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The Debate Continues

I’m happy to share with you my open letter to the editors at Aish.com

Dear Aish editor,

My name is Chavi Cohen and I am both a graduate of Harvard University and of EYAHT.  I have been a long-time supporter of Aish and worked for Rabbi Gluckin and Aish Boston when I was in college.

I am writing now in response to an article posted on Aish.com “Mommy Detour” by Rachel Barmatz.

Although it was easy for me to become frum while in high school and then college, after being frum for a few years I began to feel like I was submerging parts of myself that needed to be expressed.  This feeling became particularly acute when I got married about a year after graduating from college and had my first child about 10 months later.  Adding to my angst was the intense pressure that the frum community exerts that being a stay-at-home mom is the only option – or for second best, one should teach or find a job that allows them to be home as much as possible.  This was clearly Rachel’s perspective.

I want to strongly urge Aish.com to go the extra mile and start either a column or a series to present the opposite side of things.  There are so many truly talented and brilliant women who need the support of the frum community to develop themselves in many different ways.  While, yes, many women might need the chizuk to step away from the career track, there are just as many woman who need the encouragement, support and role-modeling to do the exact opposite.  And outside of careers, there are also women who need to be encouraged to continue playing music, speaking in public, or any other skill they developed before becoming frum.

We do our entire community a disservice if we continue to promote only one right way to be a frum Jewish woman.

I wholly support Rachel’s decisions, but I hope that there is not a woman reading her article out there and being weighed down by the guilt she perceives from making different decisions.

I would appreciate a response.  Furthermore, I would be happy to contribute my perspective on this issue in an article for aish.com or in whatever forum deemed appropriate.

I urge the editors of aish.com to learn more about me and my personal struggles and challenges of being a frum woman on my blog – www.harvardhousewife.wordpress.com.

Thank you,
Chavi Cohen


Use the comments to tell me what YOU think!

Categories: Family, Me, Work
  1. February 28, 2011 at 11:48 am

    This is very well written– and very timely.

    I would go a step further and say that your point extends beyond what women choose to do after children. As people (men and women) become more religious, they often feel pressure to be frum in one particular way. “This is the ONLY way that I will be really frum.” For women, this may mean putting their career on the back burner, covering their hair in one particular way, ect. For men, the issues are different.

    It is important that we are (1) given proper guidance re: what is and is not within halacha (ie halacha v. minhag) AND ALSO (2) where there is room for self expression and individuality (ie “you don’t have to stop doing X/wearing X/saying X/eating X as long as it is within halacha). My husband says, “Everyone heard something different at Sinai. Who are we to judge, as long as the person is within normative halacha.” He is right– my expression of a mitzvah (be it raising my children, developing myself, whatever) will never look the same as your expression of that mitzvah. Newly religious people should be told that this is OK. We want diversity in klal Israel. Every person serves a unique purpose and the klal needs us all, together.

    As far as career is concerned, I am sure that I would have made the same decision to stay home had I not become religious. I am just one of those people that feels “right” staying home– and I never felt “right” in a courtroom or in a sales pitch (even if I could fake it). But that is my tafkid. We should be empowered to each grow within our own.

    • February 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Jessica – great point – i didn’t even think about it like that! definitely another issue to think about and hopefully discuss!

  2. Sophia
    March 1, 2011 at 11:22 am

    You bring up many different points here. Unfortunately, when it comes to being a stay-at-home mom (or parent) your reasoning is completely misguided. It’s apparent that you are continuing this debate out of guilt and because the true mother/wife inside you knows you can’t have it all- despite what you’re trying to portray to everyone. This is not a religious debate. This is common sense. This is what life is about- figuring out your priorities and making wise decisions because you recognize that it is impossible to have it all.

    It’s ironic how so many highly educated women are so uneducated when it comes to their own families. How could a baby be better off raised by someone else?? Do you think your child really cares about your accomplishments at work? Do you really think kids walk around thinking, “I’m so lucky, my mom is a doctor.” Or “I’m so lucky, even though I only see my mom for an hour before I go to sleep at least we drive nice cars, get to go on vacations, and my mom feels accomplishment.” No. Kids feel lucky when they know they are loved because their parents are THERE for them. When you’re feeling sick or sad, do you really want to be dropped off at some hired-helps house instead of being comforted by your family members?

    Being a stay-at-home mom does not mean someone is uneducated or unaccomplished- quite the contrary. Of course, the first step in having a good family is marrying a good man. A good man feels pride taking care of his family. He takes pride knowing his kids are safe and secure at home while he works hard to provide. Yes, that means a good woman is there for her man to feed him, take care of him, support him, etc. You think your decision is great because everything is 50/50. I know your husband would be happier if you started putting what’s really first in your life first and started to create a home out of your house.

  3. March 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Great post! I also have a “theory” that observant Judaim might lose some pretty good women if being a stay-at-home all the time mom is the only possible career. Especially in the places where the Jewish communities are not very big and girls can see lots of other role models.

  4. ruchi Koval
    March 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Not sure where the “stay-at-home” sterotype came from. Very few of my friends are.

  5. March 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Lots of food for thought, thank you!

    A couple of piggyback thoughts…

    1) For Sophia— I truly feel that my kids DO understand my accomplishments at work and are proud of me– at their level. They’re twins, 4 years old and of course don’t understand fully what I do, but when they hear me on the phone coaching a consultant in my unit, they learn leadership skills. When they see me encouraging a woman with a skin care concern to learn the features and benefits of a product that might help her, they are learning how to treat every person with respect and love because no problem is too small to be taken seriously. From the balancing act I do as a work at home mom (the right choice for OUR family, not for every family!), they learn time management skills. Not every mom works at home, but women who work outside the home often bring something work related home and every child at his/her own level learns a lot from what their mommy does outside of “mommying”, whatever it may be (including volunteer work, chesed, etc).

    2) Let’s not forget about the unemployed, underemployed, or stay at home dads. So many dads are pushing swings at the playground SO THAT their wives can further their career whether by choice or by circumstance. Kudos to the tough choices that every family needs to make based on what’s right for their family situation and their finances.

    Yep, I work, but we don’t drive nice cars or go on vacations. I work because my husband’s income simply isn’t enough. but it doesn’t matter why I work. It matters that it’s the right decision at this time for my family.

  1. March 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

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