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I Choose to Play the Vacuum . . .

This morning I checked out an interview in What is Enlightenment?, which featured two Orthodox women discussing “the Jewish view of femininity.” One was Esther Kosovsky, the Director of the Jewish Educational Resource Center in western Massachusetts, who is also the wife of a rabbi, mom to eight, and daughter of Rabbi David Edelman, leader of the Lubavitch Orthodox congregation in western Massachusetts. The interviewer, Amy Edelstein, asked Esther about men and women maintaining separate roles within Orthodox Judaism.

Esther’s response: “I view it as almost like an orchestra, where every piece has its own role. If they all play the best that they can, understanding that they’re only a part of the orchestra, then together they will make a wonderful concert.” She goes on to say: “There are differences that we can’t ignore” and that “we’re better suited for different roles.”

I’m not Orthodox, but the exchange still got me thinking. When I married my husband, we went through a lengthy process of divvying up household responsibilities. We ended up each choosing the duties we disliked the least. He puts away the dishes from the dishwasher; I put away items on the drying rack. He makes lunch for our toddler; I vacuum. He does food shopping; I pay the bills. It is in no way a smooth-running orchestra, and there has been a fair amount of chaos in trying to recall which instruments we play. Sometimes we duplicate efforts; we’re not always sure who should empty the cat litter or drag out the garbage. These are no-man’s-land responsibilities, which change from week to week. Yesterday we played a round of “odds or evens” to determine who would go out in the torrential rain to pick up our daughter.

It makes sense for husband and wife to follow traditional , well-defined roles, whether or not you’re Orthodox. I used to look down on couples who chose to split up the chores based on old conventions, but I no longer do. There would be less confusion, questioning, and irritation if my husband and I inherently knew our household chores, and were consistent.

But, personally, I prefer a concert where we get to play the instruments of our choice—not necessarily the ones that are convenient to play, are dictated to us, or that we are good at. It takes a while to find the harmony, but there’s satisfaction in working it through.

How do you choose, or plan to choose, your instruments?

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"It makes sense for husband and wife to follow traditional, well-defined roles"

Talk about something I never expected to read on this blog. I had to read it twice to make sure I was reading it correctly. It is hard to know where to start with how wrong I think that statement is. Traditional roles would keep women at home, doing all the housework, responsible for all the childcare (with the possible exception of "just wait until your father gets home"-type discipline) and dependent on their husbands for economic security.

Thoughtless adherence to traditional, well-defined roles are why I get asked questions like "who does the guy stuff?" in my relationship. Some people just can't fathom how two women run a household.

Without stereotypical roles to base our behavior on, we split up the work based on who can do what and what needs to get done. She cooks, I clean to admittedly the extent our place gets cleaned, we both do laundry and we both deal with the litter box. We don't spend a lot of time hashing out who does what -- the real issue is finding the time and energy to do the things we think need to get done.

Who really benefits when we rely on traditional roles? I'm thinking... not women.

Alot of people have the wrong image of Orthodox women in general. We aren't all housewives. We aren't some subservient subjects to our lordly husbands, though I think you are correct in quoting that there are differences that we cannot ignore and that we are better suited in different areas.

That being said, I don't think the splitting of household chores has anything to do with being Orthodox or following that style. I can cook. If we relied on my husband to prepare meals or even do food shopping, I think we'd be eating cereal 24/7 or breaking our budget on take-out. I can't fold laundry. My husband is the Martha Stewart of folding laundry. Splitting up household chores is something many people do to keep their sanity - not to keep their "traditional gender-based roles."

Thanks for a thought-provoking post. It's hard for me to understand when I see a strong, self-reliant, and confident woman choosing to join a group where all the public power resides with men. In the linked interview, Esther Kosovsky says, "There is a beauty when everyone understands what their own strengths are and when their strengths are called for." I think that's a powerful message, but I don't accept that the strengths are segregated by sex. To me, the negotiation between couples and within communities that comes with not following traditional roles is an important way of valuing each person's individual strengths and acknowledging commitment to the relationship.

I choose to choose.

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How to cite this page

Cove, Michelle. "I Choose to Play the Vacuum . . .." 16 May 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 5, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/playthevacuum>.