Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Iyun”: Deliberations > The Lost Joy of Receiving

The Lost Joy of Receiving

Exposure to feminist ideas of equality and empowerment, combined with the internal challenges of the Charedi marriage structure, can make the idea of "receiving" especially hard for Charedi women. Building stable and healthy relationships requires us to learn the art of trust and stop fearing to receive.

Nissan 5781; March 2021

In our day and age, women have become independent in many fields of life that were previously male-dominated: earning an income, financial management, dealing with practical halachic issues, and general decision making. This modern mindset has been internalized even in Charedi communities. By the nature of things, it deeply affects life in general, and marriage in particular. At a discussion group I recently participated in, one participant semi-jokingly said that it would be enough for her to have one conversation a week with her husband. To my surprise, the group chose to take her seriously and nodded in agreement. Yes, a woman gets along better without her husband. She has all the tools she needs to manage her household and her family on her own and can suffice with occasional visits by her husband to change a lightbulb or carry out other small tasks still reserved for men.

This is albeit just one anecdote, but it represents a deeply held attitude that blurs the traditional division of labor between men and women, undermines the accepted hierarchy within the home, and primarily changes our worldview regarding marriage. Moreover, I do not see it as being a neutral or even positive development, but rather a distortion, born of liberal-feminist thinking, which gives rise to no few unfortunate consequences.

Let me stress from the outset that the Charedi family remains distant from many negative phenomena present in western-liberal society, especially in the familial context. It continues to demonstrate impressive stability in an era of shocking instability; it is still large, with an average of over six children – a marker of the faith it has in the future and the importance it places on the continuity of generations – and it avoids far-reaching changes in the family structure like those that have become commonplace in the modern world. Overwhelmingly, Charedi society does not favor principles of absolute equality and gender-blindness. It accepts that there are essential differences between men and women and views marriage through this prism. It has no problem with men performing the active part of the Kiddushin (betrothal) ceremony, and women of the sector do not feel an urge to compete with their husbands over synagogue roles or the time amount of time spent on housework.

However, there is no doubt that messages from contemporary feminism are making their way into the Charedi social fabric. Moreover, as I will explain below, the combination of ideas of female empowerment with the significant internal challenges of the Charedi household can seriously harm women’s ability to receive – a capacity I see as a cornerstone of a healthy marriage.

I welcome the fact that my daughters are literate and that they have acquired a reasonable education. I am also thankful for the many employment options and social and public domains that have opened up to women. However, it seems to me that our emphasis on empowerment is predicated on an assumption that that the internal motion of “receiving” is a weakness worthy of overcoming

This, too, requires qualification. I do not mean to say that female empowerment lacks positive aspects. I welcome the fact that my daughters are literate and that they have acquired a reasonable education. I am also thankful for the many employment options and social and public domains that have opened up to women. However, it seems to me that our emphasis on empowerment is predicated on an assumption that that the internal motion of “receiving” is a weakness worthy of overcoming. A strong person knows to demand rights; he must take and not accept.

Personal experience teaches us how much this emotional position damages relationships. For women – my focus in this article – the inability to receive erodes the existing trust within a relationship, blocks the husband’s ability to give, and spoils the natural joy involved in a healthy and satisfactory marriage. In this article, I will thus try to articulate an argument in favor of receiving.


Between Giving and Receiving

It is common to view receiving and giving as diametric opposites. As Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler ob”m wrote in his renowned Kuntres Hachessed, “The world is divided into two: givers and takers; we must all take care to establish our place among the givers.” This dichotomous picture can be important for conceptual purposes, but in reality, it is abundantly clear that we all maintain a complex fabric of giving and receiving: There is no person who is solely a giver, and there is no person who only receives. In a world in which every person gives and receives, the main question is not categorizing people as one or the other, but understanding both: What do giving and receiving mean, and how do they take place? Let us focus first on the receiver.

The world is indeed full of receiving. As humans, we depend on each other for our lives, our livelihoods, and our emotional needs. Children depend on their parents to raise them; people depend on professionals to provide them with the services they need; and we are all dependent on rabbis, writers, and artists to satisfy our spiritual needs, and on friends and family – to say nothing of spouses – to satisfy emotional needs. Above all, we are dependent on God, who gives us the gift of life, renewing the act of creation every day, providing for all the creatures He fashioned.

The enormous system of receiving and giving, which derives from the inherent dependence of humankind – whether physically or emotionally-psychologically – requires a deep connection between a person and other people, as well as between a person and God. Every instance of receiving and giving, even receiving a window from a glassmaker or a shoe from a shoemaker (or shoe store), can become an interpersonal relationship. It is for this reason that the Hovos Halevavos based our worship of God on the feeling of gratitude: Our relationship with Hashem begins when we notice the good He grants us – whether as individuals or as an entire nation. This relationship, established in the Covenant at Sinai, is the basis for Torah itself.

The taker’s focus is on himself and on realizing his desire. He is not particularly grateful to the giver, since he feels, for all sorts of reasons, that he “deserves” whatever he took. By contrast, the focus of the receiver is not on himself but on the giver: He is interested in the item or feeling he desires but wishes to receive it specifically within a relationship with the giver.

Describing how giving and receiving are covenantal to any relationship requires us to distinguish between receiving on the one hand, and taking on the other. Despite the similarity between these two actions, each has an entirely different focus. Somebody who takes is focused on himself. He wants something – money, play, honor, pleasure, a cup of coffee, or anything else – and this act of taking ensures that his will is realized. In the context of the act of taking, the identity of the giver is not particularly significant: The taker’s focus is on himself and on realizing his desire. He is not particularly grateful to the giver, since he feels, for all sorts of reasons, that he “deserves” whatever he took. By contrast, the focus of the receiver is not on himself but on the giver: He is interested in the item or feeling he desires but wishes to receive it specifically within a relationship with the giver. The emotional consciousness of the receiver determines that were it not for the giving of the giver, the receiving itself would lose all its meaning. The taker is interested in the desired object or feeling; the receiver desires the relationship with the giver, while the object is merely a means to realize the former.

This principle is valid in every system of giving and taking – teachers and disciples, teachers and students, parents and children, and so on. The focus of the student, for instance, could be on the knowledge itself, if he feels that the teacher must teach him and that he deserves to receive the relevant knowledge. By contrast, the focus could be on cultivating a relationship with the rabbi or educator – a relationship involving much more than handing down knowledge. In the context of children, every parent immediately distinguishes between a child’s demand to realize some desire – from an allowance to a vacation abroad – to an appeal that includes a dimension of receiving. Yet there is no doubt that the field in which this issue is most forcefully expressed is the relationship between husband and wife. Without an awareness of receiving, which is today under threat, the essence of the relationship is endangered.

Before I go into further detail, I would like to clarify that receiving is also the key to giving – a sort of interpersonal “engine” without which there is no possibility of true giving.


Giving: A Response to Receiving

The mirror image of the distinction between receiving and taking occurs even on the part of the giver. Giving as such begins from the receiver. Absent a receiver who placing himself before the (potential) giver as lacking something, and there is no option of giving – there is simply nobody to give to. One could of course throw gifts at strangers who lack for nothing, but this is giving sans relationship, which does not embody a human connection. True giving is tied to the person of the receiver, whose deficiency or lack is completing by the act of giving.

Worthy giving, which expresses love and friendship between giver and receiver, will therefore come when the receiver appeals to the giver from a position of receiving: He trusts the giver, and his request to receive articulates the desire for a relationship with him. In this situation, giving is primarily a parallel action of relationship and connection: Filling the void refers not only to the direct object of giving but primarily to the attitude the receiver seeks.

When we feel forced to give – whether due to the incessant harangue of donation solicitations, repeated requests of children threatening our sanity, or constant playing on our conscience – we feel that the act of giving reflects no real connection. The reason for this is simple: In these circumstances, the giver did not give – the receiver took

The problem begins when instead of coming from a position of receiving, the receiver comes from a posture of demanding. Giving is only true when it is voluntary, a choice to give: The giver perceives a lack on the part of the receiver, and chooses to (or not to) complete it, based on his relationship with the receiver. On the other hand, if there is no dimension of choice in the act of giving, then there is no expression of an internal relationship: Just as it cannot be that one could conceive of a forced human relationship, so must the act of giving expressing the relationship come from choice. When we feel forced to give – whether due to the incessant harangue of donation solicitations, repeated requests of children threatening our sanity, or constant playing on our conscience – we feel that the act of giving reflects no real connection. The reason for this is simple: In these circumstances, the giver did not give – the receiver took.

This brings us to the important question: Do we still know how to receive?


A Healthy Relationship of Giving and Receiving

Every relationship is comprised of multiple acts of giving and receiving. In many contexts, the husband gives his wife, providing for her, being the Torah scholar of the house, showering her with love and attention. In other contexts, the wife is the giver. According to the Gemara, the wife’s work on behalf of her husband “lightens up his eyes and places him on his feet.” Not all homes are alike, of course. There are homes in which the woman is the main breadwinner, like the Eshes Chayil (of Mishlei) who “was like merchant ships, bringing her bread from afar” (Mishlei 31:14). But in the broadest sense, the relationship between a man and a woman is one of giving and receiving: man gives, woman receives. Even when she gives her husband, a wife’s giving is part of an overarching structure in which she desires to receive from her husband, while her husband’s desire is to fulfill her needs and desires.

The pairing of giver-receiver is known to us both physiologically and intuitively. Women – those who have not been somehow convinced otherwise – tend to seek a man who caters for their wants and provides their physical and mental needs, while men seek a woman who will be a worthy receiver for what they can give. “Strong, confident women who advocate for themselves all day in the world often find that they want the men in their lives to be giving,” writes Lauren Jacobs. In an article published in the Washington Post, Jill Chodorov-Kaminsky writes that she finally met her husband “I gave up control and assumed a more passive, feminine role”. Quoting psychoanalyst Patricia Allen, she stresses that the woman must situate herself with “feminine energy” within the relationship, allowing the man to adopt the “male energy.”

Many studies confirm this description. For instance, a recently published study by Tod Kashdan (and others) established the difference between men and women when it comes to receiving gifts. According to their work, summarized later in a popular book, women experience positive feelings of enjoyment and gratitude upon receiving gifts, while men respond with a sense of burden and obligation to give back. But the most significant confirmation for this arises from our own sources – the Bible and the words of the Sages – which are replete with the image of the man and woman as giver and receiver.

The emotional position that characterizes a receiver is a deep yearning, alongside granting absolute trust. Just as the Jewish People yearn for God, trusting and anticipating Him, so a wife places trust in her husband and yearns for him. As the Gaon of Vilna writes, the trait of Bitachon – placing trust in God – is the most important of all virtues

The relationship between God and the Jewish People is compared throughout the Bible to the relationship between husband and wife. Hence the common imagery of idolatry as adultery, the act of betrayal of a wife against her husband: “And Hashem said to Moshe: Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I have made with them” (Devarim 31:16). Prominent among many such instances is the story in Hosea, in which God commands the prophet to take a prostitute as a wife: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from Hashem.” The revelation at Sinai is compared to a wedding canopy (as explained in the Mishnah at the end of Maseches Taanis), and the Sin of the Golden Calf is compared to infidelity on a bride’s own wedding day (Gittin 36b). The nicer side of the story also uses such imagery: In the fierceness of the love described in Shir Ha-Shirim, we see an expression of God’s love for the Jewish People (as Rashi interprets the entire book), as we do in prophecies of redemption rife with emotions of couplehood. The prophecy of Isaiah is a powerful example:

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; For you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For Hashem has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,” says your God.

In other words, the Torah paints a picture of a relationship between a man and a woman in which the husband gives and the woman receives. The emotional position that characterizes a receiver is a deep yearning, alongside granting absolute trust. Just as the Jewish People yearn for God, trusting and anticipating Him, so a wife places trust in her husband and yearns for him. As the Gaon of Vilna writes, the trait of Bitachon – placing trust in God – is the most important of all virtues: “And the main reason for the giving of the Torah to Israel is so they place their trust in God […] for the main point of everything is complete trust. And this is the rule for all the mitzvos.” Trust in God is the central expression of the relationship between the Jewish People and God, and it is, therefore, the central principle: “The Tzaddik shall live by his faith” (Chavakuk 2:3). At the same time, the woman’s part in the relationship is placing her trust in her husband.


Man’s Role in the Relationship

Through the trust she gives, a wife empowers her husband to do his part, justifying her trust through the act of giving. As noted above, this giving in its various forms – whether physical or emotional – is contingent on there being a receptacle ready to accept. This is how the Maharal interpreted the statement of the Sages whereby “Every man who has no wife is bereft of blessing” (Yevamos 62b):

For through the woman there is receipt of blessing, since the blessing needs to be received, and the woman is ready for the receiving […] as it says, “To place blessing into your home.” Meaning, the blessing needs to be received, and when there is no woman there is no receiving of the blessing.

Each person is born with an entire world of potential, waiting to be realized. But the blessing itself, the realization of the potential inside him, depends on relationships with receivers – with those who will receive the blessing and realize the potential. In the husband-wife framework, the husband’s potential cannot be realized without the readiness of his wife to receive and to actualize. According to the rabbinic tradition, Rabbi Yossi asked Eliyahu the Prophet to interpret the verse “I will make him a helpmeet” (Bereishis 2:18), upon which he replied: “A man brings in grain; does he chew it? Cotton – does he wear it? No, [his wife] thus lightens up his eyes and places him on his feet.” We find a similar component of the relationship between God and man, as the verse demands of us: “Give strength to God” (Tehillim 68:35). In other words, by properly positioning ourselves as receivers, we “give power” to Hashem to act in the world. Thus, God is “a rider of the heavens with your aid” (Devarim 33::26) – with our help, the help of the Jewish People.

I am fully aware that this type of thinking is “unmodern,” and many will argue that it diminishes the value of women by comparison with men; this is all the more the case given the comparison of the husband-wife relationship to that between God and the Jewish People. But it is important to stress that this imagery is limited to the elements of giving and receiving. That above-described structure of a giving husband and a receiving wife does not mean one is more important or more exalted than the other. The Sages state that in the beginning the two luminaries – the sun and the moon – were of equal size, and only later was the moon commanded to diminish itself, set to return to its full size only in future days. In other words, even when both are of equal size, there are different forms for the giver and the receiver, a moon receiving light from the sun – male and female. Each has its particular role, each its own emotional posture. But no role is less important than the other.

In the aforementioned article, Chodorov-Kaminsky was likewise afraid of negative responses, which she eloquently preempted:

I know what’s coming next: They’ll accuse me of being anti-feminist. But here is what I’ve learned after decades of searching for a mate, and what I’ve learned in my marriage: Waiting for a man to approach you and allowing a man to take care of you does not take away from the mission of the feminist movement — to achieve political, economic and social equality of the sexes. My husband wants for me what I want for myself: Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Equal voice. Equal splitting up of chores. But there are some things that we don’t divvy up. He always insists on holding the umbrella over me, driving the car and cooking my favorite meals. He is less concerned about himself and more concerned that I am happy.

She concluded her essay by saying that she can hear her grandmother telling her “I told you so” from Heaven.


Today’s Challenge of Couplehood

Some may ask: Do we really need to discuss this at length? Doesn’t the entire Torah community live the relationship ideal of husband and wife, each with his special role? Well, the truth is that matters are not that simple.

First, we are all exposed, at one level or another, to the liberal world surrounding us. In that world, not only are these matters not a given – they are full “heresy” for many in the intellectual establishment that reject essentialism in general and gender essentialism in particular. The truly important battlefield of essentialism is the private home, the abode of the nuclear family, the place considered by ever-growing numbers to be the distilled evil of the patriarchy (“rule of the father” in Greek).

On this battlefield, the entire discourse on different essences, even more so on different roles derived therefrom, is fundamentally illegitimate. “Can it be,” many might cry out, “that women still spend more time on housework than men?” Can it be that women are forced to sacrifice their advancement on a promising career track because of the constraints of child-rearing? And for just how long shall we continue to adhere to an outdated model of child-rearing within a “nuclear family”? On the religious Jewish level, questions are no less searching: How can we be willing to continue to accept such an inegalitarian marriage ceremony in which the groom betroths the bride? The radical feminist struggle, which justifiably sanctifies the slogan “the personal is political,” places these and many other phenomena in their sights with the aim of destroying every shred of the hated age pf patriarchy. In advance of her wedding, feminist activist Yifat Bitton asked Catherine McKinnon, among the leading feminist thinkers, how she should deal with the inegalitarian marriage ceremony of Jewish tradition. Her characteristic response was uncompromising: abandon religion.

Obviously, the Charedi community does not adopt the foundations of radical feminism. But it is also not immune to the penetration of ideas, certainly among those who are more exposed to western discourse. In addition, the transformation of many women into primary providers for the Charedi household – predominantly true for Israel’s Lithuanian community but present in others too – has created a steady erosion of the relationship model described above. This may not have been the intention, but it appears to have been an unexpected byproduct of the common model of the “working mother and Kollel husband.” After women became the main providers, and especially since this is now the rule rather than the exception, it is inherently challenging to preserve the basic conception of a receiving woman and a giving husband. Prima facie, roles have been reversed.

Among the many conservative societies around the world, from fundamentalist Christians in the US to the highly religious sects in Muslim countries, Charedi society would seem the only one where more women are employed than men by a significant margin. This obviously has implications, including for the family unit. Charedi education for girls constantly stresses that the primary mission in life is to establish a “Torah home,” which translates into living the life of a working woman and a Kollel husband. In the face of the centrality of this mission, it seems that other values – including ones that are crucial for the quality of the same “Torah home” – are sometimes cast aside, forgotten, or even entirely reversed over time.

An innocent question one of my daughters asked me on her way back from school raised a red flag: “Where does it say in the Torah that women are supposed to provide for their husbands?” She was surprised to discover that the Ketubah, which establishes the rights and duties of the couple according to halacha, states the very opposite. But the excessive enthusiasm of one of her teachers for the principle of the providing woman is just the tip of the iceberg. Far more disturbing are the phone calls I get from wonderful but burned-out women, who understood after many years that the “combined model” of a career, kids, home, and a spousal relationship doesn’t work for them, but they fear telling their husbands. After all, “where will the money come from”? Other calls, directed at my husband are from men who want to learn a trade but cannot it because “my wife doesn’t let.” These phenomena, alongside relationship difficulties I encounter that require much courage to resolve, combine to form a worrying trend. This is no longer the case of some over-enthusiastic teacher, but a systemic challenge requiring deep change.

The core of the issue is the principle of receiving – receiving as opposed to giving, receiving as opposed to taking. It seems that our daughters are simply no longer taught to be receivers from their husbands. On the one hand, they are taught to be givers – they give their husbands the opportunity to be Kollel students, to “sit and learn Torah in peace,” with all worldly matters handled by their wives. On the other hand, they are taught to be takers – to “take” their husband’s Torah study by “sending” them to learn Torah. Rather than the “receiving woman,” the dominant message drilled into the heads of Charedi girls is that they need to take control: Control of the material side of the home by going to work, and control of its spiritual side by sending their husbands to learn and establishing the basic character of a “Torah home.” The husband, meanwhile, becomes weak and even helpless. He needs his wife’s help – a new meaning of “helpmeet” – both materially and spiritually. She is the one that “does not let him go to work,” and she even furnishes the spiritual strength of the seminary graduate who sees to the home’s proper character.

Yes, even in our own society the distinction between different gender roles is breaking down. In the morning, when schools open for boys and girls, and in the afternoon when younger students leave school, the streets of Charedi neighborhoods become filled with men. The women are at work, after all. Medical clinics are also filled with children accompanied by their fathers – the more flexible half of the couple, available to take kids for a doctor’s visit. A friend told me recently that one of the kids is sick and therefore “tomorrow I’m leaving my husband at home.” The jarring wording speaks for itself. If the division of labor is blurring and breaking down, if the husband is not a provider and even his Torah study have become his wife’s responsibility, then it is no wonder that the foundations behind the division – foundations of giving and receiving – have also lost their clarity.

At the formal level, certainly religiously, Charedi homes remain “patriarchal.” Husbands continue to recite Kiddush on Friday night and to make the beracha over the challos. But behind the scenes, and sometimes even on center stage (other than in purely halachic matters), the situation might be very different. For many families, the flow of life will bring about a healthy balance; the woman will seek and find channels of receiving, into which the man will give. But there is a significant minority that experiences tensions, with a sense of dissatisfaction lingering in the air. Lacking a receiving woman, the husband’s ability to give also dries up; without receiving – “surrendering,” to use the well-known but not very wise term of Laura Doyle – the husband cannot express himself and realize the good within him. A dominating wife can simply block his ability to give. And without a give and receive relationship, the relationship as a whole will have difficulty developing. He will feel frustrated at being unable to give to his wife and see to her needs; and she will feel extorted and drained with the entire burden of the household on her shoulders, as well as embittered at not having a man who takes care of her. They could both end up miserable.

At best, such a relationship might function at the technical level as a kind of business deal: She makes sure he’s free to learn Torah, and he, indeed, learns. Such a relationship – we could call it an “instrumental marriage” – could exist for a time, but in the end, all sides will sense that something (indeed, more than something) is missing. The tragedy is that we are the ones who sanctify the model, entering from the outset into a lame relationship structure while singing invei hagefen be-invei hagefen. A friend recently told me of her son getting engaged, and as I asked for the happy young woman’s identity, she immediately responded: “She’s a programmer!” A programmer?! Is this what we are here for– for a Kollel student to marry a programmer?!

This is therefore the tangle of the Charedi couple. Now we must think: How to break free?


Making the Right Choices

Given our present situation, it is inconceivable that Charedi women cease to be programmers or that Charedi men leave Kollel and go to work. The work patterns of Charedi men and women depend on numerous factors, and the nature of their relationship is among them. If truth be told, employment is not the main issue. Even if husband and wife stay in their present station, a healthy and good relationship can still very much be formed. It’s a question of attitude.

A couple will often begin its marital years with mistaken assumptions: The young wife sees herself as being in charge of providing, and sometimes also of her husband’s Torah study; the husband, by contrast, does not consider himself responsible for anything: In his youth, the yeshiva and his parents took care of everything, and now his wife takes their place to see to all his needs and allow him to continue studying Torah in peace. This is where a significant change is needed. Both sides need to fine-tune their emotional positions so that they can return to a more natural, Torah-based, healthier, and happier place.

In other words, the woman needs to enter marriage from an emotional position of trust and acceptance rather than one of control. She needs to “let go” and allow more room for expression for her husband’s powers of giving, whether in material or spiritual matters. At the same time, the man needs to internalize his responsibility for the new family unit, with its financial revenue and expenses, its Torah character and halachic approach, and of course his own Torah study. As many couples know, the fact that the woman of the home is the main provider does not necessarily mean the husband is exempt from financial management. Even when she works full time, the financial responsibility for the home can certainly fall on his shoulders. Insofar as a woman adopts an emotional posture of receiving, her husband’s channel of giving opens up, allowing him the satisfaction and joy of taking responsibility. If the woman feels over time that the burden of work is too heavy and does not allow her to properly function as a wife and mother, she will not hesitate to tell her husband. He’ll know how to manage.

As I wrote above on proper giving, the central point is that this must be done out of choice. The specific circumstances of the couple do not matter; the woman can always take the emotional position of receiving, while trusting her husband’s giving, and the husband can adopt a corresponding position of taking responsibility. These choices are choices of joy – the joy of marriage and a good, stable, and loving couplehood. The joy of the man is tied to the woman trusting him and freeing herself to be the receiver. Only thus can he truly care for his wife and ensure he lives up to her trust. And this is also the woman’s joy: To place full trust in her husband and receive the goodness only he can give.

To a great extent, choosing good requires education. Alongside teachings from home, it’s important that formal education systems do their part to ensure our sons and daughters internalize the basic principles of male and female roles in a relationship. We must also avoid teaching a reversal of roles – which may at times lead to relationship difficulties and much suffering. Even without touching the model of “Kollel husbands and working wives,” we can emphasize the basic approach of a “giving husband and receiving wife” – the trust a wife places in her husband, and the responsibility he takes for the affairs of the household. Education in this spirit, which seems today to be somewhat rare, may make it easier for the couple to choose good – along the Torah path of internal joy and unmatched relational bliss.


A few weeks ago, an anecdote reached me of a Kollel student who decided to leave Kollel and start working for a living, despite his wife’s serious misgivings. The wife, for whom her husband’s departure from Kollel was a hard blow, appealed to a teacher from her seminary – a renowned school within Charedi society. The teacher’s advice was uncompromising: “You must fight to the end! Your husband has cancer! (!) Is it not worth fighting for him?!” The extremism on display here is unusual, but the approach itself is common – an approach in which the woman controls not only the material side of the house but also its spiritual dimensions. There is nothing wrong with a wife supporting her husband’s Torah study, and her being fully involved in essential decisions regarding the form and spiritual state of the home. When this support turns into domination, however, we have a problem on our hands.

The choice of a woman to receive is not a choice to erase herself. Receiving is not self-effacement. On the contrary: It is a choice of a role, a choice to emphasize her feminine self to place and to give herself full self-expression. She does not become an object but remains a subject – a “receiving one” – allowing her husband to act as a giver towards her, within the framework of the deepest human connection on earth. Or in the words of Ricki, a commenter on another Tzarich Iyun article whose brief words nicely summarize this matter: “A woman with self-respect and self-confidence is not ashamed in being a receptacle, because that’s the best thing she can grant her husband (and also herself – T.P.), and nobody can do it in her stead.”


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