A Valorous Woman
We’ve all seen—and heard of—the impossible standards to which women are held: be skinny, beautiful, athletic, and put together, but also be “natural” and be “yourself.” Don’t change yourself for a man, but don’t scare him off by being too honest or “real” from the get-go either. Be smart and informed, but don’t let your intelligence outshine his, or else his masculinity might be threatened. Be a perfect mother and wife, but make sure you’re also highly accomplished at work. These messages are difficult to interpret and they impact us more than we would like to think. But at least, for the most part, we’re aware of their presence, right?
Well, what if I told you that these messages have been around for thousands of years, and that you can find them in the single most influential piece of literature ever written? Yes, I’m talking about the Bible.
Thinking about it now, it actually isn’t that surprising that the Bible contains gender stereotypes and unrealistic standards. After all, in the Creation story, Eve is depicted as a subservient, trivial character who was responsible for her and Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden—leading, of course, to the downfall of man. But wouldn’t you think that if we were aware that the stories read and studied multiple times per day contained unfair expectations for women, that it would be acknowledged more universally? I would certainly hope so, yet sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Take, for example, the following passage from Proverbs 31:10-31:
A valorous woman who can find?! Her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her, and lacks no good thing. She is good to him, never bad, all the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax, and sets her hand to them with a will. She is like a merchant fleet, bringing her food from afar. She rises while it is still night, and supplies provisions for her household, the daily fare of her maids. She sets her mind on an estate and acquires it; she plants a vineyard by her own labors. She girds herself with strength, and performs her tasks with vigor.
Orthodox Jewish husbands traditionally recite this passage to their wives during Friday night Shabbat. It is meant to be an acknowledgement and appreciation of her work, “worth far beyond that of rubies.” Yes, this passage is sweetly endearing, that is true. Yet when I finished reading, the only woman that I could think of that fit the description of “the valorous woman” was some kind of female superhero (and Beyoncé, of course, but “superhero” and “Beyoncé” are synonyms anyway). The woman described in the passage cannot only do it all, but excels at everything that she attempts. How are we, as modern women, supposed to measure up to this “Superwoman?”
Sure, the women who hear this every Friday night might appreciate that their work is being acknowledged, yet I feel as though it is a reminder to them to keep doing more. The “blessing” also ignores that women should have the ability to not only take care of the home and the family, but also to be who she wants to be in the world.
Mothers are, and have been, valued in society for a long time. But women’s roles have changed with the times, and as a result, women have more choices now as to how they live their lives. And one of these choices is to not marry nor have children: an admirable decision, especially because of the stigma that still surrounds women who make this choice. They simply add to society in a way that is more meaningful to them. These valorous women deserve to be celebrated and praised just as much as any other, however because of the strict messages from society and traditional religious concepts, they often are not.
The “Woman of Valor” proverb is as old as time itself, and although parts of it still apply, not all of it does. Women now have different roles in society, and focus on different tasks, including pursuing dreams and careers that wouldn’t have been open to them earlier. As a result of this, we need to update how we honor women: we need a new way to bestow blessings of love and appreciation to the women of our lives, whatever paths they choose.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Kahn, Ellie. "A Valorous Woman ." 5 May 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/valorous-woman-0>.
it all still applies. it's just a parable.the torah is timeless.. it was created first, the world was created for it. And so, yes, we are meant to look at our roles, and they sure have changed for all practical purposes, but even back then, Deborah the prophetess was the leader of all the Jews, she led outdoors for the sake of dignity and modesty, but she wasn't busy making cheesecake. I don't feel that the Eshet Chayil is outdated. Rather it is remarkably relevant. She is like a merchant fleet. Sounds like a CEO to me!