Women of Valor

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Domestic Religion

Barbara Myerhoff, 1935 - 1985

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Rachel Discusses Domestic Religion with Myerhoff at the Israel Levin Senior Center

In the following quote from the book Number Our Days, Rachel, one of the center elders, describes "domestic religion"—a concept Myerhoff used to examine the different religious experiences of Jewish men and women:

RACHEL: "Now I did not like to wipe the dishes because the towel was so rough, it didn't feel good, and I did not know how to explain this to Grandmother....So I rebelled against that. The job was not well done. I'll never forget that, how my grandmother, she took me aside one day....She began first all around with praises. "Rucheleh," she says,"...you know you are carrying a holy name. And according to your name, you have to be perfect." Well, she gave me all that until when I looked at her, my spirit was rising and rising, higher and faster until I forget all about that sturdy towel and my hatred for it....after that speech, I was transformed into a different person. The towel became soft as fine linen and I loved to wipe the dishes. And always before me, when I was wiping the dishes was the name of the holy mother Rachel, and I thought, 'She's right. I am that woman.' That, that is what I call domestic religion....

"I think the boys didn't have it that way. They knew what the sacred words meant so they could argue and doubt. But with us girls, we couldn't doubt because what we knew came without understanding. These things were injected into you in childhood....When it goes in this way, I describe, Jewish comes up in you from the roots and it stays with you all your life."

Notes: 
  1. Entire quote from Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days (New York: Dutton, 1978) 234-5.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Barbara Myerhoff - Domestic Religion." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/myerhoff/domestic-religion>.