This website is made possible by generous donations from users just like you. $18 helps keep JWA online for one day. As we celebrate Women’s History Month—and Purim and Passover—this month, please consider a gift to JWA today!
Close [x]

You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share


Helene Deutsch

In 1923, Helene Deutsch became the first psychoanalyst to write a book about female psychology, called Psychoanalysis of the Sexual Functions of Women in English. Her interest in the subject, along with that of Karen Horney, helped to push her mentor Sigmund Freud, who did not like being left behind, into writing articles about female psychology. When Deutsch was completing her manuscript, she wrote to her husband, Felix, “It brings something new to this terra incognita in analysis—I believe, the first ray of light on the unappreciated female libido.” For her to draw attention to the female libido in that era was implicitly to amend Freud’s own outlook. At the same time, Deutsch was pioneering the importance of motherhood. Other psychoanalysts of the period, such as Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Georg Groddeck, were also intrigued by the neglected role of mothering, but Deutsch was the one to insist on its special significance for female psychology. Although she always remained loyal to Freud’s conceptual framework, her writings were an outgrowth of her own personal experiences and insight.

Demography: Soviet Union, the Russian Federation and other Successor States

Marriage and Divorce. Before World War II the Jewish marriage pattern was rather favorable for fertility. In 1939 one half of the Jewish women aged 20–24 and more than 70 percent of those aged 25–44 in the Russian Federation were currently married. However, in 1959, the percentage of currently married Jewish females below the age of 25 was much lower than it had been in pre-war 1939 (Table 1). This may be seen as an indirect indicator of the rise in age at first marriage between the two censuses, for which we have no direct data.

Daughters of Zelophehad: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis rain many praises on the daughters of Zelophehad: they are wise, exegetes and and virtuous (BT Bava Batra 119b); they are like the daughters of kings, fine and worthy (Sifrei Zuta 15:32). The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] declares that all five daughters possessed all these admirable qualities: none was better than the others, and all were equal (Sifrei on Numbers, para. 133).

Daughters of Zelophehad: Bible

The story of the five daughters of Zelophehad provides legitimation of a limited right of Israelite women to inherit land. It also places specific marriage restrictions upon any women who inherit under this right. The story celebrates women’s boldness and at the same time offers comfort for men who have the misfortune (from the Bible’s androcentric point of view) to have no sons.

Daughter of Pharaoh: Midrash and Aggadah

The daughter of Pharaoh did not follow her father’s wicked ways, but rather converted and ceased worshiping idols. She was highly praised by the Rabbis, and the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] includes her among the devout women converts: Hagar, Asenath, Zipporah, Shiphrah, Puah, the daughter of Pharaoh, Rahab, Ruth and Jael wife of Heber the Kenite (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], p. 474). The midrash specifically praised the daughter of Pharaoh for her rescue of Moses, thereby aiding in the exodus of all the Israelites from Egypt. Moses was raised in her home, by a woman who believed in God. She radiated warmth and loved him as if he were her own son, and accordingly was richly rewarded: she married Caleb son of Jephunneh and joined the people of Israel. Some midrashim attest to her longevity and claim that she entered the Garden of Eden while still alive.


One of the major sources dealing with contraception is [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:426]Tosefta[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:373]Niddah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] 2:6: “[T]hree women use a [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:364]mokh[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (contraceptive absorbent): a minor, a pregnant woman and a nursing woman. The minor lest she become pregnant and die ... the pregnant woman lest she make her fetus into a compressed fetus [by conceiving a second time causing the second, later conceived, fetus to crush the first, earlier conceived], a nursing woman lest she kill her child [inadvertently by early weaning as a result of the new pregnancy and not being circumspect in providing alternative healthy food] ….” In the continuation of this [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:300]baraita[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] R. Meir recommends coitus interruptus, an opinion rejected by the sages. The minor was defined as a girl from eleven years and a day to twelve years and a day. Although we now define sexual relations with a minor as child abuse and generally non-procreative, early adolescent pregnancies have the highest mortality rate for both mother and child. In antiquity when cesarean birth, hemorrhage control and antibiotics for infection were unavailable, the mortality rate was extremely high. Superfetation (conceiving again while pregnant) is quite rare but the dangers of a multiple pregnancy both for the mother and the infants are significant. The poskim differ as to whether this baraita should be interpreted as “[S]uch women must use contraception,” in which case other women may also use contraception, or “[S]uch women may use contraception,” thus limiting contraception to those women. The kos shel ikkarin (cup of roots) or sama de-akarta (a drug of sterility or a drug which uproots) referred to in BT Yevamot 65b, etc. is generally considered an oral contraceptive (Riddle).

Contemporary Jewish Migrations to the United States

In the largest Jewish immigrant wave since the 1920s, nearly three hundred thousand Soviet Jews settled in the United States after 1970. More than two-thirds of all Jewish immigrants to the United States since 1980 have been from the (former) Soviet Union. Women, who comprised fifty-three percent of those who arrived during the wave’s peak, between 1970 and the 1990s, came to the United States with an unusually high degree of professional and technical skills. In contrast to the 16.5 percent of American women who worked as engineers, technicians, or other professionals, over two-thirds of Soviet Jewish émigré women had worked in these occupations prior to their arrival. As is consistent with their occupational status, these Soviet Jewish women immigrants were also highly educated. Their average number of years of schooling was 14.2. Despite their high degree of educational and occupational attainment, women’s salaries in the USSR were only fifty-seven percent of those of men.

Concubine of a Levite: Midrash and Aggadah

The story of the concubine at Gibeah is one of the most shocking narratives in the Bible. The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:426]Tosefta[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] attests that these verses are read in public, along with their Aramaic Targum, that is, they are interpreted during the public reading of the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (Tosefta [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:354]Megillah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] 3:33). The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:416]Talmud[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] explains that although a matter that publicly tarnishes the honor of the tribe of Benjamin should not properly be aired, the tribe’s reputation is not a consideration in this case (BT Megillah 25b). The Tosefta and the Talmud apparently find educational value in this narrative, and feel that something important is to be learned even from such a troubling occurrence.

Concubine of a Levite: Bible

The story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19–20 is one of the most disturbing texts in the Hebrew Bible. The woman, who is from Bethlehem but lives with a Levite in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Jerusalem, is referred to in Hebrew as the pilegesh of the Levite. The precise nature of the relationship between a man and his pilegesh is not always clear from the biblical texts, however, and scholars have sometimes disagreed about the term’s meaning. It is usually translated into English as “concubine” and understood to refer to a wife or sexual partner of secondary status. Although certain men in the Hebrew Bible have both wives and concubines, no wives or additional concubines are referred to in Judges 19. The Levite is referred to as the “husband” of the woman (19:3; 20:4) and the “son-in-law” of the woman’s father (19:5), who in turn is referred to as the Levite’s “father-in-law” (19:4, 7, 9). The uncertain nature of the differences between a wife and a concubine reveals the complexities involved in understanding notions of kinship and marriage presupposed by biblical narratives.

Colonial Period in the United States

More so than some of their counterparts in England’s Caribbean colonies, Jewish women in colonial North America occupied traditional positions and played traditional roles within the Jewish community as well as in the larger society. They could not serve in positions of leadership in either the Jewish or the general community, and they are not known to have had their own social organizations. Their primary occupation was that of homemaker, although, in an extension, several kept lodgings in which poorer Jewish individuals lived at the Jewish community’s expense.


How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Family." (Viewed on March 20, 2018) <>.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

The JWA Podcast

listen now

Sign Up for JWA eNews


Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs