Deconstructing Religious Patriarchal Patterns of Motherhood

Jun. 19, 2015

Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2015 (8), 37 – 57


This research was designed to explore the experience of young religious Jewish women in an Israeli religious teacher-education college who combined motherhood and studies, and learn more about the coping strategies and their implications on their immediate environment. The findings revealed that combining motherhood and studies shattered religious traditional frameworks and established new mindsets among the participants’ family members and in their communities. In order to overcome all the many challenges that this combination imposed upon them, the participants modified spheres and deconstructed religious patriarchal patterns of motherhood. By so doing students-mothers adjusted the private and public spheres to their needs.


This research reflects the ongoing feminist revolution of young religious Jewish women, who are redefining their roles in the family. The findings indicated that motherhood as the sole ultimate channel for feminine self-actualization, as inculcated in religious Jewish indoctrination, had lost its appeal despite its theological signification and definition. On the one hand, the participants complied with religious Jewish laws regarding procreation although doing so weighted heavily on their self-actualization, and sometimes hindered it. On the other hand, they displayed a malaise with regards to it, and worked hard to change their lot. In their voyage out of the private sphere, these women first adopted, and emulated the masculine model of transcendence: they pursued their studies soon after giving birth. In their attempt to pattern their self- actualization after the masculine model, the participants encountered many motherhood- related challenges. All the participants struggled to find a balance between the ontological self and the maternal self, and set a new agenda adapted to the yearning for something beyond motherhood. Though they redefined and displayed new forms of feminine religious self-representation and self-actualization, mainly by dismantling the dogmatic mother's responsibility scheme of childcare and household chores, they found themselves trapped in the maternal self. The maternal self prevailed, overlapped and redefined the transcendence of the self. The participants' attempt to combine studies and motherhood turned out to be very complicated, especially for those who returned to college two weeks after giving birth. Though they tried very hard to keep up the priorities they had set, they yielded to the maternal self and its implications. Unable to free themselves from their maternal lot, they brought it out to the public sphere, making it visible. Consequently, they imposed new constructs derived from and adapted to their maternal condition on the patriarchal system of the academy that had ignored their maternal existential needs. They blurred boundaries and dismantled sphere constructs creating a new feminine sphere within the public (patriarchal) sphere endowed with matriarchal constructs. This new feminine public sphere was designed and adjusted to their maternal needs and challenges. However, the simultaneous development of the ontological self and the maternal self was experienced as a chaotic feminine condition by the student-mothers, who raised young children, a well-known feminine condition deplored by Warner. They tried to overcome the chaos by using coping strategies characterized by sharing, and these were found to be the most efficient and empowering constructs that enhanced the young students-mothers' wellbeing. Undermining religious and academic patriarchal laws, they deconstructed and dismantled all the roles and tasks assigned to them both by motherhood and academy, and transformed pre-existing monolithic patriarchal constructs of performance into matriarchal ones. By designing new matriarchal constructs adapted to their double-track feminine experience, the young religious student- mothers joined the radical feminist endeavor to avoid the “mommy trap” and enhance the ontological self.


Moreover, these young women designed a matriarchal public sphere, and consequently a new feminist model that takes into account the maternal self and its challenges in terms of self-actualization. This model, which enhances the self-actualization of women who are mothers to many children, meets the ontological and maternal needs of religious women, solving their problem of self-actualization in an intense maternal condition. This model also constitutes also a wakeup call for religious women, who are still engulfed by maternity, and demonstrated that self-actualization is within their reach.

Updated: Jul. 22, 2015