For instance, a couple of decades ago, the frum community swerved toward making the wife responsible for every aspect of her family life, religious life, and her husband's behavior.
This was NOT supported by Chazal nor the truly great talmidei chachamim of that time (or any time, actually), but gained immense popularity among lower-tier rabbis & rebbetzins in consultations and the lecture circuit.
In one of the most popular examples, the story of a secular woman becoming frum and making her children frum with a non-frum husband went into repeated circulation.
Originally with the intention to inspire & empower, speakers and advisors used that story to display a woman's supposed ability to achieve complete successful in running a frum home and raising wonderfully frum children regardless of the husband's behavior or influence—if only the wife "tried hard enough."
Tellingly, it related to only one woman; the inspiring circumstances always related to the same woman.
It ran on for years with no other example of any other woman achieving the same dramatic accomplishment.
However, if her accomplishment was so realistic, wouldn't we hear stories of others too?
I don't know why none of us picked up on that.
Because only one woman managed to do it, that means she's an outlier...not a realistic example to follow.
(Also, the story lacked essential details like whether the husband was actively opposed, how friendly or unfriendly he was to the changes, how much the religious schools to which she switched her children supported them, etc. Yet all these details make all the difference in such situations.)
Regarding another distortion, I remember that any women's shiur on marriage generally consisted of the rebbetzin showing pity for men not being as smart or competent as women, or comparing a man to a baby.
Literally, some repeatedly stated "men are babies."
And then they'd exhort women to respect their husbands and treat them like kings.
But how do you do so if he's a dumb, incompetent baby?
This attitude, though promoted even by women who were grandmothers already and raised in strong FFB environments, clearly came from the feminist movement, which claimed that "women need men like a fish needs a bicycle" and continues to denigrate males as being innately more wicked, less competent, and dumber than females.
I credit Rebbetzin Gottleib (formerly Heller) for combating this non-Torah attitude by pointing out that women can also be compared to babies because women cry more readily than men do, etc., and that all these condescending comparisons are neither true nor helpful.
A Distortion of Torah (no matter how well-intended) Leads to Distorted Non-Torah Consequences
Tragicomically, nearly all the shalom bayis rebbetzins who guilt-tripped wives with this story never saw it from inside the actual Gemara and certainly had no clue how the mefarshim interpreted it or how Torah Sages intended this story to be used.
Also, the vast majority of frum women, though good, aren't actual tzaddekeses.
So I don't know why they were expected to exert the influence of a tzaddekes.
(NOTE: It's very easy to quote Gemara out of context. You shouldn't automatically listen to people quoting Gemara unless they've actually learned that Gemara AND possess an acceptable grasp of the millennia-old original interpretations of that particular Gemara.)
It got so that struggling wives were convinced to take responsibility for all their husband's behavior (no matter how extreme or outrageous), plus the running of the home and their children's behavior.
Furthermore, it exerted a negative effect on the marriage and family by letting the husband slide by with no effort on his part.
In fact, such an attitude encouraged the husband to go downscale.
After all, the people involved (except the suffering wife) either did not consider his behavior that bad or they blamed her for his behavior.
So why should he take any responsibility or try to improve—especially when he had no desire to do so?
One young struggling wife exploded to me, "What do they want me to do already? Put his tefillin on myself and simply l'hotzi otoh lidai chovah?"
Or, tongue-in-cheek, one quipped: "I don't see why my husband needs to fast or do teshuvah for Yom Kippur when I'm to blame for anything he does wrong. Next Tishrei, I'll tell him to just sit at home and watch movies while I'll fast, say Vidui, and atone for both of us."
Yet you don't find this attitude anywhere in Chazal!
A husband is never absolved of the responsibility for his own character; he is never considered a helpless baby.
(Please do not take my word for it! If you read most of the mussar sefarim, and also if you come across mefarshim discussing this—like the Kli Yakar on the Chumash—they simply do not make these kinds of demands on wives while simultaneously absolving the husbands of all responsibility toward shalom bayit and chinuch. A woman's influence definitely matters, but not more than the husband's.)
In fact, the Gemara and mussar sefarim and pretty much every other Torah source else makes MORE demands on the HUSBAND and assign higher expectations to the husband.
Any Chazal discussing the role of the husband in the home portrays the husband as responsible for overseeing (in a pleasant manner) the halachic tone of the home, and responsible for shalom bayit and chinuch.
(Orchot Tzaddikim, for example, repeats this several times throughout the book.)
So according to Chazal, not only is the husband considered responsible for his own behavior and middot, but he is also expected to take a certain amount of responsibility for the behavior of his family.
Let's look on some concrete examples...
Excerpts from the Pele Yoetz on a Husband's Marital Obligations
But before continuing, it must be emphasized that the Pele Yoetz also obligates wives to a very high standard.
Yet below, you'll see how the actual Torah obligation upon husbands in marriage (as given over by the supreme tzaddik & Torah Sage, Rav Eliezer Papo) differs to an extreme from common advice propagated by many shalom bayit advisors and therapists.
It's important to know this so when looking for guidance in marriage, you go to people who actually go by Torah hashkafah and NOT the non-Jewish ideal of a 1950s marriage nor the modern non-Jewish ideas of marriage & family today.
Rabbis, rebbetzins, and therapists with correct Torah hashkafahs exist, but you need to dig a bit to find them.
(You can see the full texts of the Pele Yoetz in English, Hebrew, and download classes on each chapter here: https://itorah.com/pele-yoetz)
Here's an excerpt from the chapter Love of Husband & Wife:
However, a man unto whom a challenging lot has fallen — a difficult wife — must be very careful.
He stands before a great test and requires determination to behave towards her with peace and affection in honor of the Divine Presence.
These are subjects of ancient wisdom.
Therefore, intelligence must originate with him. If she violates his will and angers him, he must control his emotions so that he does not become angry with her, and it need not be said to shame, curse, or strike her, Heaven forbid.
This is the practice of boors and frivolous and rash individuals – in actuality he hurts himself!
Rather with soft speech and sweet words he should admonish her.
In any case he should bear the yoke and be insulted rather than insulting, and accept upon himself the judgment of Heaven with joy – because each woman is sent to a man from G-d.
For blessing does not reside in a man's home except for the sake of his wife (Baba Metzia 59a).
So great is domestic peace that the holy name of G-d was allowed to be erased for it (Nedarim 66b).
Therefore, even by sheer force must a man stand up to and remove evil from his house so that the Divine Presence will rest upon his home.
It seems that there is a “moment of Divine anger” in which a man can die for an ostensibly inconsequential reason, Heaven forbid.
Therefore, men must be cautious not to pain their wives...
Hashem wants everyone to enjoy the best Olam Haba possible, so our Sages let no one off the hook.
But our Sages clearly hold men to an even higher standard of behavior; they hold higher expectations.
However, a lot of people feel surprised at the above mussar because davka wives are given this mussar in shalom bayis consultation — even though Chazal gives it to husbands!
Also, please note the REASON for the strong mussar: It's all about having a holy Torah home...a home which makes room for the Shechinah.
It also recognizes that nisayon is from Hashem and should be related to accordingly.
And please note the mussar given to husbands falls into the category of "ancient wisdom."
This stands in diametric opposition to the views put forth by many shalom bayis advisors, who insist the the overwhelming responsibility of shalom bayis stands on the shoulders of the wife, regardless of the husband's behavior—and consider this responsibility the traditional way, the way it has always been.
But it's clearly not so.
Why else would this early 19th-century masterpiece consider the husband responsibility for shalom bayit and middot work to be ANCIENT wisdom?
So anyone who claims differently is not holding the correct perspective.
Here's an excerpt from the Pele Yoetz chapter on Controversy:
If the evil of controversy is so great when two men argue, how much more so is the evil intensified when there is discord between a husband and wife.
It is well-known the extent to which the Sages were attentive and enacted rules because of the ways of peace, especially between a husband and wife. The name of the Holy One Blessed Be He – that was written with holiness – was allowed to be erased in order to secure peace between spouses.
From this we should learn how much a man must be willing to endure for the sake of domestic peace.
...the obligation is thrust upon the husband who is a "bar daas" to forgive his insult, to humble himself for the sake of the honor of his Maker, and to pursue peace with all of his strength.
This is urgent because the evil of discord within one’s house is so great – it causes evil to himself and to his children after him.
Woe unto the man who blemishes his offspring – he causes them to be argumentative and the children of passionate hatred!
However, when determining which spouse hold more responsibility to pursue shalom in the marriage, he clearly chooses the husband.
This message stands in such opposition to the message developed by certain frum advisors and therapists.
(It's so important for people who advise or help others to invest in regular mussar study. They must read original works and not just rely on their helpful intentions.)
This is from the chapter Zivug/Finding a Spouse:
Certainly, a person who is a Torah scholar fulfills the words of the Sages (Baba Metzia 59a) who said,
“Value your wives: love her as you love yourself, honor her more than you honor yourself, overlook her misdeeds for the sake of domestic peace, and do not be exacting with your household.”
Similar other virtuous attributes are appropriate for a Torah scholar to display in his home, yet, above all, is to divide everything equally with her.
It is known that the fitness of the man and his service of G-d, in the majority of cases, is in accord with the advice of his wife.
If he is righteous – she will be his helpmeet; if he is not righteous – she will oppose him (Yevamot 63a).
(The Kli Yakar supports this too, even going as far as assigning partial blame of the Sotah's infidelity on the husband's lack of generosity when giving tzedakah!)
Having said that, it's not black-and-white because there have been tzaddikim married to difficult wives and we all know couples in which the husband's middot and yirat Shamayim far surpass that of his wife's...yet he suffers from her.
Here's an excerpt from Hatred:
...it is befitting a person to strengthen himself with abundant courage and power, through continuous pure thoughts in order to remove hatred from his heart, to extract discord, and replace it with love.
This is especially true regarding one's wife.
Even if she is an evil woman, who possesses every blemish – she has fallen into his portion, whether she is good or bad, he should be with her.
He must fortify himself very much and intensify his efforts to love her as himself, for great is the evil of a man who hates his wife – he places his eyes upon another woman, his children are "sons of a hated one", and are considered evil offspring.
Woe unto a man who corrupts his descendants!
A man should tremble and be faint for any matter of wrongdoing, especially in regards to love and hate, even more so, in regards to a husband and wife.
A person should think that these matters are deep-rooted, and the deeds of "below" awaken the deeds of Above – a person either builds worlds or he destroys them.
Of course wives MUST do so!
I'm saying it was irrational, unfair, and detrimental to automatically assume the wife was responsible for any & every problem in marriage, and to make that the only option possible.
You simply cannot find support for that in Torah sources.
Advisors simply took the Gemara out of context, twisting it around to suit their own agenda...with no actual Torah basis.
I personally saw/heard how sometimes, therapists and shalom bayis advisors contributed to the deterioration of a wife's mental health and also the marriage itself.
Also, the husband's behavior deteriorated even further in such situations because he never felt the expectation to take on the burden of responsibility for his shalom bayit or middos.
In other words, some marriages could have been saved had the obligations been clear and applied equally.
Of course, some shining exceptions existed.
Rav Avigdor Miller, for example, always held men responsible for their own behavior and spiritual growth.
And like the Pele Yoetz, Rav Miller offers very strong mussar for wives...but offers even stronger mussar for husbands (along with lots of positive encouragement for both).
And new rabbis came on the scene who upheld traditional Torah views regarding the responsibility of both men (especially men!) and women in marriage.
And while it's true that we are influenced by others and we also influence others with our behavior and words, it's rare for one spouse to make another into a completely emotionally healthy person.
And I haven't seen that you can make a person go down a path he or she really doesn't want to go.
NOTE: I believe shalom bayis advisors engage in wife-blaming-husband-absolving methods LESS now. It's obvious this method simply does not work (because it is not actual Torah hashkafah & therefore CANNOT work), and this is clear from the way divorce and marital discord only increased while this method remained popular.
Unfortunately, this distortion & manipulation contributed to both divorce and adult women going off the derech (either secretly or obviously) because it brainwashed them into thinking the Torah lacked compassion and stood against women.
With divorce, some absorbed the false impression that a Torah marriage isn't for them.
Of course, ultimately an adult woman has bechirah and she is held responsible for her own actions, whether they be transgressions or mitzvot.
But these lower-tier rabbis, rebbetzins, and therapists certainly placed a stumbling block before young women in very trying circumstances, taking advantage of a certain lack of knowledge on her part.
And they hold a portion in the results.
(But again, she definitely has bechirah and could easily access the widely available original Torah sources in English. Anyone with a Beis Yaakov education should also be able to access sources in Hebrew. For some reason, the vast majority tend not to. But they could if they wanted.)
Real Torah Hashkafah Comes in to Save the Day
First of all, the real big talmidei chachamim were NEVER putting forth this blame-the-wife-for-everything & looking at a young exhausted working woman with a baby who still isn't sleeping through the night—and acting like she some sort of demigod who can do anything and everything...if only she "puts her mind to it"!
The Gedolei HaDor ALWAYS expected men to take responsibility for their own behavior.
This distortion came from lower-tier rabbis & rebbetzins, not the truly great ones.
And this has caused damage, resulting in divorce and frum adult women suffering depression and needing medication, and adult women going off the derech (whether publicly or privately), etc.
One 30-something woman confided how she very nearly picked up the kids, threw off everything (shaitel, modest clothing, etc.) to leave her emotionally and verbally abusive husband.
But she stopped herself both by recalling her intensive study of the proofs of Hashem & Torah at Har Sinai (she realized it lacked intellectual integrity to throw everything away for emotional reasons, i.e., her intense emotional suffering), and she got in contact with a chassidish rebbetzin who tended to be very good at helping women with these issues.
It helped that this chassidish rebbetzin enjoyed tremendous yichus in the chassidish world, and she actually knew from her own positive experiences with older rabbinical family members how REAL talmidei chachamim & rabbinical leaders behave.
(I also knew a Litvish rebbetzin related to half the Litvish Gedolei Hador, and she also had stories of how REAL Sages behave at home and with family members, how patient & caring & good-humored they are.)
Anyway, my friend stopped going to all these people and started to consult only with this chassidish rebbetzin, and this saved her frumkeit, mental health, and marriage...though her marriage never ended up being happy—at least, last I heard from her about it.
(To her credit, she stopped speaking about it unnecessarily and told us she had decided to use its nisayon as her personal avodah instead.)
So like I said, everyone has bechirah and are responsible for their choices.
And she used hers well in the end.
But because of a lot distortion by people who mistakenly considered themselves accurate representatives of Torah hashkafah, she got pushed to the edge and almost went over.
You Can't Fix Others until You Fix Yourself – And How Many People Have Even Tried to Do Just That?
The lower-tier rabbis & rebbetzins (and frum therapists) I saw/heard doing this never seemed to be doing it on purpose.
They genuinely believed this to be the correct way to shalom bayit, but some definitely were manipulative about it (again, thinking their manipulations were permissible because they believed them to be helpful).
(Note: Intentional distorters in frum garb exist, but I only ran into one like that. The person was in a position of influence, but not as a rabbi or rebbetzin or therapist—though the person did try their hand at giving shiurim at one point.)
For many people, they simply have not invested in the deep cheshbon hanefesh and hitbonenut necessary to arrive at the correct hashkafah.
In other words, they advise others according to what feels right to the advisor's individual personality...rather than what is right according to Torah and for the advice-seeker.
So if what feels right ends up being the non-Jewish ideal of a 1950s housewife or the what worked for the pre-WWII Polish upper class, then that's what they'll promote.
Sometimes, they unintentionally become deeply subjective & simply go according to what they liked or disliked in their own parents' marriage, instead of what's actually correct or works for others.
Some suffer from an emotionally or verbally abuse spouse themselves and have grown to consider this behavior normal within marriage.
Too uncomfortable with acknowledging to themselves that they are married to a dysfunctional person, they convince themselves that "all men are like that"—even when they know it's not really true.
(These are often the advisors who claim "all men are like that" when faced with stories of clearly dysfunctional behavior, whether it's verbal abuse, passive-aggression, or emotional neglect.)
Paradoxically, some lie to themselves about their own behavior and regard expressions of anger as momentary lapses or just speaking passionately, rather than accepting the anger for what it is—actual forbidden expressions of anger.
So they don't see anything wrong when one spouse yells or get angry at another (because they do it too & they also justify it for themselves).
For example, a rabbi once mentioned to us how he and his wife habitually ended arguments by slamming doors.
I looked at him in shock, thinking, What are you—a five-year-old?
That he wasn't embarrassed to admit this also shocked me.
But he wasn't embarrassed because he honestly saw nothing wrong with it.
He saw nothing wrong with frequent marital arguments (even after 30 years of marriage), nor did he see anything wrong with such volatile immature behavior (shouting & door-slamming) during arguments.
And that's extremely problematic. How can he not know this is not condoned in Torah?
Fortunately, he rarely does shalom bayit counseling. He himself admitted that he learned early on it wasn't for him.
In fact, I've been shocked several times by advisors who remained so out of touch with their own behavior, they openly admitted to behavior anyone would identify as "the wrong way to handle this," but they themselves remain blind to the obvious wrongness.
Yet they continue to advise others.
And that's what I mean by unintentional.
They don't mean to give real bad or anti-Torah advice, but having never worked on breaking their middot, they can't help themselves from adopting a non-Torah hashkafah in areas that go against their innate nature.
However, the Pele Yoetz clearly labels men who shame, curse, or hit their wives as "boors and frivolous and rash individuals" who are actually harming themselves. Such men are condemned as causing serious flaws in their children and harming his Olam Haba.
(Note: The original word translated here as "shame" is l'vazot/לבזות—which means a lot more than shame; it implies verbal abuse, derision, and degradation.)
So who are these people to dismiss such behavior as "all men are like that" or to find it acceptable for oneself or others?
The Most Common Unconscious Motivations for Giving Non-Torah Advice
It's very important to receive advice according Torah—including what the Torah would say according to your personal situation along with all the unique factors that comprise your individual circumstances.
Way too many people give & receive advice that is:
- based on the advisor's emotions (what makes the advisor feel good or important)
- based on the advisor's comfort zone (whatever feels familiar or "right" to them)
- based on the advisor's blind spots ("That can't be so bad; after all, I/my spouse does that too!")
- based on secular pop psychology (You'd be surprised at how many English-speaking rabbis & rebbetzins make sure to read whatever the latest self-help happens to be, convince themselves that the appealing parts can be found in Torah—and they have decades of this feel-good overly simplistic junk in their head.)
- in line with the advisor's unconscious personal agenda or bias (like if they feel the younger generation is spoiled and needs to buck up, they will consistently berate a young advice-seeker for being spoiled and pressure them to do more no matter how much they do; it will never be enough due to the advisor's personal bias—ditto with wrong attitudes regarding men or women, etc.)
Regular people do all the above too, of course.
However, when a person holds a position of authority (like a degree or title), their advice carries a lot more weight...and a lot more damage.
So...be careful out there!
Make sure you read authentic Torah hashkafah yourself, even if you don't fully understand all of it or how to apply it (Mishlei, Orchot Tzaddikim, Mesillat Yesharim, Rav Eliyahu Dessler, Pele Yoetz, Chassidus, etc.).
It will help you with yourself and also with identifying truly helpful Torah-based advisors.
And stick with Hashem.
He's the Only One who really, truly loves you & wants what's best for you.
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