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Winter ’12: Questions

For the foreword to this issue, click here.

The contemporary American Jewish community is experiencing substantial change in the traditional marriage dynamic. One of the central factors bringing about this change is the increasing role of the wife in contributing to the financial support of the family. While the traditional family structure had the husband as the breadwinner and the wife as the homemaker and mother, both the husband’s and the wife’s roles have been shifting due to a variety of influences.

For many families, two incomes are necessitated by the high costs associated with living an Orthodox life, such as day school tuition, maintaining large families, and, often, the financial support of married children. Many couples, often in the early years of marriage, choose deliberately to assign the role of primary breadwinner to the wife while the husband studies in a kollel, takes up a career in chinuch (education) or rabbanus (the rabbinate), or pursues an advanced education. And of course, many women choose to join the workforce as a reflection of their personal interests and aspirations.

We must consider the effects these changes are having on the family dynamic, including the possible impact on children and their home experience, on relationships between spouses, and on the respective functions of mother and father.

As a preliminary matter, we need to ask how equipped the Torah community is to assess the consequences of these changes. What data or analyses would help us evaluate the impact of these changes on our families and communities? What is the state of current research on the impact of stay-at-home versus working mothers?

We asked our contributors to address – based on their experience – some or all of the following questions:

1. How do you see the increasing role of mothers as primary or shared breadwinners affecting marriage, parenting and family dynamics in the Torah community?

2. For many families, the wife’s role in the workforce is compelled solely by economic need. Are there priorities and practices, whether for families or communities, that ought to be reconsidered in light of these new pressures? For example, how do we balance the advantages of mothers being at home against the community’s need for the higher tuition the family would be able to pay if the mother were working? How should couples balance the advantages of a mother’s ability to “be there” for her children against her husband’s – or, later on, their children’s – opportunity to pursue advanced education, long-term kollel learning, or an idealistic yet low-paying job? Furthermore, do you believe that current conditions might lead to (or already have led to) a change in the size of Orthodox families, whether with the sanction of halachic authority or, chas v’shalom, without it?

3. How can we guide and advise the many women whose interests and aspirations lead them to consider work outside the home?

4. As the woman’s role now often includes their participating in the workforce and supporting their families – whether by choice or by necessity – are we preparing them sufficiently in such areas as hashkafa, halacha and limud Torah to succeed in this new environment? What adjustments might need to be made to the chinuch of both young men and young women regarding the respective roles they will play, or should play, within the family?