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Exercise for a wife who is married to an irreligious husband, by Rabbi Morris Jacob Raphall (1852)

In the Book of Exodus, through the plague of dever the domesticated animals of Mitsrayim are made to suffer on behalf of the sins of their Egyptian taskmasters, even though they are, as the Israelites, innocent of their masters’ transgressions. Rationally, we might explain away this as tragic by saying that then, just as today, domesticated animals are unjustly made to suffer the callous neglect and the willful abuse of the human keepers for whom they are subjects and ultimately, possessions. In a patriarchy, how do women suffer under this hierarchy? This proto-feminist prayer from 1852 implicitly questions whether a wife under patriarchal authority must submit to the transgressions of her husband. –Aharon Varady


Contribute a translationSource (English)
Exercise for a Wife who is married to an irreligious Husband.
“She opens her lips with wisdom,
and the teaching of piety is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26)
Merciful Lord!
It has been thy will
that I should be mated for life
to a man whom I love,
but who does not love thee my God!
to [a man] whom I cheerfully yield obedience,
but who does not obey thy law.
Thou hast commanded
that the man “should bear rule over the woman,
and that she shall be dependent upon him.”[1] Cf. Genesis 3:16. 
But, Father, in order to obey thy commandments,
I am compelled to break thy command!
I cannot, my God,
I must not allow my husband
to bear rule over me
in what concerns thy worship.
I cannot permit my religious observance
to become dependent
on his indifference.
And above all,
I cannot allow that the children
whom thou hast entrusted [mayest entrust] to us
should have their young minds tainted
by the influence of principles which I detest,
even while I love the man who professes them.
In this my straight I turn to thee, O Lord!
O teach me so to square my conduct,
that I may not transgress against the affectionate obedience
I owe to my husband,
whilst I yield that absolute and higher obedience to the law,
which I owe to thee, my God.
O grant me firmness of mind,
that I succumb not to the temptation of his example:
grant me meekness of temper,
that my unavoidable resistance to his authority
may be mild and kindly,
and such as beseemeth her who fears thee, Lord,
and observes thy commandments.
Grant, Lord!
that I may inspire my children with that love and confidence,
that the early lessons of piety
which it will be my duty and to my care to instil in their minds,
may never depart therefrom.
And, O my God,
if I have found favour before thee,
and it is thy gracious will that my future days should be happy,
vouchsafe to touch my husband’s heart,
for his heart is good;
let him feel how painful it must be for me
to live in dread of the day,
when I must tell our children
to love and honour their father,
but to obey their God!
O enlighten his mind, for it is strong;
let him plainly see that his wife’s religion
is the best safeguard of his honour,
that his children’s religion
is the sole assurance of his happy old age.
And that if—
which in thy mercy avert—
his wife and children should be so lost
as to adopt his principles,
and renounce the fear of thee my God,
his happiness would be at an end for ever.
Hear my prayer, good Lord!
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable before thee, Lord,
my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalms 19:15)

“Exercise for a Wife who is married to an irreligious Husband” appears on pages 131-132 of רֻחָמָה (Ruḥamah): Devotional Exercises for the Use of the Daughters of Israel (1852) edited by Rabbi Morris Jacob Raphall (1798–1868). The prayer appears unique to this collection which otherwise contain selections from the teḥinot anthologies in German of Meir Letteris (1800-1871), Max Emanuel Stern (1811-1873), and Yehoshua Heshil Miro. If you know of another collection from which this prayer first appeared, please leave a comment or contact us.





1Cf. Genesis 3:16.



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