5

I have heard (and read) it said in Shalom Bayit classes and books that a husband should defer to his wife in matters to do with the home - how to decorate it, whether or not to invite So-and-So, etc. - and he should have the final say on spiritual matters (eg, what shul to join). Is there an halachic basis to this specific division of authority, or are these words simply good advice?

For context, most discussions of the husband-wife relationship begin with the Rambam in Mishneh Torah Marriage 15.19, "A man should honor his wife more than himself and love her as himself." And in 15.20 he states, "A woman should honor her husband very much, and have awe of him, do all of her actions according to his word. He should seem to her like a minister or king, walking in the desires of his heart, and distancing herself from what he hates."

9
  • 8
    A man should always have the final say in his house: "Yes, dear." :)
    – Fred
    Jan 27, 2023 at 2:27
  • 4
    Depends if you want to be right or to be happy
    – mbloch
    Jan 27, 2023 at 4:26
  • 1
    The opinions of the lord and master of the house do not always reflect those of the management. Jan 27, 2023 at 6:20
  • 2
    I believe they quote it in the name of Rav Kotler, who says, "If you treat her like a shifcha she'll respond to you as an eved, but if you treat her like a queen, she'll think of you as a king!"
    – Dov
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:46
  • 1
    As the saying goes, "A happy wife, is a happy life!" :-)
    – Dov
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:30

4 Answers 4

5

This idea comes from Bava Metzia 59a. How and when to apply this today is a question that should be discussed with one’s mentors.

ואמר רב כל ההולך בעצת אשתו נופל בגיהנם שנאמר (מלכים א כא, כה) רק לא היה כאחאב וגו' א"ל רב פפא לאביי והא אמרי אינשי איתתך גוצא גחין ותלחוש לה לא קשיא הא במילי דעלמא והא במילי דביתא לישנא אחרינא הא במילי דשמיא והא במילי דעלמא

And Rav says: Nevertheless, anyone who follows the counsel of his wife descends into Gehenna, as it is stated: “But there was none like Ahab, who did give himself over to do that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife incited” (I Kings 21:25). Rav Pappa said to Abaye: But don’t people say a popular proverb: If your wife is short, stoop and whisper to her and consult with her? The Gemara answers: This is not difficult, as this statement of Rav instructs that one not follow her counsel in general matters; and that proverb instructs that one follow her counsel in household matters. The Gemara presents another version of this distinction: This statement of Rav maintains that one should not follow her counsel in divine matters; and that proverb maintains that one should follow her counsel in general matters.

1

What the Rambam is describing is a healthy relationship, not an order of hegemony. They are both working together to form one coherent family unit.

Since this goes against the grain of the mainstream way of thinking, we'll need a bit of context. The Rambam quotes the Gemara in Kesuvos 67b that you must supply a poor person with his needs even when his particular need happens to be a certain extravagance that would be superfluous to you. And so, if he was once rich and got used to having runners ahead of him, now that he's poor, since he didn't get over that part you should supply that to him from charity.

We see from this not to look objectively at the material being suppled, but at the person's need. What is—or became—natural for him to desire, by withholding that you are taking away and hurting him. To stress this a drop more, you aren't holding back something extra; you are removing what belongs to him.

Now, with that out of the way, by the human species the male is dominant. He is structured and tempered that way. In a healthy relationship, the male acts as a male and the female acts as a female, in ways that complement each other. Being that it is inherent in his nature to be dominant and it is also natural for a female to appreciate having a steady pillar at the core of the household, it is therefore a great setup that she treats him as the head of the house in certain ways. (See Maharal, Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ha'emunah, end of chapter 1.)

As for actual decision making, they are actually partners, obviously. The man is not "better". This is indeed a fine line to walk, but you can think of it as both working on the same script in which the man, or father, is the decision maker that decides with his wife. Dominant, but not superior. With the above reference in mind, he needs the position of authority, and she would be happy to defer that position in a healthy relationship.

I say this is a fine line because we have the Gemara in Bava Metzia 59 telling us how careful one must be not to offend his wife, and the Maharal in Nesivos Olam explains that this is applies particularly to a wife, since the husband is in charge while she isn't actually subservient to him. When he abuses his position to mistreat her, there is that added tension of an equally free person being subjected to his rule, which is made worse since the domination is not baseless.

This is already long winded, but you can see the Gemara in Bava Metzia 59a which discusses following the wife's advice. As you can see there, it is about the merit of doing so and on which topics, but not about who gets to disqualify the other's wishes.

1

I heard Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb (and several other sefarim and shiurim) give the example of Ester and Mordechai.

In one case, he commanded her and she listened to him, to go to the king.

In one case, she commanded him and he listened to her, to hold a fast on Pesach.

So is the man in charge? Yes.

She the woman in charge? Yes.

Source: https://www.dovidgottlieb.com/Rabbi_Gottlieb_Tapes.html (the "Men & Women" series)

0

I think your premise is flawed. Scripture is very clear that men and women are equal. Therefore the only one with the final say is God.

Man is never given dominion over women, only over the animals. It's true that for Eve's sins her desire would be toward her husband, meaning she will choose to be subservient to her husband. But many people interpret this incorrectly. They read it from the man's perspective and conclude erroneously that he was given dominion over her. The true reading is that Eve, and all her female descendants, will be subservient to men on their own terms. They are the initiators of their subservience, they are the ones who choose and dictate the terms of their subservience. My wife can give up whatever powers she wants, but I can't demand she relinquish anything she doesn't want to.

Therefore it's good practice for every husband and wife to communicate how they want to make decisions and what their power dynamics should be. There are going to be decisions a wife is happy to have her husband make for her. There are going to be decisions a husband is happy to have his wife make for him. It's the job of both spouses to figure out what decisions they want to make for themselves, what decisions they want to defer to the other, and what decisions they want to discuss and decide on together.

Shalom bayit books that say let the woman make house decisions are just trying to give some good general advice. I have found my wife cares more deeply about how she wants the house than I do, so I have given her the powrr to make most of those decisions. But in a relationship in which the wife earns the majority of the money and the husband stays home, perhaps they would choose to let the husband have the authority for house decisions.

2
  • 1
    There is an agadata (I know you prefer to see things from scripture but this agrees with your point) that basically states that what was the result of the fact that Hashem made women desire/crave men? Every man runs around like a meshuga looking for a woman to crave him! So who was really "cursed"? Hard to say!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 28, 2023 at 18:58
  • @RabbiKaii I prefer Scripture for questions like these that really can't suitably answered without firmly establishing what God/Scripture set as the baseline. It's then Rabbis job to then explain and legislate from there. Thank you for adding the aggadah
    – Aaron
    Jan 28, 2023 at 20:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .