Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Marriage and Relationships
To dedicate this lesson

Every Man will be Master of his House

How far can a religious woman compromise the Jewish Law for the sake of marital harmony with her non - religious husband?


Rabbi Elyakim Levanon

We have been married for nearly 10 years, and we have three children. I am a teacher and my husband is an auto mechanic. I am in the process of returning to Torah and Mitzvot and the children are also following in my path. There have always been tensions between us but lately they have intensified. My husband would drive to the beach on Shabbat and I refused to come with him, because of the sin and because of the atmosphere. Three months ago he left the house, and his condition to return is that I agree to come with him to the beach on Shabbat. Is it permitted to desecrate the Shabbat for Shalom Bayit (marital harmony)?
It would really be very simple for me to answer your question with an categorical answer that it is forbidden to desecrate Shabbat for the benefit of Shalom Bayit. But that is a shortcut, and it isn't a true answer. You wrote that there is tension between you. Where does this tension come from? According to your description, you are leading the family in a specific path, and your husband is leading in a different path. You want a more holy atmosphere, more returning to the sources. Your husband is steering in the opposite direction.
In reality, what exists between you is a struggle over leadership of the home. It is possible that you don't sense this, because the direction you are going comes from the heart, and that is what is taking you on that path. But for your husband this is a much more difficult thing. It is important for every husband to be the king in his home, as we read in Megillat Esther (1:22), "Every man will be master of his house." If you consider the situation your home, your husband is losing out the all the way. First and foremost, you are a teacher and he is a mechanic. You are learned and have a degree, and he is a "simple man." Additionally, as you wrote, the children are following after you. Here also your husband feels defeated by you. All the behavior you described is the result of this situation: the tension has been caused by your husband entering into a state of "war" against you. Since he didn't succeed in his battle, he took an extreme step and left the house. The message to you in his action is: "There is nothing I can do at home, and here I found one point where I can defeat you." Despite the fact that being out of the house, he certainly feels like a fish out of water, he is willing to suffer in order that you will sense the feeling of loneliness, and ask him to return home. This gives him a feeling of victory over you. But he isn't satisfied with this. He demands that you capitulate, and act in total contradiction to your inner will. The stipulation of "if you come with me to the beach on Shabbat, I'll come back" means "if you surrender and do my will where it hurts you the most, and desecrate Shabbat, I'll come back home."
If there was any thought that this capitulation would restore the Shalom Bayit between you, maybe I would go down to the foundations of Jewish law in order to "unearth" some kind of leniency, any kind of an exception. However, it is as clear as day that this is just the beginning. If you give in to him on this point, he will again and again find ways to humiliate you and demand that you obliterate your very essence, in order for him to feel victorious in his struggle.
Therefore, this direction is not at all to be considered.
If you can manage to dialogue, by means of a third party, and to bring your husband to a state of awareness and understanding of what is happening between you, maybe there is a chance. If not, then to my sorrow, I think you have reached a dead end.
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