Ketubot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five
Yesterdays mishnah mentioned that a husband has a right to his wifes handiwork. Our mishnah delineates other obligations that the wife has to her husband. Note that although the Mishnaic portrayal of marriage was not equal, meaning men and women did not perform the same functions, there is reciprocity. A husband must financially support the woman (among other responsibilities) and a woman must give her handiwork to her husband and perform daily chores around the house.
1) The following are the kinds of work which a woman must perform for her husband:
5) Nursing her child,
6) Preparing his bed,
7) And working in wool.
2) If she brought one slave-woman into the marriage she need not grind or bake or wash.
a) [If she brought] two slave-women, she need not cook or nurse her child.
b) If three, she need not prepare his bed or work in wool.
c) If four, she may lounge in an easy chair.
3) Rabbi Eliezer says: even if she brought him a hundred slave-women he may compel her to work in wool; for idleness leads to unchastity.
a) Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel says: if a man forbade his wife under a vow to do any work he must divorce her and give her kethubah to her for idleness leads to insanity.
Section one: This section lists the basic categories of work that a wife must perform for her husband. Note that nursing was considered work and not primarily an opportunity for a woman to bond with her child. Our mishnah assumes that women would prefer to pay a wet-nurse to nurse their child. The Talmud states that this list contains only the broad categories of work but that there are other things that a wife must do for her husband.
Section two: If a woman brings slaves as dowry into the marriage, she is no longer responsible for all of the work. The more slaves she brings into the marriage, the less she is obligated to work.
Section three: Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with the previous statement, that if a wife brings four slaves into a marriage she may sit around and do nothing. A husband can always force his wife to make wool, an easy task but one that would keep her busy, for too much idle time may lead her to unchastity. We can note that this mishnah espouses what many Americans hold as an ideal: work and keeping busy not only provides for oneself, but also protects one from trouble.
While Rabbi Eliezer says that a husband can force a wife to work, Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says that a husband cannot prevent a wife from performing work. A husband cannot take a vow prohibiting his wife from working for such idleness might lead her to being insanely bored. A rich husband might want his wife to sit around all day and do nothing, just so that everyone can see what a rich man he is and that his wife need not work. In order to protect the woman, Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says that a husband does not have such a right