Based on material from:
Our Bodies, Our Souls, by Tsiporah Heller
Our final installment of “Glimpses of Jewish Femininity” explores the important connection between a Jewish woman’s career choice and her spiritual well being. In short, career and spirit can either enhance one another or remain at cross-purposes.
As in our previous class, much of the following text has been extracted from Tziporah Heller’s new book, Our Bodies, Our Souls (Targum/Feldheim). In her book, Rebetzin Heller explains that since spiritual growth is a full time project, one should take into consideration whether or not a particular career will be conducive to this ongoing important process. On a practical level, according to Rebetzin Heller, the internal work of self-improvement should be continued even “on the job”:
“A woman’s career should also be part of her spiritual life; otherwise she is spending most of her day at cross-purposes with her essential direction and goal. The choice of career, therefore, must also be regarded from a spiritual perspective.”
Moreover, adds Mrs. Heller, our professional commitments may at times be rightfully eclipsed by our focus on personal growth, to the extent that we, “… choose to become a better person or a better parent even if that entails limiting or sacrificing one’s career.” While this decision might be financially or otherwise impossible, a Jewish woman – particularly one considering motherhood – might take into account certain encouraging realities that will support her maternal role:
“… with current life expectancies, a woman can have sequential careers, giving priority to her family while her children are young and dependent and still have twenty or thirty years left to pursue another career of her choice afterward. Numerous career options exist even during the period of child-rearing for those of us who do not want to devote our entire lives to our jobs yet want a satisfying and serious occupation outside the home.”
In her indictment of current socioeconomic standards that place career over the domestic arena, Rebetzin Heller includes the fact that children feel the effects of parental absence, regardless of whether mother or father is the one to work overtime. Paradoxically, however, the working father and the working mother receive different reviews. While the over-working father has in the recent past been labeled negligent, today’s full time working mother is considered better for her truancy:
“A generation ago, fathers who spent so much time at work that they were not there for their children were branded as cultural villains. Today a woman who puts her children in day care while she spends most of their waking hours at the office is considered liberated. In fact, the priorities – and the lingering resentment on the part of the children – are exactly the same.”
Judaism considers individual character and good deeds to be among life’s most enduring aspects. While career and professional accomplishment have their place, they are best harnessed not for personal gain, but instead for personal growth. Accordingly, the Jewish woman in search of her best self might evaluate how to leverage her personal talents and at the same time preserve her femininity and spiritual focus. As explored at length in previous “Women in Judaism” classes, one talent shared by all Jewish women is insight – or in Hebrew, “binah.” Rebetzin Heller presents one example of how “binah” might impact or inform career:
“To the degree that the generalization of a woman’s use of insight holds true for an individual, she might want to choose a career that would make use of and further develop this capacity (such as clinical psychology, education, personnel work). Nevertheless, a woman who wishes to pursue a very analysis-oriented career (such as secular law) is not necessarily compromising her development in other, more spiritual realms.”
In short, a Jewish woman’s greatest career is the business of cultivating the gift of her Jewish femininity. Fortunately, this work can take place on many levels and in myriad locations. Each woman is her own ultimate employer, and is thus capable of deciding for herself her best place of spiritual work and personal growth. By making choices that promote her well-being she will be prepared to contribute spiritual revenue to herself, to others and to the Jewish nation.
More of Tziporah Heller’s work is featured on her website at www.tziporahheller.com.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2002 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.