With Mother's Day tomorrow, this week's clergy discuss the issues faced by moms today.
The Rev. Lorraine De Armitt, Westbury United Methodist Church:
I think of Hannah, who had so much trouble getting pregnant, then had Samuel. Sarah, Abraham's wife, also was very old when she became pregnant. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, also was older when she had him. All these women were very old when they became pregnant. A woman was defined by her relationship with a man: as a daughter, as a wife, as the mother of a son. Back then, not to be able to have children was a tragedy.
Many women in the Bible represent the hopelessness, the barrenness of life. God intervenes, and they become mothers of a new generation of life.
Women today aren't defined that way. We're no longer just someone's wife or mother. We have our own names and see being a mother differently.
Of course, with this change is a backlash of sorts. We now have hovering moms -- and dads -- who are too engaged in their children's lives. This was never God's will that women simply be defined as mothers. We're to develop personally, spiritually. We are to be women of faith. While our primary responsibility is to care for children, it is not our primary identity. Many women define themselves by their children. That would be as limiting as only being known as Abraham's wife, Isaac's wife or Jesus' mother.
Rabbi Jonathan Waxman, Temple Beth Sholom, Smithtown; and past president of Long Island Board of Rabbis:
In the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs there is an alphabetical acrostic known in Hebrew as Aishet Chayil, the woman of valor (31:10-31). It describes the biblical superwoman. "She oversees the activities of her household and never eats the bread of idleness (27)." "She is not only a devoted housewife, but she also spins her own wool (19), makes cloth and sells it (24)." "Her lamp never goes out at night (19)." "She plants a vineyard by her own labors (16)." "She is like a merchant fleet, bringing her food from afar (14)." "And she is considered wise and insightful (26)."
Given all these accomplishments, her husband offers her praise: "Many women have done well, but you surpass them all (29). "
It is hard to imagine that even a wealthy woman with a household of maid servants could have been so productive. But this idealized supermom-wife is the reality toward which many contemporary mothers strive: They rise early to get breakfast ready for the family and pack them lunches, then proceed to put in a full day. Then, somehow they race home to make dinner and complete the 4 million other household chores that need to be done. In some ways, the true "woman of valor" is today's supermom.
Once a year, we pause to salute our mothers. Perhaps given the reality that most of them qualify as "women of valor," the traditional Jewish practice of reciting those concluding verses of Proverbs on Friday evening at the Sabbath meal can serve as a paradigm: at least weekly acknowledging their accomplishments. We, too, need to rise up and praise them.
Imam Ahmadullah Kamal, Long Island Muslim Society, East Meadow:
Women and men previously walked with prophets and were able to learn from them directly. Today, we do not. God says in the Holy Quran (chapter 49:13, Dr. Mohammad Muhsin Khan translation) " . . . We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted."
Maybe the most honorable are the believers who are at taqwa, which means "a pious and righteous person who fears God much and abstains from all sins and evil deeds."
You cannot equally compare women of the time of prophets and women today. Yes, if a woman does righteous and good things, her position in life will be higher. But, women back then had the benefit of walking directly with prophets, and their positions were very high because of this. Today's mothers must try their best to take care of their children and raise them piously in a world that is not righteous. Women both then and now make sacrifices for their families, but today's women have different difficulties they face because of the state of the world.
Of course, the Quran does offer help, telling women that if they care for their husbands, take care of the home and raise righteous children, they will be close to God and be righteous women. While their task may not be easy, it is clear and simple.