I first met Ruth when I was a student, in the fervently
ideological sixties. Ruth was the wife of a young
shochet who had smicha. She wasn't quite a
rebbetzin yet — her husband had no flock and
they were both so young. There was a crowd of us,
`identified' though not necessarily religious Jewish
students, who kind of gravitated towards Ruth's house on
Shabbos, Purim, on and on.
Ruth's door was always open for us. Ruth's larder could
always feed another guest. Ruth's smile was ever-present and
nothing seemed to faze her.
In those far-off days, I used to almost pity Ruth. She was
`tied down' to her house. She produced baby after baby and
what a fuss was made when she finally had a boy! She didn't
seem to question her lot. All she had was the pots and pans,
the diapers, the washing, the housework, the care of the
children. What was she doing to expand her mind? How could
she stand to be so subservient?
"What do you want to do all this studying for; it's not going
to help you change a dirty diaper!" she would remark.
I couldn't understand it. My idealism, my home thought-out
version of women's lib, my inability to accept anything
unquestioningly — were all challenged by this simple
Ruth radiated contentment. She was so happy with her lot. She
adored her husband, a jolly, outgoing, outreaching and
brilliant man. She used to give lessons in Kitzur Shulchon
Oruch to some girls.
"What about gemora?"
"What do you want to learn that for?" she said with her
smiley, contented but dumbfounded voice.
I couldn't possibly understand then that Ruth was a true
product of her upbringing. A Stamford Hill girl who had
reached her ultimate role, her tachlis.
I spent Shabbos after Shabbos by her. I would babysit in the
afternoon so that Abba and Imma could have their Shabbos
rest. In those days, I couldn't really understand why they
needed to sleep. I helped make the salads and things for the
unknowable influx of visitors for seuda shlishis. And
all the while I was changing, growing in my Yiddishkeit from
a "United Synagogue" (a step under Mizrachi) shul-goer
into a "I'm not quite sure how you would put it."
I was after consistency; I was after understanding; I was
after doing things correctly. BUT! I was battling with logic.
I was fumbling with fairness, and my status as a woman just
had me floored.
I visited Ruth several times, after I was married. I brought
my little three-boy brood to be inspected by the "mother of
all mothers." I drank in that non-stop inner contentment that
only Ruth could radiate. Though at first, a bit bemused by
the numbers, soon my boys just blended with Ruth's household
and they, like me, wanted to stay.
Now, several of my own boys later, and in a different
country, I can only contact Ruth on the telephone. Yes, her
voice on the phone still transmits that radiant, contented
smile, and my poor tainted mind still cannot let that
contentment just flow over and become a permanent part of
I wonder what the answer is with our own precious children. I
think of Ruth and I wish that I could be like her. I will
that my questions and discomforts would leave me in peace. I
long to be able to ignore those feelings in the pit of my
stomach that come every time I think my `rights' are being
ignored. I wonder how I could ever get back to the Yiddishe
Mama who reacts with her emotions, her instincts and not with
Can we really stop our girls from being infiltrated by
today's imperatives? Do we know how to package and sell the
real Jewish Woman of Valor to our precious progeny?
I saw in England, some time ago, that the Chief Rabbinate was
trying to set up a committee whose aim was to find a more
acceptable Jewish Woman image to put over in this day-and-
age. I shuddered. The `real thing' is such a beautiful image,
if only people wouldn't buy `this day-and-age' as an
My brain screams at me that girls have a right to know, that
a girl should be allowed to think for herself, that she
should be allowed to use the brain that Hashem gave her. Yet
I know that on that slippery path, there are infiltrators;
there are foreign value systems; there is discontent and
Ruth wasn't told that things should be different. She is
doing what she wants to do. I wonder. Oh, how I wonder: how
can we bring up a generation of `Ruths' in THIS DAY AND