The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage by Maurice Lamm

Jewish Star of David by Carol Welsh

Last year, I read through  The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage. Maurice Lamm teaches the traditional view of marriage, divorce, gender and family in Judaism. The book is based on the teaching of the Torah, the Jewish Codes and their interpretations  through-out millennial Jewish history. My favorite chapters were “Jewish Insights into Marriage” and “The Purposes of Marriage.” His section on the family is a beautiful picture of God’s love for the House of Israel.

I knew from my studies of the Old Testament that Judaism treated women far better than any other ancient culture. Women held status is business, in marriage, in politics and in society. Studying the book from a “traditional” Christian woman view-point, I’d like highlight a few lessons I learned from Lamm’s book.

Women in marriage

Lamm captures an emphasis of Jewish marriage that I don’t often see emphasized in Christian marriage. Companionship. This idea comes from Malachi 2:14 where the word for wife in Hebrew signifies…

“one who is involved in a joint venture, or a ‘joint partner,’ … [Marriage is]…Not ‘one body, one thought,’  but one joined body retaining two thoughts.” (Chatam Sofer quoted on p 126-127)

When God created Adam alone, Judiasm teaches He did it so that man would learn a valuable lesson. Without his companion, woman, he was lonely and incomplete. He was one-sided. Jewish marriage brings man not someone to “help” him or back him up (as is often spoken of in churches), but someone to counter him; to stand opposite him, to be different from him, to give him the second side of life. Without a woman, man is in a sorry state, is the  Jewish thought. Unlike the Christian thought…without a man, woman has no purpose  because she was created for him. It a subtle, yet profound difference which exalts women in practice, not theory alone.

Women in language

The difference in how the Jewish people viewed women versus how the Romans viewed women is evident in their language. The word for womb in Latin is hysteria; from the convulsions of childbirth. In Hebrew it is rechem; compassion. Isn’t that beautiful? Also, the picture word (Hebrew has evolved from pictographs.) for mother in Hebrew is…

(eym). The is a picture of an ox representing strength and the is a picture of water. Combined, these mean “strong water” or glue. The mother is understood by the ancient Hebrews as one who binds the family together.” (from www.ancient-hebrew.org/26_meaning.html)

It reveals the ancient attitudes toward women. Baby maker in one. The heart of the family in another.

Woman and sex

In contrast to the Christian wedding, a Jewish woman makes no verbal promises. She gives her agreement to the oath of  unity, but does not vow to submit, obey or love until death. It is the husband who must vow alone. What does he vow? To provide love, honor, provisions and sexual pleasure! What a contrast to a Christian marriage where we place the responsibility on the wife to please her man! The biblical command is found in the negative in Exodus 21:10 and in the positive in Deuteronomy 24:5. Here it is in Lamm’s words from page 136-137.

The Bible conceives of sex within marriage as the woman’s right and the man’s duty. (Until quite recently, the western concept of marital duty was that it is man’s right and woman’s duty). The woman’s right is assured by the Bible; she may not waive it, and her husband may  not preclude it as a condition of the marriage contract.

Woman’s duty to man is specifically described in the Talmud, though it is not recorded in the Bible. The basic idea of the woman’s right does not originate in an act of kindness, but is an essential component of marriage. No man may marry a woman and then simply ignore her or her sexual needs. It is remarkable that it has taken western thought so long to come to the conclusion that was evident in ancient biblical times, namely, that women have sexual needs just like men.

The frequency and delight of onah, or sex in marriage, is of particular importance. Sex isn’t hushed up. It is celebrated, planned for and considered a spiritual act of worship. The teaching and preparation the rabbis and Jewish mothers gave to onah is detailed. It wasn’t relegated to masculine locker-room talk. Onah was viewed in light of the wife’s favor and permission. Grooms were prepped to how to best please his bride. It was so important that a woman could seek a divorce if she found her husband sexually repulsive. (Marriages were arranged.)

What a counter-church-culture idea! Sex is the woman’s right and the man’s duty.

Woman’s independence

I love the sound of those two words together!

“No individual can acquire possessive rights of another individual…The Torah speaks of woman’s rights (ishut); it says nothing of a man’s rights, only of his obligations.”(p.155-156)

Women retained their independence in marriage. They were able to seek a divorce. Their husband was not responsible for her actions, nor was able to “interfere in her life.”  If a man ever beat his wife, which was extremely rare as was emotional threats and browbeating, he was compelled to pay damages and to provide for her upkeep apart from him. A wife’s finances were hers, to invest or spend as desired for the good of the family, as the husband was likewise. She had the right to own property separate from her husband. Women often earned income in commercial enterprises. If a wife was forbidden to work, the Talmud grants her grounds for divorce! House chores fell to the woman to either fulfill herself or hire the work to another. Her choice.

If Christians had retained more of Jewish heritage than Roman, there would have been no need for the woman’s suffrage movement in the mid 1800’s!

Woman and mother

The Rabbis teach the inherent value of woman, not as life-giver, but simply as woman. The lesson is taken from Rachel, who cried to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Jacob reaffirms her value as woman apart from her role as mother. Woman has been given two names in scripture. Ishah, a person who stands opposite and equal to ish, man.

She is ishah in terms of her own personality the integrity of her thoughts, and her relationship with God and with man. Because she is able to reproduce a human being, she is also chavah [mother of all living things], an additional glory that man can never know. A woman who is barren and cannot fulfill her chavah role remains an ishah, a female person – alive, aware, concerned and creative in other spheres. (p 159)

Again, the culture of  some churches is to focus so much on mother, they ignore the women. Being mother is bonus.

Woman in worship

Since the book was primarily about marriage, Lamm didn’t give much information on woman’s role outside of family and marriage. General statements throughout the book,  confirmed the notion that Jewish scholars throughout time have considered women the more pious of the genders. It is the womanly cries in Egypt that provoked God to deliver the slaves. Women lead the prayer in the homes on Sabbath, and bring light. It was with knowledge of God that the woman was tempted in the garden, while the man was content to let her seek it. And in a twist of reasoning, women are exempted from certain obligations at “temple” due to their propensity to neglect their duties at home in favor of communal worship.  It is the natural bent of woman to connect to the spiritual.

Lamm’s book was a lesson for me, not only on women’s issues, but on family issues. The strong emphasis on family preservation in Jewish culture is to be admired, emulated and praised. The strength of Judaism throughout the millenia is found in the home. And at its center, woman.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.

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17 thoughts on “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage by Maurice Lamm

  1. I just read a Salon article by Anne Lamott saying how much she hated mother’s day, because it subtly implied that mothers are somehow more selfless, more capable of love, and even morally better than non-mothers. (She’s also not a fan of Valentine’s Day.) She is a mother.

    Also, I like the view of sex as “a man’s duty,” since he’s the party who has to work a bit for the other party to get anything out of it.

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    1. I knew you’d like that part. Certainly makes for a happier marriage. God gave us our anatomy, so he knew which side would need which obligation/right. It is sad churches teach it backward.

      My thinking about women and spirituality is the most changed from this book. I’ve been taught in the past that men should be more spiritually minded. And I’ve always felt a bit guilty because I was more than most men. I’ve come to believe that is a strength (and temptation) in our gender.

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      1. Oh definitely, I think women are more emotionally and spiritually intuitive. Like witches, for instance. (Don’t even ask why that came to me as a valid example.) And oracles. (That’s more valid.)

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  2. Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading it. I think the church (including myself) has gone too far in its response to feminism. I love everything in this article EXCEPT the two words you liked side-by-side, “Woman’s Independence.” Secular culture in an attempt to free women from domination by men (which was very real – I’m not discounting that), has pounded this into young women’s brains to the point where marriages become two people living together, but not depending on each other. I don’t think we should be dependent on men, and men independent of women. I think there should be inter-dependence. I don’t think separate bank accounts are a good idea, only because all things should be shared in marriage – including the decision-making of how to spend the money which should go into the same pot. This idea of his and hers is destructive to oneness in a marriage.

    Other than that, I love this post, and I’m sure I’d love this book. Might just have to go buy it. And BTW, I’ve been watching Madmen – what a fascinating glimpse into pre-feminist America. Sure glad I wasn’t married in the 50’s & 60’s!

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    1. put that way, sure. I was writing from visions of arranged marriages, no-vote, not being able to care for yourself or family if you didn’t have a man, being told how to live, not own property, no legal name, letters addressed to your husband – never you, etc.
      I believe American women have this independence today because of the reforms of those suffragettes!

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    2. Hi Christy, I am a Jewish woman who is also a bleiever in Y’Shua. There is something so beautiful about “Woman’s Independence” that Christian’s so not not grasp or understand since it is not part of your culture. It is an independence that is a type of confidence, not a seperation if that makes sense.

      Take Proverbs 31… this woman is ‘able’ to do all these things because she is independent– confident. She and her husband are unified and he trusts her, so there is no “seperation” as in women’s Lib kind of stuff.

      Hope that helps.

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  3. Interestingly, I finished reading a novel by Beverly Lewis on Amish lifestyle. I saw some of the same things emphasized that you found in the book by Camm. I agree with your comments.

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  4. I believe the problems come from where our focus lies. Whether the Jewish view of love and marraige, or the Christian view, etc. There will never be a such thing as a perfect marraige, but as believers we should be putting our spouse and their needs before ourselves. (and as Don, I think? commented on your more recent blog post-yes, I’m going backwards- the Bible says we are to submit to one another.)
    No matter the culture we were raised in, or the culture we live in, our focus (and resulting choices because of that focus) is crucial. It’s not about me. And when I make it about the woman, or about the man, things are definitely gonna get a little messy and muddled up.

    It was really interesting to read this- I never knew “the Jewish way” was like this! really enjoyed it.

    ps- its a good thing I’m not a translator- I would have taken the word mother and instead of “strong water” or glue I would have assumed the literal translation to be water ox. =D

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  5. Interesting stuff – Jewish viewpoints. Have to say, though, that going back further to biblical times, it appears the men weren’t listening on the sexual training. Hence, so many wives and concubines for key men of OT times. At least America frowns upon polygamy!

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  6. Kay, I really enjoyed your post! Very well thought out! As I replied above to Christy, I am a Jewish woman and a believer in Y’Shua. I love reading material from others who are putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

    I’m sure you’ve come across this before, but when we marry we sign a Marriage “Contract” (Katubah) which actually states in it what the man promises to provide for us and do for us during our marriage. It also states the monetary provisions for the wife upon divorce if it should ever come. There is no place in this contract for the woman to make any such provisions.

    This mimicks the Torah (10 Commands) which G-d gave to us at Sinai… He made provisions for His Bride and we made none. Beautiful.

    Thanks again, I enjoyed reading it!

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  7. Well,…interesting article and very insightful. It is strange that no person responding has challenged anything being said and that there are plenty of “that’s right!” to go around. Then again, if there is no challenge, how is it that there will be any growth? I will challenge. It would seem that someone needs to!! First, I represent the MALE component that is being so happily beaten into the ground here (he has to do all the work, he signs the contract and we don’t have to Ha, Ha,Ha, etc…). Sounds like lazy, cowardly behavior that no person should be thankful about or praise. You may a now jump on board and blast away. After all, that would be fitting.

    ONE left.

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