“To Be the Wife of a Talmid Hacham[Torah Scholar]”
How Ultra-Orthodox Women Perceive the Socio-Economic Reality of the “Learners’ Society”
The lecture examines how Ultra-Orthodox women perceive the socio-economic reality of contemporary Ultra-Orthodox society in Israel. In practice, most Ultra-Orthodox women work and therefore play an important role in the financial support of their families. The Ultra-Orthodox press, a major socialization mechanism, has a dualistic approach: On the one hand, it encourages women to work in order to provide for their families and support their husbands in their studies; on the other, it makes clear that work is not an aim in itself (a career), but rather a means (an occupation) for the financial support of the family.
Through in-depth interviews, 25 Ultra-Orthodox women were asked about their reactions to texts published in Ultra-Orthodoxy’s magazines. The texts argued that the essential place for women is in the home, and that they should maintain a sense of modesty regarding the hierarchy of their various roles inside and outside the home. A grounded-theory-based analysis of their responses found three voices: first, an essentialist voice that perceives men and women as creatures who are different in essence and therefore have different roles; second, a sociological voice that analyzes the socio-economic circumstances of Ultra-Orthodox society and assigns women the task of providing financial support as a matter of necessity, given the reality of their husbands being engaged in Torah study; and third, a critical voice that dared point out the dangers and repercussions of women going out and working – the destabilization of the husband-wife relationship, the family unit, and the social system in the Ultra-Orthodox sector. These very different voices illustrate one of the fascinating developments taking place in Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox society in the twenty-first century.