible, it is not always the mother who can provide the best care.

    Every person is different. Some couples have a husband who is more child-care oriented and a wife who is better at working. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the role-reversal, if both parties are happier that way. A stressed mother who doesn’t like being a stay-at-home mom would not be better than a happy stay-at-home dad. Stress of the parents takes a visible toll on the children.

    Obviously, it isn’t so black and white, but I’m just trying to point out that not everyone is cut out for the role society wants them to be in, and that’s ok.

  13. Sephardi Lady,
    There are older people who also struggle with finances. Age is not the only factor.
    We have to do our hishtadlus, I agree, while remembering parnasso comes from Hashem. At the end of the day, work as hard as we want, we are not really in contol of our parnasso but, we are in control of our hashkafa priorities.

  14. Shoshanna, I live in a mixed community and the general trend is that the ladies that married younger and whose husbands were also younger (19-21 for the ladies, 22-24 for the men) and still in school or kollel work many more hours than those who married a bit later (25-28 years).

    I have noticed that there are many more “modern orthodox” women home with their children than “yeshivish” women. So, I think that it is important to consider this.

    I didn’t purposefully marry later (I wasn’t that old), but the entire time I was working, I was working hard to stow away money for the day when I would get to be home with my children (G-d willing). Fortunately, my husband was also working to ensure his finances were in order. This was our hishtadlut. Those that don’t focus on these efforts, more often than not, are unable to have such choices.

    I still believe early marriage is nice, but it does seem to come with the reality that unless parents and in-laws are willing to pull the wait that the mother will more likely be absent, which is a tradegy.

  15. Sephardi Lady,
    Maybe you are correct on a certain level, but if our attitudes are Torah ones, and if we stick to a Torah agenda, then all the other material issues will fall into place. Fix up our hashkafas first. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

  16. Shoshana, Your last two posts (actually three) were very, very well written and articulated and I am in complete agreement.

    I married a bit later (don’t worry, I was and am well within my fertile years b”h) and think that my education and my prowess for saving and investing is why I am home full time doing what I always wanted to do: be a homemaker. If I had married young and did not have a decent education, I doubt that I would be home.

    These choices are not available to young girls who marry young husbands (especially young husbands to work). If we want to put children first (a darn good idea) and encourage women to stay home full time or even part time (also, a darn good idea), than it is absolutely necessary to get the young men trained for a vocation or a career earlier and to foster an environment of thrift and savings. Without these important ingredients we will continue to see more of the same.

  17. Ahuva,
    A woman who works only a 40 hour week (not 80) cannot be a fully functioning mother to small children. Furthermore, the children will not have as secure and nurturing environment without a mom who is home for them, especially during the early years. Looking at it from the perpsective of child rearing, society has forgotten that what motherhood offers is priceless, unique, and irreplaceable. We as frum Yidden must be careful not to assimilate these non-Torah societal ideals that devalue the effects mothering has on children.

    Soceity has become so self centered that the welfare and well being of the children is no longer put as first priority. Children are innocent and dependent and when we bring Jewish neshomas into this world, we are not just responsible for feeding and clothing them, but we are responsbile for making them into spiritually and psychologically healthy human beings. This seems so basic, but is often forgotten, as none of the women posting here have seemed to put the effects all this has on the children as first priority, and that bothers me.

    The children whose mom’s stayed home when they were young have a stronger bond with their mother as adults, are more secure and psychologically resilient, and are far less likely to turn into rebellious attention seeking teenagers than those who were raised without stay at home moms. They are also better prepared to become good parents and spuses themselves. Psychological studies bear all this out.

    So women should stop dwelling on themselves for a moment and think more about how thier choices effect their children.

  18. Ahuva, nothing I wrote contradicts your points. I repeat: I am not against women working, and neither is the Torah, obviously.
    I am talking about making motherhood our main avodah.

  19. Ahuva is right on the money. And her approach can really help those “women who are so burned out that they haven’t got the energy left to be good mothers, (and who)… often make themselves into martyrs, feeling stressed and frustrated.” (The above quote was originally referring to “working women”, but can easily apply to “non-working”* women* as well.)
    (Excuse the oxymoron.)

  20. Whatever happened to moderation? This is not an all or nothing issue. Believing in the importance of a woman to have the ability to work does NOT mean that one is materialistic or thinks that daycare is acceptable. (Don’t get me started on the evils of daycare, please!) There are plenty of white collar jobs where you can work part time and/or work from home. One of the women here spends a few hours in the office a week attending meetings. We all take turns making a fuss over her two daughters while they’re here; they don’t seem the least injured by it. Having the skills to work doesn’t mean that you have to use them– only that they are there if needed.

    The extreme forms of feminism have failed. You can’t be CEO, work 80 hours a week, and be Super Mom and Super Wife. But it is a comfort to me to know that doors are open. If my husband is a brilliant teacher and wants to teach the children during the day, that will be possible. If he wants to be the provider, I can stay home with my babies. If either of us becomes ill or unable to find a job for some reason, the other will be able to step in and make sure there is food on the table. There is also a comfort of working before marriage and putting away a nice nest egg, knowing that your children will not have to provide for you in your old age (or that you have that extra cushion to help your children out).

    There are many paths to a rich, Torah-filled life. Hashem will choose mine, but it is my responsibility to be ready, willing, and able to walk that path.

  21. “Modern society has been so permeated with non-Jewish feminist indoctrination,”

    For the sake of sensitivity, let’s just say “non-Torah” feminist indoctrination.

  22. Don’t whitewash the damage modern feminism has wreaked on the family life of our culture, which has unfortunately affected the frum world too.

    Women’s ‘liberation’ brought sexual ‘freedom’, and an increase in immorality (the sexual revolution of the 1960’s (as spurred on by the birth control pill), and the rise of family breakdowns. The negative impact of the rise in the numbers of children coming from single parent homes is now being felt in all areas of society. And not to mention, the unbiquitous amount of women crowding the waiting rooms of fertility clinics because they forgot to make time in their career schedules for having a family, and now are full of regret and unhappiness.

    Feminism has failed women (and all people) in more ways that I can reiterate now in this forum. Let’s not try and pretend that is not so.

  23. I have noticed that one aspect of this discussion that no one mentioned yet, but me, is the children’s well being.

    From a child’s point of view, they can sense it if they are just another item on their mom’s schedule, something to be squeezed in between meetings and chores.

    Modern society has been so permeated with non-Jewish feminist indoctrination, that women find themselves making apologies for being stay at home moms. Why should she apoplogize that her husband earns enough for her to stay at home? Or maybe she is having self sacrifice to be home, doing without some material comforts so she can be a full time mom. If that is the case, then she should not only NOT be apologetic, but proud, and other women should admire her.

    And yes, life is tough for stay at home moms too. There is laundry, housecleaning, car pools, and the boring mundane tasks that come with motherhood. But a career doesn’t often come with too much glamour either. What exactly is so liberating or exciting about rush hour traffic, the pressure of deadlines, mind– numbing paper work, and tough bosses? And the working mother has it doubly hard, juggling her child’s needs while at work. If this is called freedom, I would hate to see slavery!

    And how about those working women who are so burned out that they haven’t got the energy left to be good mothers? They often make themselves into martyrs, feeling stressed and frustrated. From the perspective of the child’s well being, how much money is all that worth?

    There are no easy solutions, but who ever said being a Jew, or a person, was suppossed to be easy?

  24. I believe children do best when the mother is home with them from birth to about 3–4 years old. After that, they still need their mother to be there when they are home from school. There is no replacement for the security children get from having mommmy around. Children need this much more than they need new designer clothes or the latest toys.

    There are mothers who are forced to work for financial survival. But if whenever possible, it is best for the children for a mother to be at home.And what is defined as financial survival? Can’t children thrive whle wearing thrift shop clothing? Does every Jewish family need a new luxury car or a holiday to the kosher hotels every year? Children need their mother’s attention more than they need those other lovely luxuries. Mothers should take stock and ask themselves if they are working for need or lifestyle.

    Those working professional women who believe that their absence is compensated for with fancy day care centers or ‘quality time’ on the weekends, are fooling themselves. And even if they do spend quality time, they feel so guilty about not being there the rest of the time, they tend to overcompensate by spoiling the kids with permissiveness or material things. It becomes a viscous cycle when a mother is trying to be a great professional and a mother at the same time. She knows that her bond with her children would be much stronger if she were home, and often her guilt about this makes her even more strident about the advantages of having the ‘freedom’ to be a career woman and a mom. When I hear these women rationalize how certain they are that their children are getting the best upbringing in day care centers, the line from Shakespeare,’ Methinks she doth protest too much.” pops into my head.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe had an extrememly close relationship with his mother the Rebbetzin Chana. He revered her and called her his teacher. A mother is the primary and most important teacher a child will ever have. And no amount of materialistic advantages, or high tech fancy day care centers can ever replace her or the early years that could, G-d forbid be lost, and the strong bonding time along with it.

    If we want to create a strong Jewish generation of tomorrow, we must not neglect our children today. Jewish motherhood is probably the single most important and vital aspect to the continuity and vibrancy of our people.

  25. >>Rebbetzin Heller says that in this day and age, when many women need to be in the work force, there is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing higher paying careers.

    Glad to hear an important voice of reason. Once you are leaving your children in someone else’s care, it seems at least prudent to make the most you can.

  26. Ahuva,

    I think what your saying makes sense and there need not be a contradiction between the Torah ideal discussed by Shoshanna and pursuing a well paying career. A lot has to do with how the person views what they are doing.

    Rebbetzin Heller says that in this day and age, when many women need to be in the work force, there is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing higher paying careers.

  27. Having a lot of choices is not the same as saying that we should friviously pick-and-choose whatever gives us the most pleasure. Having choices means that women who do not marry because of the shidduch crisis will not feel that Hashem has abandoned them. Having choices means that my basheret can study as much torah as he likes because I (B”H) am an educated woman and perfectly capable of ensuring we have enough.

    Shoshanna said: “But the prupose for which she buys the land is not to fulffil her need for self excpression, or for self aggrandizement, but to serve her G-d by making her home into a place of kedusha.”

    A woman who is educated in having a career is well placed to make her home into a place of kedusha. The home may very well be more relaxed and comfortable with Hashem’s will. The children will not go hungry if (G-d forbid) her husband is injured or is laid off from work. Life isn’t always what we expect it to be.

  28. I just thouht of another nekudah: the idea of seeing a bounty of choices in life as a positive thing is not a Torah ideal. Whoever said that the world is one giant smorgasbord and that we are put here to spend our lives picking and choosing what we like? Every opportunity, and every pleasure, was not neccessarily put here for me to partake of.

    A Torah Jew knows she has obligations, that her neshoma was sent here for a purpose, and that having too many choices can be a very big test of the yetzer hora. Society today presents women with too many choices, confusing her, and distracting her from being what she is–a woman. ANd the non-Jewish values make women feel as if she is missing out or is out of step if she chooses to make mothering and making a home her priority.

    We Torah women need to learn how to shut out all those non-Jewish influences and to get in touch with our true essence.Yes, we can have choices, within reason, and only if our primary avodah is not compromised.

  29. Gut Voch. It is motzei Shabbos here in Melbourne, Australia, so many of you are now still in Shabbos while I post this.

    There may be many paths to being a frum woman and building a Jewish home. However, this is not germane to my assertions that the holy G-d given mission of a Jewish woman is to be the Akeres Habayis, and that the Jewish woman’s mainly responsible for Jewish continuity.

    Modern feminism was a reaction against goyishe societal values, not Jewish ones. It was the non-Jewish society that created the 1950’s ideal of the suburban happy homemaker, as this was never a Jewish ideal. The Torah view of women was always far more progressive and liberated than that, as Jewish history is replete with examples of strong women who were educated, hard working, and capable. And the Torah itself depicts our great Matriarchs, and many other women, as active agents who played a vital role in the destiny of the lives of their families and our people. When we follow Torah then we have no need for modern feminism as it becomes irrelevant.

    Yet, within this Torah model of Jewish women as active agents who help shape the destiny of their people, there is also the very essential ideal of modesty. Tznius sets the Jewish woman apart as ‘the daughter of the King”, as someone who is refined, self respecting, and held in high esteeem by her husband and her community. Modern feminism, on the other hand, does not put women on a pedestal, but in fact cheapens women, in the guise of sexual freedom and ‘liberation’, modern feminism entraps women into the role of sexual objexcts. Ironically, this is the very role the modern feminsits decry againt.

    Tonight I watched a video of the Lubavticher Rebbe where he said something amazing. He was discussing the issue of ‘who is a Jew’ —-that a Jews is defined as being born of a Jewish mother or having converted according to halacha. The Rebbe said (I am paraphrasing) that the mother has the burden of carrying her child for nine months, and goes through the pain of childbirth, and that she has the zchus of determining that her child is of our people. And then, the Rebbe said, that some committees, made up of mostly men, came along and and tried to take away her right to make her child a Jew. The Rebbe spoke strongly and said one of the greatest crimes a person can do is to take a child away from its mother, implying that these men were guilty of a crime because they were trying to state that the Jewishness of a child does not come from its mother.

    Torah gives the Jewish woman the power to determine who is a Jew. Torah also gives the Jewish woman the power in the main mitzvot on which all of Yiddishkeit stands—Shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpacha. Jewish women do not need modern feminism to become powerful, in fact, the modern feminists have a lot to learn from Torah.

  30. Debbie,

    Which books about feminism and Judaism are you referring to that you say the Bais Yakov’s use?

  31. “Since when does having multiple wives equal higher spiratual levels?”

    It does not. I was just giving two separate examples of the inequality of men and women.

    I feel, based on many years in Yeshiva and conversations with great scholars , that the Torah’s overall message is a certain superior status to men. (That doesn’t mean that women are not superior in some areas.) A lot of the books and lectures that try to argue that the Torah, doesn’t really mean that, sound to me as apologetics. Hashem created us and our phycological, emotional and physical needs. He also created our Torah defined rolls in life. We do ourselves and potential baalei t’shuvah a grave injustice when we try to manipulate or give a face lift to what the Torah says. IMO, part of the problem of numeros divorces and older singles in the baal t’shuvah comunity could be mitigated by kiruv professionals talking straight.

    Unquestionable, feminism has effected frum society profoundly and also unquestionable is that there are some positive aspects to that.

  32. Michoel,

    “feminism has penetrated your thinking”
    Most definitely true. I would not be able to do everything that I currently do if it weren’t for my feminist foremothers. Engineer w/masters, married but not defined by my husbands career, able to make a budget and pay the bills, discuss everything and anything on a equal footing with my husband – although sometimes he knows more and sometimes I do but we can educate each other.

    I meant that because feminism has influenced Jewish thinking it has given greater numbers of FFB girls the opportunity of going to learn in seminary. I was just trying to point out at least one area where “my definition” of feminism has affected frum Judaism. I realize that it is seperate and unequal education – in that women do not learn Talmud in many of the seminaries. And I am not going to argue on whether or not they should because that is a different topic. But the fact that they have a place to go and continue Jewish education, like the purpose of Yeshivas, is a great thing.

    I think that the way we look at Judaism is different due to how the feminist movement has affected our society. There are several books regarding judaism and feminism that would never have been published were it not for the feminist movement and, as far as I know, these ideas are taught in the Bais Yaakovs, etc. But perhaps not in the hashkafic schools of Shoshana’s definition.

    I don’t know what you mean by “Ramchal says explicitly that there are spiritual levels attainable by men that are un-attainable by women. Al pi Torah, a man can have multiple wives but a woman can have one husband”

    Since when does having multiple wives equal higher spiratual levels? In fact, I have heard that since women are able to give birth they can reach higher spiritual levels then men since they are closer to Hashem in the process of giving life. But only Hashem knows which is true and we just have to try our best male or female.

    I know that the mitzvos commanded are seperate and unequal. But the fact that it takes a partnership and not the man has the most important role (as in many secular patriarchial societies), has been long known in Judaism. There are many safeguards regarding the treatment of women built into Judaic mitzvos-hashkafas-minhagim. And many of the mitzvos that were given to men are still an option for women to fulfill – though I have read opinions that women don’t get as much of a reward as the man for doing so. I think it is more like extra credit as long as the women fulfills the mitzvos commanded to them as well.
    Just because women have fewer mitzvos does not mean that the mitzvos are less important or only lead to a lesser reward, which only Hashem knows.

    as an aside:
    The most ironic thing about feminism is that women used to have to work to get enough money to support a family for many thousands of years – even if it meant things like helping to run the store or to sew clothes, etc. But in the 1800s staying home was seen as a luxury. Which then went too far, that the idea of women couldn’t do as much as men – because they weren’t educated the same. So the pendulum has swung too far towards the type of feminism ideas that Shoshana harpes on. And I stand with her against those areas of feminism. But I have also heard of some feminists who are now swinging the other directions to try for better Family, Medical, Leave, flexible schedules, etc.

  33. I thought that you were criticizing her depiction of the Jewish woman’s role. As if to say that since this forum is read by lots of folks, we should present a different picture as the “true” picture. Therefore, I was saying that she has every right to say that her view is THE Torah view, if that’s how she sees things. No, I certianly don’t want to censor you from commenting.

  34. Not quite sure how you deduced from my post that I was asking Shoshana to self-censor her post. Of course she is free to write whatever she wants. (As long it passes the moderators’s censorship. :) However, the “godlus” of a blog is that it gives readers the oppurtunity to comment and expand on the origiinal post. You wouldn’t want to censor me from commenting would you?

  35. Menachem,
    “I feel that it’s important, especially in this forum, to let people know that there are many paths open to becoming frum and to raising a frum family.”

    I feel that self-censorship is a much bigger problem than expressing a view that might turn someone off. Shoshana is expressing a valid opinion.

  36. I fully endorse Shoshana’s original post. Yes things are more complicazted, but that can be said about any comment made in the limited medium of internet forums.

    Debbie wrote “Feminism : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
    Which is an idea inherent in Judaism. But was not always practiced. It wasn’t until very recent that girls could attend a Jewish school, let alone seminary. These things have a HUGE affect on FFB girls today.”

    Debbie, with all due respect, you are actually showing that feminism has penetrated your thinking to such a degree that you don’t see the difference between femenist ideology and Torah ideology. Why does getting an education and going to seminary have to be a greater expression of equatlity than staying home and not going to seminary? Also, where does it say in the Torah that men and women are equal? The Ramchal says explicitly that there are spiritual levels attainable by men that are un-attainable by women. Al pi Torah, a man can have multiple wives but a woman can have one husband. I am not sure what the word equal means but I do agree that men and women are equal according to some definition of the word. But they are definitely not equal according the the secular definition you are using. According to the secular and feminist definition of “equlity” men and woman are NOT equal. And saying that the Torah really says they are is very, very damaging to both women and men.

  37. Shoshana,

    I don’t think anyone here is disagreeing with your proposition that the central role for a woman is to maintain the kedusha of the home.

    However, if you go back to your original post you’ll see that in order to make your point about the differences between FFB and BT women you very narrowly defined the upbringing of FFB women. What I think is trying to be pointed out to you is that there are communities and hashkafot of very frum women who do not fit many of the generalizations you ascribed to FFB women.

    So contrary to the picture of FFB women you drew, there are FFB women who go to college, become professionals, live independently before marriage, and have career aspirations all while being fully ware of their “prime directive”. There are also communities where women fit the mold just as you described. One of the real advantages of being a BT is that we have greater freedom to choose what fits us best.

    I feel that it’s important, especially in this forum, to let people know that there are many paths open to becoming frum and to raising a frum family. To a potential BT woman (or man) who is turned off by the image of their daughter living a “life cycle” that is a “bit staid but secure” as you describe it, I’m saying that there are frum communities who hold hashkafot that will allow your daughters to strive for their potentials in all areas.

  38. One more post: the Jewish ideal of the Akeres Habayis is not to be a Jewish version of Martha Stewart. It is not about the externals of homemaking, but about the inner spiritual life of the family.

    The mitzvot of Shabbos, kashrut, and taharas hamishpacha are central to Torah life and Jewish continuity. Without these mitzvot there is no Yiddishkeit, and Hashem entrusts them not to men, but to women. Furthermore, only a woman knows if she is telling the truth about the carrying out of the kashrus or the taharas hamishpacha, so Hashem relies on her completely to do these mitzvot correctly and honestly. Torah life is not based on the men’s domain of the shule and the Beis Hamedrash but ultimately, the entire life of the Torah is in the hands of the women who run the homes.

  39. Stepima here are some of your misunderstandings of my posts:
    I never defined frumkite as 6-8 children. I merely stated that is the statistical average number of children frum families usually have.

    The Feminine Mystique was a Marxist tractate and even the author, Betty Friedan, retracted her thesis in her later years when she realized what a mess she had made of a generation.

    Your mother was certainly not the norm for FFB women of her generation. But having educated women in Yiddishkeit is not a new feminist ideal. One hundred years ago, the average frum women probably knew more Torah than we do today. Jewish women always studied, so what’s the chiddush with that? But those women of earlier generations knew what their priorities were, they knew that even if they had educations and jobs, their primary role was to be the Akeres Habayis.

    My position is not extreme. How do you define choice? Jewish women should be what they truly are, what they were created for. To try and suppress and deny what we truly are, will only cause us to be in psychological and spiritual strife, and this will in turn, as experience shows us, result in the destrucution of Jewish continuity, G-d forbid!

  40. Sory, Stepima, Why are you insulted? Perhaps, you take all this a little bit too personally? I can sense your defensiveness and your anger. Where does it come from? This also explains why you did not understand my posts, and added your own twist to what I wrote. I am not for keeping women ‘barefoot and pregnant’ but, at the same time, I am not going to whitewash the damage modern feminism has done to an entire generation of Jewish and non-Jewish families.

    I am not intersted in debating feminism.

    My main point is that according to Torah, regardless of what work, if any, a woman does, her holy G-d given mission is to be the Akeres Habayis. That means she sets the tone for the Torah haskhkafas of her home, and she is given the main task of providing Jewish continuity.

    This holy G-d given mission is more important than any career.

    Eishes Chayil is not a feminist tract. In Yiddishkeit, there is no contradiction for a woman to fullfill her G-d given role while buying a piece of land too. But the prupose for which she buys the land is not to fulffil her need for self excpression, or for self aggrandizement, but to serve her G-d by making her home into a place of kedusha.

  41. Shoshanna, I find your definition of frumkeit extremely narrow (your 6-8 child average is particularly telling), and your definition of feminism insulting. At its inception in the 50’s, women were practically second-class citizens in their homes, and early feminists needed to be strident. Thanks to books like The Feminine Mystique, women are finally able to go to top colleges, get high-ranking jobs, and not be forced to stay in unfulfilling roles as homemakers if they choose not to. It is about providing women with choices, where before there were none.

    My mother graduated magna cum laude from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a degree in mathematics, and was told that she couldn’t get a job as an engineer unless she first worked in the secretarial pool for five years. And yes, she was FFB. The daughter of Auschwitz survivors whe were also FFB. Who taught her to value education, because everything else could be taken away from you. She ended up teaching math at a girl’s high school. All her potential went to waste, because that’s the way the world worked back then. Thank G-d the feminist movement succeeded as well as it did, for my generation and those who are here after me.

    There is no way to read eyshet chayil without being a feminist. A woman would not be capable of sizing up a field in order to buy it, for example, without at least a limited grounding in agriculture – to know if the field was arable or not, and what price to pay. She could not be successful in the marketplace if she just wandered out haphazardedly – she was a businesswoman. That is why her husband praises her – because she runs his household, not just his home. She’s not just a good little wife who bears children. Hashem wants us to be capable of more than just to be shut into that tiny box.

    I recognize that you disagree with me – and that you will refuse to accept both my definitions as I do yours. But even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you can recognize that even though your personal opinion holds firm that being your flavor of FFB allows you to reject feminism because of it – that that is a subset, and not the norm.

    And I am only holding to that point because I am truly afraid that such an extreme position will alienate many women who are here and striving toward frumkeit, who would be horrified to be told that the only way to live as true Torah Jews is to reject their ideals as women in favor of the archaism of the last 19 centuries.

  42. I tell people that as the man, I’m the head of my family.
    To which my wife chimes in, “and I’m the neck.”
    (Don’t worry, after Adar is over, I’ll get more serious.)

  43. To set the record straight: the feminism I described is not radical feminism at all. Radical feminism, according to their own feminist literature (see Andrea Dworkin’s writings), is the ideology that encourages life without men, lesbianism, basically using men as mere sperm donors. The feminism I described is very much in line with mainstream feminist thought, as was first set out by Betty Friedan in her book
    The Feminist Mystique” in which she characterized suburban women as unpaid exploited labour.This then launched the emphasis on careerism for women that we still see today. A shift then occured in the 1980’s-1990’s, when great numbers of women found out that feminist freedom had cheated them out of the joys of motherhood, had left them alone, unfullfilled and infertile. Since then many women have been rediscovering the advantages of the traditional female role, but after almost 40 years of feminist confusion, they are finding it very difficult to make their lives actually workn for them. What we are left with is one of the most discontent and frustrated generation of women history has ever seen.

  44. Chaim G.,
    You are opening a tremendous subject. I think the effects of feminism can be more significant for baalei t’shuvah men then they are for women. I don’t have time to run with this but I wish someone else would. The idea of the man being THE MAN is a huge adjustment for a lot of baalei t’shuvah.

  45. I noted with interest that today’s New York Times headlines email features a quote from a woman about how she and her peers were duped by the myth that they (we) could ‘have it all.’ I’m not sure what the context was.

    I don’t have children yet, but I work very hard to make a home, hold down a job, go to school full-time, do chesed and host large Shabbat meals with my husband. When I feel like I’m burning the candle at both ends, I think about the Eshet Chayil (the ultimate multitasker) and feel inspired. If I wasn’t spiritually rooted, I don’t know how I would live this way.

  46. “Feminism is the ideology that devalues marriage and motherhood, idealizes careerism, demeans and cheapens women’s sexuality, and encourages abortions as a convenience.”

    This definition is fairly fringe even in the feminist world. It stems from all of the bad thing that you perceive equating a women to a man has led to. Leaving out all of the good points that have come of the women are just as good as men.

    Feminism : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

    Which is an idea inherent in Judaism. But was not always practiced. It wasn’t until very recent that girls could attend a Jewish school, let alone seminary. These things have a HUGE affect on FFB girls today.

    I don’t think it is fair to say that girls born in homes with more secular leanings are going to be affected by the unwanted side effects, more than those who come from frum families. There are many Jews and in the less religious movements that disagree with the above parts of the feminist movements. (they do tend to be less vocal in public)

  47. Barely touched in this thread is how feminism has impacted the MALE. Does a BT male have a different sensibility about femininity and, consequently, their own identity as men? Do they have different expectations from their wives and daughters than those men raised frum would? Does this have a bearing on “mixed” (ie one spouse raised frum the other not) marriages and, in particular, second marriages with blended families? Do the soul-brothers have any thoughts on these issues?

  48. Shoshana, There are certainly different degrees of feminism and you touched upon the more radical ideas. Growing up, my parents always spoke about the mistaken feminist idea that a woman can “have it all” while everyone has their needs taken cre of. So that the perspective that I am coming from, not a more radical perspective, and I see the frum world suffers from this as much if not more so than the rest of the world.

  49. How do you define feminism? I do not define it as having the freedom to work outside the home. What’s so new about that? Historically, many Jewish women worked outside the home so the husbands could learn Torah, so this has nothing to do with today’s kollel movement, as it has been going on for centuries.

    Feminism is the ideology that devalues marriage and motherhood, idealizes careerism, demeans and cheapens women’s sexuality, and encourages abortions as a convenience. Modern feminism is the ideology originally spawned by Betty Friedan that resulted in the decimation of the nuclear family that we see today.

    I assert that most FFB women did not grow up as influenced by the above mentioned ideology as those who were socialized and educated in the secular world.

  50. I don’t know where you are coming from stating that (Charedi) FFB women are basically unaffected by feminism. Most FFB women that I know would not give up their work outside the home to be home with their children full time if there were no financial concerns.

    In fact, it is probably feminism that has allowed the kollel movement to flourish. I can’t imagine a “right-wing” Christian woman marrying someone who wasn’t planning on supporting her. But, this is the norm amongst Bais Yaakov girls.

  51. By the way Stepima, I did not say that 6-8 children was the ideal, but it is the average number of children for frum women today.

    Regardless that some women do not marry or have children does not change the Torah’s instruction that the PRIMARY mission of a Jewish woman is that of Akres Habayis. For mystical reasons known only to Hashem, some women are not able to fulfill that mission, or there are women who choose not to fulfill that holy mission. Nevertheless, a woman’s stated purpose in this world is clearly brought down to us–a woman was created to be the giver of life, and the giver of Torah to the next generation, and the one who makes the Jewish home into a holy place.

  52. The primary role of a Jewish woman according to Torah is to emulate our matriarchs Sara, Rifkah, Rochel, and Leah, and to be the Akeres Habayis, making our home a miniature Beis Hamikdash, a place of holiness providing Jewish continuity for the future generations.

    This does not preclude a woman working if she has to, or having a profession that expresses her talents. But all this must be secondary to her primary G-d given role as Akeres Habayis. A Yid is here on a holy mission, and a man has his holy mission he was created for, as does a woman.

  53. Actually, in my previous community it was the norm. Though, the average number of kids was more like 4-5. Also, in that community the vast majority of young woman my daughter’s age are going to college with some type of career goal.

    With the financial pressures of a modern frum family it is becoming less common for women to have the luxary of being stay at home moms. In the most practical sense, if a woman has to go out and work, even part time, better she should earn on the level of a proffesional. This as the double advantage of allowing her to feel more satisfied with her work while bringing in greater earnings.

    Even in more chareidi circles more young women are going for advanced degrees as, ironically, they are expected, at least initially, to be the primary bread winners.

  54. Menachem wrote: BT’s need to know that there is a range of oppurtunity for frum women, and their daughters.

    This statement above is one that is heavily influenced by feminist thought.
    Now I am going to state something really controversial: the Torah stipulates that the primary purpose of a Jewish woman is to be the Akeres Habayis, to be the one who ensures Jewish continuity. Everything else, all her career accomplishments, all her gemilas chesedim, is secondary to that. Hashem created women to be first and foremost the life givers. And while she may have other talents that G-d gave her, she should use them in the service of Hashem, and always remember that a woman was created for a holy purpose that comes before everything else. Having so many opporutnites to choose from could be a negative thing for frum women, because it could distract her from her holy mission in this world.

  55. I have to agree with Menachem.

    If you’re going to define FFB as meaning chareidi, Ultra-Ortadox, chassidic, etc, okay, fine. But I think that’s a very narrow reading of the word frum. I also know many many people who were raised frum from birth, from families of rabbis and torah scholars no less (one of my best friends at my Ivy-League college, in fact, was a very close relative of Rav Soloveitchik)… and they were absolutely raised to value having real jobs, a real place in the workplace should it be something they valued, and a voice that’s worth hearing when it comes to a complete secular and Torah education. After all, while all women hope to marry, especially in the world of the “shidduch crisis” we all know exists, it’s not a given. And while for some women 6-8 children (as Shoshanna gives as an ideal) may be life’s destiny, for others Hashem doesn’t give such a fortunate future. They may try for years and sadly have no luck. To shunt those women off into low-paying jobs due to 2-years of seminary education because they’re “just girls” is not just short-sighted, it’s almost cruel. The frum parents I know – frum from birth themselves, going generations back – wouldn’t even consider that an option.

    The frum parents I know know that choosing not to prepare their daughters to thrive in a world where disappointments may come is doing them no favors. “Feminism” – in the pejorative sense that I suspect the author of the column means it – has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with feminism in its inherent meaning – treating their daughters as being equally viable humans as their sons, who have the same rights and responsibilities to expand their minds and not feel trapped into roles they’re not suited for. To live a Torah lifestyle, absolutely. And not stray from that path. But to live a happy life with all the wonderful choices Hashem gives us that fit within that framework. We don’t live in a day and age when most women can afford to be stay-at-home moms. A woman can be a doctor who works flex-time as much as she can be a teacher. Her paycheck can then help support her family — or even help support a husband who wants to learn in kollel – far better, no matter how many kids come into the picture. Especially if HE plays an active role. And if he doesn’t, then no matter what job she takes, I don’t believe she will have an entirely happy life – working full-time, caring for children, taking care of the home, and not being supported. Frankly, those are the women who need feminism the most.

  56. To Menachem,
    I would venture to guess that while you may know many professional women who suppossedly balance their homes and careers, these are not the norm. Most women would find it a daunting task, to say the least, to have 6-8 children and be a successful lawyer at the same time. Something would have to suffer, either in the career or in the mothering, or the mother herself!

    While modern feminism has touched us all, most of the frum from birth women have not been as immersed in those ideologies as the BT’s who were steeped in feminist indoctrination since grade school. The FFB women, for the most part, still had a Torah view of women being presented to them while they were growing up, while the BT’s did not, thereby tempering or counteracting the feminist influences.

  57. I recently went back to college after a hiatus. I attend a religious college, and most of my classmates are young, unmarried girls from American charedi or right-leaning MO homes. My perception is that many of them are very affected by modern expectations for academic and professional achievement, and that they feel a lot of the same tensions that other young women feel. At least in America, there is no life in a bubble for FFB girls.

    As a young BT, I was engaged by age 20. I wish the same for my future children (G-d willing), but I don’t think the expectation of getting married and having lots of children makes the balancing act any easier.

  58. “Women who are frum from birth were hardly touched by the feminist trends and changing mores of our modern world, as they are socialized in a clearly defined traditional female role reminiscent of an earlier era.”

    I do not understand where you get this from. To my annecdotal awareness this statement is not true. So I am really confused as to where in the spectrum there are “FFB” women, who are hardly touched by feminist trends.

    Many women go into studying things like physical therapy (only as an example), graduate ready to work a full time career and move out of their parents’ houses.

  59. I think the generalizations in this article are somewhat overreaching. I know many FFB professional women; doctors, lawyers, dentists, therapists, etc., who are able to balance their successful careers with wonderful frum families.

    I think you’ve painted an unnesecarily monolithic picture of orhtodox Judaism, especially for this forum. BT’s need to know that there is a range of oppurtunity for frum women, and their daughters. Your observations “may” more accurately describe the chareidi world, but that by no means is the only path open to a sincere baal teshuva.

  60. Whoa, Isaac – those statements regarding BTs are a little harsh, don’t you think? I’m sure that is the case in some instances; but a good number of BTs come from Conservative/Reform/Reconstructionist backgrounds, have families with a strong value system, lived in the upscale suburbs in a stable and nurturing environment. Just because you were not born an Orthodox Jew, does not mean you have “baggage” or that you were wild.

    In response to the article, I think that Hashem provides the paths which fit the individual. If you follow them – that’s ultimately up to you. But perhaps our neshama was not “made” to be brought up in a frum environment from birth. Perhaps those skills and experiences will be needed to enrich the frum world when we make it there.

  61. There are some interesting , albeit not neccesarily overly sympathetic sociological studies of BTs of all kinds that make for interestig reading in one’s spare time.

  62. Interesting article. That is mainly why I as a BT want only to date FFBs. I find that the BT women are coming with so much baggage from the MTV world it is just not worth getting involved with. I am also looking for someone who is grounded and normal in the Judaism. I find that many BTs have this huge burst of inspiration and it is unknown whether or not they will continue to want to grow etc.

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