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Katie Harris, a Cleveland native, is a freelance writer and author of the blog Midwest Mama in Israel where she discusses cooking, religion, and modern motherhood. She currently lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel with her husband and baby boy.
One of the reasons why I love the Jewish concept of marriage is because it demands respect from both partners. I respect my husband because he is intelligent, hardworking with a will of steel, and is a genuinely compassionate person. But I respect him because he is my husband. And the father of my son. Right away the feminist in me is piping up saying:
That’s just years of sexism talking. What about respect for ME?
When you read it out loud, it seems more than a bit egocentric. Since becoming more involved in Judaism, my concept of feminism, femininity, and marriage have been completely toppled and redesigned. Our Sages teach that a man should honor his wife more than himself, and in doing so will have peace in his tent. That’s easy enough to say, but if you delve into that statement and its ramifications, it’s quite a feat.
We are naturally self-absorbed. Even the most benevolent person has a stitch of self-preservation in his blood. Whenever a situation presents itself we automatically think “how is this going to affect me?” But a husband is meant to overcome that: to transcend that selfish nature and give to his wife even more than what he gives to himself.
Ok, so my husband is giving me the better portion of meat. But what am I supposed to give him? Do I really have to give up my whole life to serve my husband?
Growing up in a post-feminist society, I was always torn with the concept of marriage. I knew I wanted to be married, and I always wanted kids, but the idea of a wife who stays home and “tends the house” was not, from my understanding, what a true feminist should aspire to.
Because women fought so hard and for so long to gain headway in the workforce, it seemed a shame to throw all that away. So why, despite everything, did I yearn for diapers, cookies, and dinner on the table at 6? I think there is a much larger and more complicated issue at work here.
After getting married in 2009, my husband decided to continue learning in the yeshiva in Jerusalem where he had been studying up until our wedding. I am an educated woman, with a degree from a well respected place of higher learning. At this point, I could have taken the modern woman’s approach and got my tush out into the workplace.
But when I discovered that I was pregnant, I realized what I would be giving up if I were to work a 9-5 job. I would have to send my kid to daycare, maybe after-school daycare and quite possibly miss out on many of his childhood milestones.
Don’t get me wrong, working sistas. Working is nothing to sneeze at and if you need to go, do it. But I wanted that precious time at home. Immediately my husband stepped up to the plate and left yeshiva, and quickly found work managing an up and coming restaurant outside of Jerusalem.
What we discovered was remarkable. My husband flourished at his job as he had done for years working hard on the kibbutz where he was raised. And I have never been happier raising my little baby boy, experimenting in the kitchen, and taking time to do what I love- write.
As we decided to fulfill these more “traditional” roles, I came to see my husband in a whole new light, and respect him for the man and caretaker that he is. Just as Judaism teaches of respect for a wife, the Talmud says “If you treat your husband like a king, he will treat you like a queen.” I want my son to grow up and see his father as Superman- the one who can do anything, and will do anything for his family.
My own father was this way. I believe wholeheartedly that if my entire family were kidnapped by a boat full of pirates, my father would find a way to save us. I feel the same way about my husband, and I think that’s why I married him.
Growing up with the modern idea of what a woman should be, I became a De facto feminist, believing in the lingo and ideas that men and women are equal in every way and should be treated as such. But being equal does not mean that we are the same. It does not mean that we should share the same strengths or weaknesses. My husband excelled in the workplace, and I at home. That does not make either one of us better or worse. In fact, it has created a stronger partnership.
As I go forward in my life as a wife and mother, and yes, a feminist, I hope to keep redefining myself with every new opportunity. Judaism, with its praise for every aspect of the family, has given me the liberty to embrace a nurturing role that I otherwise might have missed.