In a Jewish marriage, is cooking and cleaning primarily the woman’s job?
Every good marriage, Jewish or otherwise, is characterized by love, mutual respect, and a sincere desire to live a happy, cooperative, and meaningful life together. It often happens – based on pre-modern patterns – that women assume primary responsibility for household chores and men assume primary responsibility for earning a livelihood to support the family.
But it also happens that the pre-modern model does not work well in many marriages. Unlike in earlier generations, many women today have full-time employment and spend long hours at their jobs. In some cases, women are the main earners for their families.
In such circumstances, it would be extremely unfair to expect women to also assume primary responsibility for cooking and cleaning. Husband and wife must come to a reasonable accommodation of sharing responsibilities based on their own specific situation.
Sharing responsibilities is not only sensible and decent, it also sets a proper model for children. Boys and girls grow up seeing parents who work cooperatively for the benefit of the family. They learn by personal experience that men and women are not pigeonholed into stereotyped roles and that fathers and mothers are loving people who care deeply about each other’s well being.
– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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In previous generations, where the man was the primary earner or learning full-time, the household chores devolved on the women primarily, although a husband was available to help when necessary.
In the present generation, in which many women also earn a living – sometimes to support their husbands who are learning – men by necessity must share in the domestic chores.
If one puts aside the realities of society: A woman’s role is to create a home environment of Torah values and ideals; hence, her main focus is home-oriented chores. And this role is the greatest. When Deborah – who was a prophetess, judge, poetess, warrior, and leader of the Jewish people – wanted to praise herself, she referred to herself as a mother in Israel. This title was greater to her than any of her other titles.
In contrast, a man’s role is to conquer the world, either through Torah learning or by earning a living.
– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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I asked my mother this question. She gave me an emphatic no. She also told how my father, a”h, would encourage her to leave once a week for a shiur while he assumed the chores.
I asked my wife this question. She gave me a look that said simply, “And what makes your work any more important than mine?” If we are both committed to broader responsibilities, why must the cooking and cleaning become any more her problem than mine when we return home?
To be sure, I can only get as far as frying eggs, but my hands are just as capable as hers in washing dishes or mopping a floor.
My rosh kollel many years ago told us rather sternly, “If you’re busy learning Torah, it is your wife’s duty to deal with certain particular chores. If, however, you’re merely reading the paper or doing something else less relevant, it’s your equal obligation to help in whichever way you can.
A man came home from work one day and found his kids messing around and looking like a wreck. There was no supper on the table and the house was a monumental mess. He navigated past the toys and made his way up the stairs and found his wife lying down, relaxing. He looked at her. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m absolutely fine,” she replied.
“But the kitchen, the kids, dinner, the mess?” he cried.
To which she replied, “Do you know how you come home from work and often give me that look that says, ‘What on earth did you do all day?'”
“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.
“Well, today I didn’t do it!”
– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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I believe there’s a much bigger issue here that requires being addressed first – and that is: What’s the primary role of a husband and the primary role of a wife vis-à-vis their family?
While certainly it’s the husband’s role to earn a living and the woman’s role to run the household, unfortunately economic circumstances today typically demand that both parents work, and that puts a strain on many different aspects of the marriage and family.
For that reason, I think the most important focus needs to be on the primary role of the woman, which is being a mother. What that means is the primary focus of both parents should be ensuring that the mother is able to spend as much quality time with the children as possible so that she can give them a nurturing and proper upbringing. And what that normally entails is getting as much cleaning and cooking help as possible – and then spending even a little bit more on it.
At the end of the day, that is far more critical to the household and the family.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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What traditionally were the wife’s responsibilities are not always based on specific halachos. Some simply reflected the fact that the husband worked and the wife was in charge of the home. Yet, Judaism does take tradition seriously.
In a society where women are expected to work out of the house, it is unfair to expect her to return home from a full day’s work and then cook and clean without any help.
How to divide meal preparations – when the family doesn’t rely on commercially-prepared meals – should be determined by each couple. Many will choose to maintain traditional roles with some allowances for the burden placed on the wife while others will have the husband taking on greater responsibility.
But a wife is not a maid, and it is unfair for a husband to rely on his wife’s income while appealing to traditional roles and thus expecting her to cook and clean without him sharing any of the work.
Whether he helps by doing the shopping and folding the laundry or actually does some or all of the cooking should be decided by the two of them.
– Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary