Single Mothers in the Bible?


Hi. Were there any Single Mums by choice recorded in the Scriptures?
Is it better to be a second wife rather than a Single Mum as per Scripture ? 



Dear Elizabeth,

We love questions that challenge us to think and this one certainly did that. Language is incredibly powerful. That is why calling someone bossy vs. strong; homeless vs. a vagrant; illegal vs. undocumented; pro-choice vs. pro-abortion; miserly vs. financially prudent or wealthy vs. stinking rich makes a difference. As George Orwell said, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

A few seasons ago, on the popular show, Downton Abbey, Lady Mary’s husband died on the day she gave birth to a son. When this took place, some articles spoke about how the next season would deal with her life as a single mother. That mistakenly imposes the language of our day on to the times that the show took place. She was not a single mother, she was a widowed mother.

As you note, in a Biblical view there is a world of difference between the tragic case of a widowed mother and choosing to be a single mother. In the case of a child orphaned from his or her father, the father’s family and society in general are commanded to assume responsibility for his widow and offspring. There is no such specific obligation to prioritize help to a woman who opts to have her child without a father in the picture. While on an individual level, we can greatly sympathize with a woman’s desire to have a child whether or not she is married, on a societal level the Bible promotes a mother, a father and children as a unit. The more people who step out of that description of family, the greater the threat to society and to the health of children in general. There is no case in the Torah that presents having a child out of marriage as a positive choice.

Having more than one wife is always depicted as problematic in the Bible, although not illegal. In essence, this makes the point that being in a healthy family structure, even not an ideal one, is better than being outside a family structure. While polygamy rarely took place in Biblical times or later, it has been illegal under Jewish law for Jews of European descent for over 1,000 years. In any event, if it is illegal according to the laws of the land in which Jews are dwelling, it becomes illegal under Jewish law.

We naturally understand that there is sometimes a gap between an intellectual analysis and the emotional reality faced by flesh and blood individuals.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

4 thoughts on “Single Mothers in the Bible?”

  1. What does the bible say about marriage for single mothers. Is there any instruction? Is it okay to marry a single mother (not a widowed mother)?

    1. Hi Ryan,
      We are going to move your question to our ‘Ask the Rabbi’ column so that we can answer it in greater depth.

        1. Gabriel and Ryan, I’m not sure if I’m understanding correctly, but, in and of itself, I don’t see that a woman having had a child out of marriage would make an automatic problem for most men.

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