Judaism At Home

The home is central to Jewish practice and values.

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To a large extent, the lack of discussion about the home may be attributed to the fact that the home--in contrast to the beit midrash and the synagogue--was a primarily female space. As women’s voices are virtually absent from early Jewish writings, we can only guess at the actual place of the home in everyday Jewish life.

Some have argued that the designation of the home as the center of Judaism was a deliberate creation of the modern era. According to the historian Paula Hyman:

"From the period of the Enlightenment to the last third of the 19th century, when a vigorous public debate about Jewish Emancipation (and hence about the value of Judaism) raged in Western and Central Europe, even critics of Jewish culture and religion acknowledged the admirable qualities of the Jewish home. Because domestic orderliness and serenity within the patriarchal family were central values of the emerging bourgeois culture of the 19th century, Jews seeking to acculturate to the standards of the urban middle classes of their societies could, and did, point to their family life as compelling evidence for the worth of Jewish culture and as a sign of their own adherence to bourgeois norms." (Quoted in David Kraemer, ed., The Jewish Family, 179)

The Jewish home is an ever-changing institution. The books on the shelves do not necessarily remain the same from one generation to the next, and the style of certain ceremonies and rituals reflects new interests and concerns. Women now play greater roles in synagogues and other traditionally male spaces, and men play greater roles in the home. Even as its precise nature changes, however, the home remains central to the practice of Judaism and to Jewish family life.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.