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Jewish Mother: Badge of Shame or Pride?

Jewish Mother: Badge of Shame or Pride?

It’s time to drop the negative stereotypes and reclaim the title Jewish mother.


The stereotypical Jewish mother gets a bad rap.

They practically force-fed their kids… (What’s a nine-letter Jewish word for mealtime? “Eat, eat, eat!”)

…inflict guilt: (How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, I’ll just sit here in the dark.)

…and are obsessed with money and status. (A Jewish mother was asked how old her kids were. “The doctor is six and the lawyer is four.”)

There’s nothing funny about the underlying negative stereotypes behind these jokes. defines a Jewish mother as someone “who is overly uptight, protective and complains a lot.”

That doesn’t sound like most Jewish mothers I know. I would describe the ones I know as nurturing, hard-working, spiritual, sharing a common desire to create a Jewish home to transmit the millennia-old tradition with which we’ve been entrusted.

Jewish tradition has plenty of inspiring role models to choose from.

Jewish tradition has plenty of inspiring role models to choose from. Time and time again, it was Jewish women – especially mothers – who sustained us through dark times.

Sarah, our first matriarch, showed how Jewish moms can make our homes a special place. Each Friday evening at sundown, the Midrash relates, Sarah would kindle Shabbat lights in the tent she shared with her husband Abraham and son Isaac. Miraculously, those Shabbat lights never went out and burned all week long, illuminating Sarah’s family and bathing it with holiness and light. When the end of the week came, Sarah’s lights would finally go out, just in time for her to kindle to them again.

After Sarah’s death, Isaac married Rebecca, who was noted for her kindness and generosity. Rebecca moved into the tent and once again the Shabbat lights she lit glowed all week long.

Jewish women I know try their best to bring the same sort of radiance into their own homes today. “If I don’t do it nobody else will,” a good friend recently told me, explaining that she was thinking of experimenting with lighting Shabbat candles on Friday evenings. Her husband was less interested in tradition and her kids were very young. If anyone was going to bring Jewish ritual and spiritual pursuits into their home, it was her. She started lighting Shabbat candles each Friday and the tradition quickly caught on. Her daughters loved lighting candles with her, and the family soon started having Shabbat dinner together too.

When I see Jewish women working to instill a love of Judaism into their kids, I sometimes think of Yocheved, the mother of Moses. She was a fearless midwife who, along with her brave daughter Miriam, defied Pharaoh's evil decree to murder Jewish baby boys and instead delivered babies in secret, saving and protecting them from Pharaoh.

When Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and took him out of the Nile, Miriam was watching nearby and came out of hiding, asking the princess, “Shall I go and call you a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” (Exodus 2:7) Pharaoh’s daughter assented, and Miriam fetched Yocheved, Moses’ very own mother.

As Jewish mothers, it’s up to us to impart the meaning and joy of being Jewish to the next generation.

These early intense years that Yocheved took care of Moses shaped the man that Moses would become. Years later, when he was an adult, living as a royal prince of Egypt, Moses nonetheless considered himself a Jew and was moved by the plight of his fellow Jewish slaves. His life in the royal palace did nothing to dampen his feeling of kinship and belonging to the Jewish people.

This is the legacy of his Jewish mother. No matter our lifestyle, our level of religious observance, our background or degree of Jewish knowledge, we are given the holy task to instill in our children a glowing sense of Jewish pride and a desire to claim their precious inheritance of being part of the Jewish people.

It’s time to reclaim the title “Jewish mother” and wear it as a badge of pride. Thousands of years after our matriarch Sarah, we still bring the light Shabbat into our homes. Thousands of years after Yocheved, we still work to instill Jewish knowledge and pride in our kids. As Jewish mothers, it’s up to us to impart the meaning and joy of being Jewish to the next generation.


May 9, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 10

(8) Carol S., May 12, 2017 4:00 PM

Jewish Mothers Are Role Models

My mother was a Gentile when she married my Jewish father. Mom had been raised by an emotionally ill mother who refused to mother her in any way. She was abused, forced to stay outdoors in good weather until bedtime, and never taught any domestic arts, like cooking. My paternal grandmother, a sweet and kind Jewish immigrant from Russia took Mom under her wing and taught her everything she knew, including how to love and nurture her children. And how to make the best blintzes! Mom was proud to be known as a Jewish mother!

(7) Rachel, May 12, 2017 2:06 AM

The last joke is funny

It's not about money and status, it's about a mother believing in her kids' abilities. While it's a bit of an exaggeration, it's a sweet poking fun at Jewish mothers' encouragement of and faith in their children.

(6) Deborah, May 11, 2017 6:15 PM

Tanakh praises the Jewish Mother

What better example of a fine Jewish mother than Proverbs Chapter 31, perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture?

(5) Shoshana-Jerusalem, May 11, 2017 5:58 PM

"My Yiddisha Momma"

When I was a girl there was a beautiful song called "My Yiddisha Momma" that would bring tears to people's eyes.

The one line I remember is " I long to kiss her withered brow. For I know that I owe what I am today, to that little old woman so old and gray...."

The Jewish mother was and is a loving, absolutely devoted mother and wife. Where this bad stereotype came from is beyond me. Jewish mothers were always know to be the best. Perhaps our jealous enemies made up the bad name.

Bunny Shuch, May 12, 2017 9:43 AM

Not our enemies, Jewish comedians

Unfortunately, not all mothers of any religion are loving, kind, encouraging and spiritual. I believe that it was Jewish comedians who poked fun at Jewish mothers and gave them a negative stereotype. Perhaps their mothers were not the best, or perhaps these comedians just exaggerated certain characteristics in a negative way in order to get a laugh.

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