Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
With Mother’s Day approaching, let’s take a moment to celebrate mothers.
There is no single vision of the Jewish mother. Jewish mothers are biological and adoptive, stepparent, single parent, and honorary. They are all ages, races, and nationalities. In addition to parenting, which in itself is a 24/7 commitment, individually and collectively, Jewish mothers, as do non-mother Jewish women, play a key role in Jewish life, emotionally sustaining families, contributing to community, and bringing home the ‘bacon.’
This complex, more than double duty of raising children as well as contributing to so many other aspects of daily and communal life is captured in the verses from Proverbs 31, known by the phrase Eshet Chayil, A Woman of Valor. The woman described in these verses is a shrewd business woman, oversees household servants, is selfless in her service to others and her charitable givings, a skilled craftswoman, and adored by all especially her children. Given this list, not surprisingly, the verses begin by pointing out that finding such a woman is hard to do and if you find one, know that her value is above that of rubies!
Often these verses are taken as part of a metaphoric mystical read of the feminine attributes of the divine but there are real-life applications. In many traditional homes they are sung by the husband/father to the wife/mother weekly as part of the Shabbat table service. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find the phrase Eshet Chayil on the tombstone of Jewish women. The Eshet Chayil is meant to do it all.
In reading the Eshet Chayil, I’ve always seen it as one part aspirational and one part ironic. Achieving all of this is as implied by the opening almost impossible.
There is much that we can do to make the work that Jewish mothers, and indeed all mothers, do a little more possible. One way we can show our support for mothers in the paid workforce is to provide paid family leave. This past year more than 100 Jewish groups committed to doing so, bringing their policies into alignment with their Jewish values. But this step, by no means comprehensive even in the Jewish community, a long time in coming, took a great deal of convincing.
If we believe in celebrating the Jewish value of motherhood, we can all do our part. Ask your synagogue president if your clergy and staff have paid family leave as a standard part of their contracts. Even if the rabbi and cantor are men or past the age of childrearing these policies set a precedent for the future. Before you donate or support a Jewish organization, ask them if they have a paid family leave policy in place and encourage other donors to raise their voices as well.
Live Jewish values in all the communities that you live in. According to a new poll four in five voters support paid family leave but the issue is barely making an impact on the election. If you value the vision of motherhood that Judaism promotes call your elected officials and make sure that paid family leave becomes an issue of greater importance for this coming election cycle.
This Mother’s Day, show the mothers in your life that you understand how hard they work and how much they care by taking action that might make it a little more possible for them to do