Twisting legitimate Jewish sources out of context is also a really good way to catapult people off the derech. If God comes off as so unfair and uncompassionate, and if Judaism really does hate and demean women, then it must all be neither true nor good, chas v'shalom.
Furthermore, any fool can see that merely following your husband blindly never guarantees blessing and marital harmony.
- How many times have you seen submissive wives end up being browbeaten by their ungrateful husbands for their rest of their lives—despite their kowtowing to all his demands?
- How many times have you seen women go along with their husband’s poor decisions under the impression that being an ishah kasherah will make everything work out in the end, only to find themselves in impossible situations, like children going off the derech and a whole slew of other problems that could have easily been prevented by NOT following the wishes of the misguided husband?
- How many families do you know in which the children resent or outright reject their mother BECAUSE she catered to and supported their dysfunctional father under the impression that presenting a united front and blindly following his will (just like a good little kosher wifey!) would bring her blessing, no matter how dysfunctional and warped the family’s situation?
Finally, nearly all the great women featured in Tanach did NOT follow their husbands blindly.
Some even opposed their husband outright (like Sara Imeinu) or went behind his back (like Rivka Imeinu)—and all for the sake of Heaven, and not their own egos.
Others took a proactive approach to guide their husband on the right path (like Devorah as the wife of Lapidot) and still others acted in a combination of the above (like the wife of On ben Pelet).
The most seemingly submissive of the Torah's exemplary women was Queen Esther who followed Mordechai's every directive, but she did so not as his wife, but as a Jew following the wisdom of the gadol hador. Furthermore, she did question his judgement at one point, but quickly acquiesced - not out of blind obedience, but because she realized he was right.
Only Naomi blindly followed her husband (following him out of Eretz Yisrael to Moav) and the Sages criticize her for doing so!
Anyway, most people who quote this verse have no idea of its context.
Perhaps they simply feel pious and helpful when they spew platitudes.
Anyway, there are two sources for this verse:
- Tanna D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah 10
- Gemara Nedarim 66b
The Kosher Wife of Tanna D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah 10
And it starts off with...Devorah Hanaviah:
ודבורה אשה נביאה (שופטים ד-ד) וכי מה טיבה של דבורה שהיא שפטה את ישראל ומתנבאת עליהם,הלא פנחס בן אלעזר עומד? מעיד אני עלי את השמים ואת הארץ,בין גוי ובין ישראל,בין איש ובין אשה,בין עבד בין שפחה הכל לפי מעשה שעושה-כך רוח הקודש שורה עליו
Devorah was a woman prophetess (Judges 4:4): And what was the winning quality of Devorah in that she judged Yisrael and was prophesying over them? Didn’t Pinchas ben Elazar exist?
I bring the heavens and earth as witnesses to my testimony, whether a goy or a Jew, whether a man or a woman, whether a male slave or a female slave:
Everything goes according to how one performs a deed—in this way, ruach hakodesh rests upon him.
You are defined by your deeds, not your status or gender or religion.
So far, so good, right?
Later on that same page, it says:
ומה נשתנו זבולון ונפתלי מכל השבטים כולם שבאתה תשועה גדולה לישראל על ידיהן?אמרו,נפתלי-שימש את יעקב אבינו ומצא הימנו קורת רוח. זבולון-ששימש את יששכר ועשה לו אכסנייה: ועל שבטח ברק באלוקי ישראל והאמין בנביאותה של דבורה,חלקו לו בשירה עמה, שנאמר: ותשר דבורה וברק בן אבינועם (שם ה פס׳ א) ויאמר אליה ברק אם תלכי עמי וגו׳ ותאמר הלוך אלך עמך וגו׳ שם ד פס׳ ח וט׳
And how were Zevulun and Naftali different from all the other Tribes for whom a great salvation was wrought to Yisrael through them? They said Naftali served Yaakov Avinu and found satisfaction. Zevulun served Yissachar and made for him a place of lodging. And because Barak trusted in the God of Yisrael and believed in the prophecy of Devorah, his portion is in song with her…
(Is this sounding misogynist yet? Didn’t think so.)
Immediately following this, the "infamous" verse finally appears:
ומה נשתנת אשת חבר הקיני מכל הנשים כולן שבאתה תשועה לישראל על ידיה? אמרו,אשה כשרה הייתה,ועושה רצון בעלה הייתה. מכאן אמרו: אין אשה כשרה אלא העושה רצון בעלה
And how was the wife of Chever the Kinite [Yael] different than all the other women for whom a great salvation was wrought to Yisrael through her? They said: She was a kosher woman and she would do her husband’s will. And from here they said: There is no wife as kosher as one who does her husband’s will.
The Rebbe of Lubavitch wrote the following in Likutei Sichot regarding the above:
"איזוהי אשה כשרה? כל שעושה רצון בעלה" תנא דבי אליהו רבא פ"ט.
שני פירושים למאמר זה.
א. הבעל ברובו של היום אינו בבית, צריכה איפוא האשה "לעשות" את רצון בעלה - להוריד את הרצון לידי עשיה בפועל. לבעל יש רצונות טובים בעניני חינוך הילדים, הכנסת אורחים, נתינת צדקה וכדומה; אך ההוצאה לפועל של רצונות אלו תלויה באשה.
ב. לפעמים, צריכה האשה "לעשות" - ליצור - את רצון בעלה. כשהבעל טרוד מאד וחסר לו הרצון לעשות את הראוי, חייבת האשה, בדרכי נועם ובדרכי שלום, לעשות ולגלות את רצונו הפנימי של הבעל, שהרי כל יהודי רוצה לעשות רצון קונו...
(משיחת ש"פ בלק תשכ"ב - לקו"ש ד עמ' 1069)
Every Jewish home is a world of its own in which is manifest all the Ten Sefiros. Just as within the supernal Sefiros and within the powers of our soul, there is an advantage to Binah over Chochmah (despite the fact that Binah receives influence from Chochmah), so too, within the Jewish home, there is a dimension of supremacy to the woman's position.
And the woman's position in the home reflects the functioning of these Sefiros. The Sefirah of Binah receives influence from Chochmah, and conveys that influence to the emotional attributes. So too, a woman receives direction from her husband, as indicated by our Sages' statement: "Who is a proper wife? One that fulfills her husband's will." Nevertheless, the actual functioning of the home including the education of the children, hospitality to guests, generous gifts to tzedakah and the like are all the women's province.
A man is not at home during the major part of the day. He is busy with Torah study and prayer, or earning a livelihood. For his will to be "fulfilled," manifest in actual life, he must rely on his "proper wife."
Moreover, the Hebrew word translated as "fulfilled" osah also means "make." At times, a "proper wife" "makes her husband's will." For there are times when the pressures and difficulties he faces drain him, and hinder him from desiring the correct things. At that time, "his proper wife" should in a gentle and pleasant manner mold her husband's will, coaxing to the surface the desire to fulfill G-d's will that lies within the heart of every Jew.
"When a husband and wife are worthy, the Divine Presence rests among them." When a Jewish home is conducted as "a Sanctuary in microcosm," the Divine Presence rests within. And since the "Divine Presence rests within," "no evil will dwell among you." On the contrary, He will grant only good, overt and apparent good, as manifest in abundant blessings for children, health, and prosperity.
Regardless, we see nothing here commanding a woman to be a blind, subservient slave to her husband’s every whim.
Now, let’s go on to the Gemara Nedarim 66b.
The Kosher Wife of Gemara Nedarim 66b
בר בבל דסליק לארעא דישראל נסיב איתתא אמר לה בשילי לי תרי טלפי בשילה ליה תרי טלפי רתח עלה למחר אמר לה בשילי לי גריוא בשילה ליה גריוא אמר לה זילי אייתי לי תרי בוציני אזלת ואייתי ליה תרי שרגי אמר לה זילי תברי יתהון על רישא דבבא הוה יתיב בבא בן בוטא אבבא וקא דאין דינא אזלת ותברת יתהון על רישיה אמר לה מה הדין דעבדת אמרה ליה כך ציוני בעלי אמר את עשית רצון בעליך המקום יוציא ממך שני בנים כבבא בן בוטא
[נדרים, סו ב].
A Babylonian [Jew] went up to Eretz Yisrael.
He married a woman.
He said to her, "Cook for me 2 lentils" [meaning, a small amount of lentils].
She cooked for him 2 lentils [literally].
He got hotly angry at her.
The next day, he said to her, “Cook for me a large amount.”
She cooked for him a large amount [an enormous amount that one person could not possibly eat all of]
He said to her, “Go, bring me 2 בוציני/watermelons/squash/zucchinis.”
[This was the meaning of בוציני in Babylonian Aramaic.]
She went and brought him 2 candles/lamps. [Which is what בוציני meant in Eretz Yisrael’s Aramaic]
[At this point, he gets very frustrated and lashes out in sarcasm.] “Go break them on the head of the gate!”
Baba ben Buta was sitting at the gate and he was judging Jewish law and she broke them on his head.
He said, “What is this you have done?”
She said to him, “My husband commanded me thus.”
He said, “You have done the will of your husband. May God bring out from you 2 sons like Baba ben Buta.” [Meaning that he blessed her to merit to 2 sons like this tremendous Sage.]
But that’s not so.
(After all, that excuse didn’t let Naomi off the hook, did it?)
If you look at this story within the context of the rest of the daf, you’ll see that it is merely one in a series of stories demonstrating the self-nullification and humility of the Sages, especially for the sake of others’ shalom bayit/marital harmony.
Meaning, the focus and point of this story is to show how far an other people should go to facilitate harmony between a husband and wife. It is also a lesson in Azamra, as with the other stories in this daf, of the act of finding a merit within otherwise appalling behavior or an otherwise repellent person.
And in response to her abusive, degrading behavior, he blessed her!
(Which is exactly what true tzaddikim do, not because they are suckers, but because they realize that a knucklehead is merely an agent of God, and not acting completely on his or her own.)
In fact, the Ran comments:
שני בנים כבבא - כנגד תרין שרגי ואייתי הכא האי עובדא לאשמועינן חסידותיה דבבא בן בוטא כי היכי דאייתי הכא עובדא דרבן שמעון בן גמליאל ודרבי ישמעאל
Two sons like Baba: Like two lights and it brings here this story to teach of of the piety of Baba ben Buta, as was with the story of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and Rebbi Yishmael [the other two Sages on this same daf who also displayed humility and goodness regarding the shalom bayit of others].
For example, if some lady just came up and hit me on the head with two candles (or lamps, as the case may be) for no apparent reason as I was trying to teach fellow Jews halacha, I can’t imagine I would just ask her why she has done that. On the contrary, I imagine myself grabbing the candles out of her hand and breaking them, or yelling at her, or calling for help, or bursting into tears. I certainly wouldn’t respond with equanimity and then find a merit in her behavior.
See? That's why we follow the Sages' example and not mine.
Needless to say, there are still many questions on this story.
- Was the woman genuinely unintelligent or was she passive-aggressive?
- Did she really think her husband wanted her to knock one of the gadolei hador on the head?
- Did she honestly think such a thing was permissible? (I mean, I cannot imagine myself going up to Rav Kanievsky and whacking him on the head with the excuse, “Well, my husband said I really should.”
- It's mortifying for the husband for his wife to publicly assault a Sage and then state that her husband told her do so...THAT couldn't possibly have been his will!
The other commentators, like Tosfot and Rashi simply explain that the husband spoke out of anger and the wife understood him to mean something different than he actually meant (meaning that she was acting out of misunderstanding, not craftiness).
Really, the way the mefarshim describe it, it sounds more like a lesson to husbands not to say sarcastic things to their wives in the heat of anger.
The Pele Yoetz and Others on This Verse
Final Lessons from the Sages about a Wife & Her Husband's Will
- Sometimes a woman must be assertive against her husband (for his own good).
- Sometimes a woman needs to influence her husband against the will of his seichel and emotions to fulfill the deeper will of his soul.
- Sometimes a woman needs to nurture and fulfill her husband's wishes when he can't.
- Sometimes a woman needs to follow his opinion in opposition to her own.
A woman needs to use her chachmah and binah, her wisdom and insight, to decide upon the best course of action in regard to her husband.
Blind subservience has no place in a Jewish marriage; Chazal is clear about this.
Involving God via lots of prayer and heart-to-heart talks help the most with developing proper chachmah and binah.
And please don't forget the other big lesson from this Gemara:
Forgo your own kavod for the sake of another couple's shalom bayit!
And the final lesson?
For the love of God, PLEASE STOP WARPING THE WORDS OF THE SAGES AND THE TORAH TO SERVE AS A BATTERING RAM FOR YOUR OWN AGENDA AND EGO!
Actually, dear reader - no offense to you personally. YOU are probably not the one warping things around...
It would’ve been much better if someone genuinely qualified to understand Gemara would have taken this on, but I just never saw that anyone did.
(And yes, I asked a couple of people about this.)
If you're qualified to know, then please hop aboard and correct or add onto anything written here.
And the next time someone tries to use this wonderful concept to shame you or confuse you or demean you or make God and Judaism look bad, you’ll know how they’re wrong and why.
May we all merit true understanding of the words of our Torah and our Sages.