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What does the Bible say about moms working outside the home?

What does Ancient Jewish wisdom aka the Bible say about moms? I am naturally a hard working professional however I am also a relatively new mom.

My husband provides, I stay home with my 1 and 3 year olds. If I did work we could make some upgrades.

This topic wasn’t mentioned in Business Secrets from the Bible. What do you say about it?

Amber T.

Dear Amber,

What does the Bible say? The assumption underlying the Bible’s prescription for life is that if each person fulfills his or her obligations, the society will prosper. The basic component of the society is the family, not the individual (though of course there are provisions for those who are alone). Together, a man and a woman make a unit where each of them and any associated children can physically, emotionally and economically thrive. The unit suffers if both husband and wife do exactly the same things, just as a business partnership where each partner does exactly the same as the other would make no sense.

To this end, in the Torah, women are not obligated with most of the positive, time-bound commandments. What does this mean? Women, like men, may not murder, steal or gossip. These are negative commandments. The Torah  obligates women to observe the Sabbath and eat kosher. But commandments that require one to be somewhere or do things in a time-limited manner, such as appearing at the Temple in Jerusalem (or today in synagogue) or even being forced to testify in a court case, are not incumbent upon women. The idea is that a woman is not asked to do anything that would conflict with her ability to care for her household and children. That is her primary responsibility.

Our culture’s message is quite different. Somehow we have turned work into a woman’s prime responsibility as well as painting it in a rosy glow of self-fulfillment as if we are all highly paid and stimulated CEOs of multi-national corporations. To this end, it is most important that our relationship with our children not be allowed to interfere with our training or career advancement. Our children are secondary to our professional aspirations. Hence the demands that government and business change until that is so. That’s certainly not how we see the world.

Here are some of the questions that we would ask you and your husband to consider. And we reject the idea that a husband should say, “It’s her decision,” about matters that impact the big picture of the family any more than a wife can say, “It’s his decision,” about those same matters.

  • Is this entirely a financial matter?
  • Are you being swayed by social pressure that tells you that being with your children is betraying your level of intelligence and training?
  • Are you feeling unfulfilled at home and if so, why? Do you know other young mothers or do you find yourself sitting in the park with nannies and babysitters?
  • How many hours would you need to work to manage those “upgrades” taking into account paying a baby-sitter as well as associated costs like wardrobe upgrade, more prepared food, travel expenses etc.?
  • How do the “upgrades” compare with being the prime influence in your children’s lives and being able to focus on your marriage?
  • Is there something that you can do that will either bring in some income without upending your home situation or that will provide you with credentials or education for the future?
  • Do you crave being a hard working professional or would you prefer to see yourself as a hard working professional wife and mother who does something else on the side?
  • What provides you with soul-satisfaction? What can you do to get more of that from an avenue other than career?
  • Do both you and your husband value what you are doing as a mother or do either of you take it for granted or disparage it?

The most important thing we think you and your husband should do is to picture your goals and dreams for the future, both for you as a couple and you and your children as a family. What is important to you in terms of who your children become? Whatever you do in the short-term should build towards that long-term vision. In that way, you will remain true to your responsibility where family is your primary concern.

Enjoy all the different stages of your life,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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What Are You Really Teaching?

Each parent cares more about some areas of learning than others. If I want my child to be at home in many places, I may emphasize languages. Maybe I care more about English skills than science fluency or the other way around. Sports, dance, music and art are examples of other sectors that some of us care about more and others care about less.

For those of us who are religious, teaching Bible, Torah and religious texts is important. Herein lies a dilemma. We can sometimes forget what our goal is.

For Jews who are faithful to God, Sabbath observance is a core of our lives. Yet, my husband tells of men he observed when he was a young boy, who would smoke (a Sabbath violation) as they studied traditional Jewish texts with great erudition on the Sabbath. Their knowledge was intellectual but skipped their Jewish souls.

What I really care about when it comes to teaching Torah to my children is that they have a close relationship with God and His Word. I am not interested in their getting a PhD in religious studies; I want this relationship to be at the core of everything they do.

However, knowledge does matter. Their relationship is likely to be stronger if they are comfortable with Hebrew. Knowing verses by heart means that they can call on them as needed. Being familiar with texts lets them have a more mature relationship with the Torah as they grow rather than being stuck with juvenile Bible stories. The only way to achieve this proficiency is through often laborious study that will sometimes have them complaining and frowning.

I reposted a Susan’s Musing, Should I or Shouldn’t I, that is somewhat on this topic. The fact is that any worthwhile endeavor takes a lot of work. Yet, people who laze through their lives aren’t generally as happy or successful as those who learn to work towards a goal with diligence and rigor. “No pain, no gain,” applies to learning as well as to exercise.

At a young age, before they have the thrill of mastery, children’s feelings towards God and religion will be formed largely by the atmosphere in their homes. If Bible, synagogue or church, holidays and prayer are greeted with warmth and excitement, that is how they will feel. If they associate their parents with coldness and stress, that is the lens through which they will see God.

I was not successful in always making Bible and religious studies fun and exciting. Sometimes it was just hard work. I’m sure I could have done better. I probably sometimes wrongly held back in my demands out of fear of negative associations as often as I missed opportunities to bring lessons alive. The delicate balance between challenging the intellect, maintaining standards and nurturing the soul, all of which are necessary, is a tightrope that every parent, homeschooling or not, walks.

Don’t Tell the Boss

A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.

This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising.  Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible .  Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.”  He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters.  (Genesis 41:40-45) 

It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself.  Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance.  (Genesis 41:48-49)

So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.

The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
(Genesis 41:55)

Not surprisingly, Pharaoh does what most competent bosses would do—he reminds them of Joseph’s authority and sends them right back to Joseph.

What could possibly account for the Egyptians acting in a manner that seems so irrational?  Pharaoh had emphasized Joseph’s absolute power so clearly that it is unthinkable that they simply forgot.  What made them go over Joseph’s head and submit their appeal directly to Boss Pharaoh?

Ancient Jewish wisdom comes to our rescue.  The clue is the precise wording in Pharaoh’s response to them.  Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians,

…Go to Joseph, that which he says to you, you must do.
(Genesis 41:55)

Ordinarily, in conventional Biblical style, we’d have expected Pharaoh to have said, “That which he commands you, you must do.”  The word ‘says’ ( Hebrew root AMaR) is especially incongruous here since it usually means casual conversation.

Happily, another usage of that word helps us decode its secondary meaning.  In Psalms 119:162 King David says, “I rejoice at Your saying…”  using that same word. This use of AMaR alerts us to hidden meaning. 

The full story is that David uttered these words while in the shower!  That’s right, standing nude with water sluicing over him, David was suddenly overwhelmed by a depressing thought:  Stripped of clothing, I resemble just another animal.  Is that really all I am; just an animal trying to look better than other creatures by donning fancy clothing? 

Glancing down in the midst of these dispiriting musings, he realized that his male member was circumcised.  He was instantly filled with exultation realizing that no animal deliberately marked its body in accordance with God’s directives.  “I rejoice at your instruction to circumcise” said David.  He was after all, not an animal but a human touched by God. 

It is from this account that we understand that the Hebrew root AMaR has a secondary association.  Not only does it mean oral communication but it also means circumcision.  Returning to Joseph in Egypt, we now understand that what Pharaoh really said to his people was, “Go to Joseph, he told you to circumcise, go and do it.”  (Genesis 41:55) No wonder the Egyptians weren’t quick to listen.

It turns out that when the seven years of famine began people began starving immediately.  (Genesis 41:54-55)  I have noticed that many English translations wrongly insert the word “When” at the beginning of verse 55 which mistakenly conceals the suddenness of the transition from having bread to starving.

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the Egyptians did first go to Joseph.  He asked them why they were not eating from food that they surely stockpiled. They responded that their stored food went rotten overnight. “Oh well, in that case,” said Joseph, “you must circumcise.” 

The Egyptians were so outraged at this insane-sounding instruction that they went over Joseph’s head to Pharaoh.  Predictably he told them to obey Joseph.  But why would Joseph tell the Egyptians to circumcise themselves? 

God imbued people with appetites for both sex and food.  Harm inevitably follows immoderate self-indulgence in both.  Furthermore, loss of all constraint in sex usually impacts the food area too.  Which is to say that people who live out their sexual obsessions may lack “enough to eat” meaning that their lack of self-discipline can diminish their ability to accumulate wealth.  Food is of course the most basic use for money. 

Circumcision is a symbol of God’s rules over even the urgency of sex.  We mark that most demanding of organs with a symbol of restraint and self-discipline.  Not surprisingly, those with restraint in the sexual area generally possess it in the financial area too.

The intricate details of these fifteen verses in Genesis 41 help us understand a very subtle but very real relationship that God built into the world.  In Biblical nomenclature, Egypt is associated with licentiousness. 

Our drive for food (money) is inextricably linked to our drive for sex.  If we yield entirely to our lower selves in the sexual arena, we’re liable to suffer in the money area.  It’s interesting to note that America’s economy seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut until the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.

The deterioration in America’s economic power in the world that began in about 1979 was at least partially due to increasing numbers of people wanting more and more in exchange for less and less.  This is exactly the economic consequences one might expect to see coming to a population ever more of which desires more sex and less commitment. 

Commitment means marriage and nobody is surprised by government statistics showing that among families headed by two married parents just 7.5% live in poverty while in families headed by a single parent the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.

Thus, we discover two mistakes that can hurt the ability to earn money.  One is that there is no good way to go over your boss’s head to his boss. The second is that life’s different areas are sometimes unexpectedly linked.

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Why did you pick Sonlight?

Dear Susan,

I really appreciate you breaking out the parenting musings from the past into a separate webpage. Every time you mention homeschooling on AJW  (the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show), I’m all ears.

I know you said you’d discuss curriculum later, but I’m curious as to what part of Sonlight you used. It’s hard for me to justify paying so much for the history packages which seem to be full of trinity theology, but my husband prefers that I find a curriculum package this year. Any thoughts on curricula that come close to being Torah centered would really help. I tried Homeschooling Torah for a while, but found myself having to constantly correct and alter the material. I spent more time prepping than teaching. I only have seven or eight years left with my daughter as a homeschooler. I want it to be a more gratifying experience for both of us!

Suzanne

Hi Suzanne,

One of my dream jobs would be as a curriculum and resource evaluator of educational material. However, that in no way fits into my life right now. I can’t speak in an intelligent fashion about what is currently on the market  because my youngest homeschooler graduated over a decade ago. I sometimes hear about resources from my daughters who are teaching their own children or from friends, but I am pretty much out of the loop.

Having said that, I can tell you why I loved some of the things I used. It could be that they still have the features I enjoyed, there could be others doing the same thing much better and/or they can have changed tremendously since I knew them. For example, one of my friends has used Calvert very successfully for seventeen years but found them changing in the recent past and is trying something new this fall. One of the thrills of homeschooling versus, say being a classroom teacher, is that you don’t have to use things that don’t thrill you or don’t match you or your child’s learning styles. The flip side of that is that you need to do your footwork though it is easy to connect with like-minded people today and compare notes. Do you have people with whom you can share the journey? 

I used Sonlight for two years. I only found them late in my homeschooling career. Their philosophy included a skepticism about workbooks, a love of literature, natural learning, a love of literature, an emphasis on teaching thinking, a love of literature, etc. You get the picture. I loved their catalogue just for the reading lists it included.

I believe that both years we used Sonlight we did American history and I can’t say that I ran into any theology issues. I chose not to do some of the years where the focus might have been more on Christianity, like in European history. Sonlight does come from a Christian perspective – just look at their name, but other than replacing one or two books, I don’t remember it being a concern. There was a support chat group known as “Secular Sonlight,” but I didn’t find it very helpful because I was coming from a religious perspective, even if it was a different one than the program had.

However, it seems that enough people loved Sonlight but wanted less focus on missionaries and Protestant religious figures, especially in world history, that they have made a spin-off called BookShark. I haven’t seen it, but it definitely might be worth a look for you.

The years I used Sonlight, I was preparing material for one child vs. other years when we were a full house. That allowed me to spend time enjoying the literature with my daughter. It gave us a base that seemed a good compromise between completely structured (like Calvert) and creating a curriculum from scratch, which I did do some years.

I have to tell you one anecdote. My husband was speaking at an economic conference when one of the participants came over to introduce himself. The name on his badge looked familiar and I soon realized why. It was John Holzmann who along with his wife, Sarita founded Sonlight. I think I acted a little star-struck and immediately called my daughter (now in her mid-twenties) whose reaction couldn’t have been more excited than if I told her I was chatting with her favorite music star. We both remember those years of learning with great joy.

If Sonlight isn’t going to do that for you, then you aren’t a match. I will follow this with a post on integrating Torah studies into whatever you are using. One of the reasons I liked having a base course of study is that I could spend more of my time focused on preparing the Torah and Hebrew studies.

Hope this was helpful,

Susan Lapin

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Don’t Tell the Boss August 14, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • What does the Bible say about moms working outside the home? August 14, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - What does Ancient Jewish wisdom aka the Bible say about moms? I am naturally a hard working professional however I am also a relatively new mom. My husband provides, I stay home with my 1 and 3 year olds. If I did work we could make some upgrades. This topic wasn’t mentioned in Business Secrets Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Why Discriminate? August 9, 2018 by Susan Lapin - Have you ever played the game Taboo? The goal is to get your teammate to guess a hidden word by giving them clues, but there are certain words you mustn’t use in guiding them. So, if the mystery word is “lemon,” the words “tea” and “car” might be taboo - if you say either of Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • In the Wall Street Journal today August 1, 2018 by Susan Lapin - This morning's Wall Street Journal (August 1, 2018) includes a letter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin on behalf of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. His submission was slightly abridged, but you can read the original letter HERE

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on The Blaze Radio Network. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.

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