Women in Modern Israel
Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth food to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates. —Proverbs 31:10–31
As I look back at daily life here in Israel about 30 years ago, I can find a few differences in the role of women, but over all it has not changed too much in these “modern times.” In many ways, it is like the role of the woman described in the above passage from Proverbs.
Looking at these verses, I can see the life of my mother-in-law Naomi (Zvi’s wife) played out very well. Permit me to explain a bit of the routine she had about 30 years ago.
It started with the daily matter of caring for the family. She would get up early to prepare breakfast for her husband and four children. The children of course needed attention to get ready for school, which usually starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 1:30 p.m. in Israel. While the children were at school and her husband was at work, she organized the house again and prepared fresh food for the next meal.
Shopping is not easy if you don’t own a car. My mother-in-law, for example, never had the luxury of driving to the market. She had to take a bus and carry the heavy bags back home. The market is the cheapest place to purchase fruit, vegetables, and meat. The food there is always fresh, and the market has the greatest variety of goods. Returning home after a shopping trip, the groceries must be cleaned and stored. It is important in Israel to buy food every two or three days because the climate is very hot and food spoils easily. So, at least two times each week, a half day is spent shopping. These things have not changed for any mother in Israel, and I suppose they are the same for most mothers around the world.
The work at home has not always been as easy as it is these days. Washing used to be a real ordeal. Thanks to progress, we now have laundry machines and can give our hands and backs a little rest. I don’t have to tell you how much laundry four children can produce. Preparing meals for a big family is not an easy task either, especially when you have to watch every penny.
My mother-in-law always rises early in the morning, even today, although all of her children are out of the nest and her husband is retired. It has become her daily routine. For her to begin her chores early in the day is, according to her words, “the best a woman can do.” She finishes her tasks before anyone notices; she plans ahead and stays within her timetable.
Her home is always open to the poor and needy. So many times people have knocked at her door asking for little things, and she has always given with an open hand, never asking for anything in return. The most amazing thing is that, with the little she had, there was always enough to share with other people. The meal on Shabbat (Sabbath) is very important to her because it provides opportunities to bring people into her home.
Naomi did not hold a job outside the home during the years her children were young because she felt it was her calling to be at home and be a mother full time. Occasionally, when there was a financial need, she looked after the small children of some neighborhood mothers who had to go out to work. But even then, the house was always sparkling clean and organized.
With her husband (who was a carpenter) leaving home early in the morning (5:30 a.m.) and not returning until late afternoon, then perhaps leaving again in the evening to do some private repair job, it was primarily her responsibility to rear and educate their four children. It certainly was not easy to keep all four under control, and the best thing was to keep them occupied with some special educational classes in the afternoon, after school ended for the day. Most parents seek out these special classes, and some children prefer sports, others music, etc. It is not important what they choose, as long as they stay off the streets! This of course means that the mother is responsible for transportation to and from these various activities, as well as seeing that the finances are available for the classes.
“Strength and honor are her clothing.” That definitely is something to which we should aspire. It is special to walk into someone’s home and realize that the woman of the house, who is standing in the door to greet you, has the magnetism of a good and a reliable homemaker. The words in her mouth are wise, and she speaks kindly to everyone. This is only possible if you feel God’s love around you, because “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who feareth the Lord, she shall be praised” (v. 30).
A few years ago, when I read Proverbs 31, I thought it showed the life of a perfect woman, and I preferred not to think about myself or what this passage had to teach me. I simply thought about the “ton of work” that is waiting for me every day, and it seemed impossible to live up to such high standards.
I thought that way back then (in Bible times), life was simple, and all a woman had to do was be there for her family. Today’s women have so much more to do, and they often use their busyness as an excuse not to do what God wants. These verses show us areas of women’s responsibilities that might shatter some of the prejudices we have for their role in life.
First, the woman is strong, active, and very capable.
In verse 10, the Hebrew word for virtuous means like a soldier. Today the thought that a woman should be weak, passive, over-emotional, dependent, and always in need of help is more popular in many parts of the world. The woman in Proverbs was the opposite.
Second, she had the “say” in her household.
Her husband was responsible for everything outside the household and had to provide for his family, both financially and spiritually. The wife, however, had all of the responsibility within the household (food, cleaning, shopping, washing, etc.). This also meant that she was the manager of several household workers who were not family members.
Third, she was engaged in economic activities.
Not only was she a housewife, she also was a businesswoman. She bought and sold and invested the money that she earned. Verses 13–14 state that she worked to produce things and then sold her merchandise for profit. Verse 16 states that she bought a field and worked it with her own hands.
Are you jealous yet of this active and surely not bored woman, who is only a wife and mother? Well, wait—there is more behind these wonderful verses.
Fourth, she had great success in her marriage and in the education of her children.
“The heart of her husband doth safely trust her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life” (vv. 11–12). Verse 28 gives the viewpoint of her children: “Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
This level of achievement can only be reached through hard work and discipline, but God has promised all of His children that if we ask something of Him that is within His will, we shall receive it (1 Jn. 5:14–15). Isn’t it great to realize that being a “housewife” is not just being bound to the house in a dull, everyday routine? It is so much more!
God didn’t create women weak and helpless. He gave us strength in areas where men do not have the same qualities. If we are willing to let God lead us, we will soon learn how inspiring and fulfilling our “new job” really is.
Nowadays, most of the women here in Israel hold jobs outside the home. The children are sent to day care at the age of three months, and the mothers return to their jobs as secretaries, teachers, etc. For most of the women, it is not really necessary to return to work. Unfortunately, the struggle to achieve a better standard of living is the main reason for this development, and the children are the victims of this progress.
The volume of work at home remains the same, and the same demand for the woman to be available for her husband and children is still there. It seems to me that because of wrong thinking in most circles (sadly, also in some Christian circles), women working outside the home are considered higher than the ones working only at home. This is not what God has told us, especially us mothers.
The first step in the right direction to becoming a fulfilled wife and mother is to accept this role as a calling from God. Only when we are at peace with ourselves and the situation in which God has put us can we succeed. We should thank God daily for what He has given us and then anticipate the great blessings that He has in store for us in our important roles as wives and mothers.
I am not criticizing women who hold jobs outside the home, but I do want to encourage each wife and mother to reevaluate her situation according to the standards given by God in Proverbs 31. Are the things you are doing today bringing you closer to the image of a good wife and mother, as shown in this passage of Scripture? If so, you will receive the blessings God has promised in His Word.
Looking at these verses now, after almost 11 years of marriage and having four children myself, I honestly pray to God that I will be able to live up to His standards. It is not that I have “done it all,” and certainly not that I have reached the highest level of perfection. Much more important than any recognition is the fact that I need God’s enablement in my everyday life in order to please Him and be pleased.