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The Scholarly Life—The Laboring Wife: Gender, Torah, and the Family Economy in Rabbinic Culture

Gail Labovitz
Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
No. 13, Jewish Women in the Economy (Spring 2007), pp. 8-48
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/nas.2007.-.13.8
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/nas.2007.-.13.8
Page Count: 41
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The Scholarly Life—The Laboring Wife: Gender, Torah, and the Family Economy in Rabbinic Culture
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Abstract

Common Western stereotypes about men and women and their relationships to labor and production often influence how we view these matters even in non-modern contexts, such as rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity. In fact, notwithstanding modern and ancient conventions assigning women to homemaking and men to earning the family livelihood, rabbinic texts depict women in a variety of wage-earning tasks and consider women's labor and production, domestic and otherwise, an essential element of the family economy. On the other hand, labor is not automatically valorized for men but rather stands in tension with the ideal of full devotion to Torah study. This article explores these elements of rabbinic culture, individually and in terms of their interaction: the conflict for rabbinic men between the desire to devote themselves exclusively to Torah study and the need to support themselves and ensure that essential societal tasks get done; the participation of women (wives, and also slaves) in the rabbinically imagined family economy; and the exemption/exclusion of women (and slaves) from various forms of religious practice and learning.

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