A Jewish Husband’s Role: Spiritual Leader Of His Household

In the Jewish Bible, the first woman was created as an “ezer k’negdo” IE a helpmate opposite her husband. (Genesis 2:18). However, the claim that Jewish wives, because they are ezer k’negdo, are therefore the spiritual leaders of Jewish households is a feminist concept, not a Torah concept.

Authentic Torah principles are neither feminist nor misogynist. However-the Torah assigned roles to both men and women. The husband has been assigned a role as spiritual leader of the household.

The idea of the husband as spiritual leader of the traditional Jewish household (IE kiddushin marriage) is indicated in both the Jewish Bible and various Talmudic discussions.

“And he (your husband) shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

“And Rav says: Nevertheless, anyone who follows the counsel of his wife (on spiritual/religious matters) descends into Gehenna.” (Talmud, Baba Metzia 59a)

It seems that the Talmud is teaching that a husband may follow his wife’s advice on material matters, but he must not accept his wife’s authority on “matters of heaven” (IE spiritual/religious matters).

Rav Hirsch zt”l indicates a similar concept, ie that Judaism requires a wife to subordinate her will to her husband’s will on spiritual-religious matters.

“This will-subordination of the wife to the husband is a necessary condition of the unity which man and wife should form together. The subordination cannot be the other way about, since the man as zachar (male) has to carry forward the divine and human messages which through every marriage are to be a living force in the household, and to which the husband and wife are in union to devote their forces. Just as the first command of God though addressed to the man was given through him for the woman as well, just as in consequence Adam should not have thrown over the command of God for the sake of Eve but Eve ought to have subjected her desire to the will of God as expressed to her though Adam, so thence forward the husband was to be responsible for the task imposed upon man by God and to carry it out in his marriage and household.” (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, vol. II, pp. 58)

There are those who try to read into the Torah a feminist spin – ie that Sarah was the authority figure of her household. This is not really correct.

“From there he (Avraham) moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent…” (Gen. 12:8)

“The ויעתק is very significantly opposite the אהלה, written with the feminine ה. While where the whole position of his house was concerned, he himself might have to assert his authority over Sarah, here, in the house, his house was actually Sarah’s house. Outwardly the man, inwardly the woman; to subordinate the house entirely to the divine will as the guiding star, man’s authority; In all other domestic affairs, women lead the way…” (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch on Gen. 12:8)

Finally, the Shulchan Aruch ( Jewish Code of Law )makes a statement that is almost never discussed nowadays in “frum” circles.

“Our Rabbis of blessed memory said: “There is no fitting woman except one who does the will of her husband.” (Evan HaEzer 69:7 citing Hagot Maimoni chapter 15 in the name of Tanna d’bei Eliyahu)

For Jews who cannot accept the marital roles assigned by the Torah, perhaps they should consider a pilegesh marriage relationship, an “egalitarian” type of marriage relationship which is actually allowed by a number of great Torah authorities.