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Women Who Work

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In 1993, Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women initiated the “Take Our Daughters To Work” program (in 2003, it became “Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work”) with the intention of boosting the self-esteem of girls by showing them that they too could do all types of work.

The question of working women was, in fact, not a question in the days of the Talmud. Marriage then was an economic arrangement, and it was assumed that a woman would work along with her husband, whether farming crops or shearing sheep. Without question, running a home in the days of the Talmud was a much more labor intensive task than it is in our age of microwaves and washing machines. The Mishnah actually lists some of the Jewish woman’s basic obligations for maintaining a home: grinding corn, baking bread, washing clothes, cooking, making the beds and working in wool (Ketubot 59b). A woman, however, could live a more leisurely life if, according to the Mishnah, she brought bondswomen with her into the marriage: “If she brought him one bondswoman she need not do any grinding or baking or washing. [if she brought] two bondswomen, she need not even cook…If four, she may lounge in an easy chair” (Ketubot 59b).

The Ketubah, Jewish marriage contract, stipulates that a husband must provide for his wife’s basic needs. But, Jewish law also allows a woman to be mochel (literally forgive or cancel) that obligation. “If, therefore, she said, ‘I do not wish either to be maintained by you or to work for you,’ she is entitled to do so” (Ketubot 58b).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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