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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ben Ish Hai on Home Finances

Not written in the style of today, but nonetheless some solid financial advice in my opinion: 1) the Gemorrah tells a husband to honor his wife more than himself and some say that a man should stretch his budget for her benefit, but here the Ben Ish Hai tells them women to buy [clothing] in accordance with the husband's financial status. 2) Don't put undo pressure on a (presumably) hardworking husband. 3) Don't go running to Daddy to get what the husband can't provide and appreciate what you do have.

Ben Ish Hai on Home Finances

I will teach you another principle, dear and precious women, and may Hashem have mercy on you: A wife should purchase clothes in accordance with her husband's financial status, and must not pressure him for more money than he is capable of providing for her. If he is unable to provide her with sufficient money to meet all her needs, she should not cause him to feel embarrassment.

Instead, a wife must express her gratitude for everything her husband gives her, regardless of its price. She should regard a small piece of cloth as if it were the finest silk, coarse barley bread should taste to her as if it were the finest pastry.

A certain poor woman was urged by her friends to go to her parents' house and enjoy a good meal for a change. She answered with all sincerity, "I enjoy the onion I eat in my husband's home more than the meat in my father's home. Blessed is the L-rd for bringing me together with my beloved husband!"

[other text]

Take heed of these words, noble women: Love your husband in your heart and show affection to him through your deeds. Your soul is interwoven with his, and you share his destiny. Appreciate an onion in your husband's home more than the most exquisite fruit and succulent delicacies.


tesyaa said...

A wife should purchase clothes in accordance with her husband's financial status, and must not pressure him for more money than he is capable of providing for her. If he is unable to provide her with sufficient money to meet all her needs, she should not cause him to feel embarrassment.

Today a lot of women are breadwinners. That changes the equation substantially.

How about this: "A husband should purchase electronic gadgets and sports tickets in accordance with the couple's joint financial status, and must not pressure his wife to let him spend more money than their joint earnings allows. If he is unable to have the same gadgets and data plans as his friends, he should not complain to her that he feels embarrassed."

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa-Remember the book was written at a time when few women were equals in the marketplace. The manual was also addressed to women. The advice remains true, even if the application is difference: don't pressure your spouse to provide more than what is reasonable given the budget.

Meataholic said...

I am a man, the major breadwinner, and I completely agree with Tesyaa. The ben ish Chai was writing for his time and palce, but the concepts he espouses (haha) are for all times.

Anonymous said...

The concepts are not only for all times, but for all genders. Husbands should treat their wives the same way.

JS said...

I read it as teaching several important lessons:

1) Live within your means.
2) Be happy with what you have (similar to pirkei avot).
3) Don't go looking around at what everyone else has (don't covet).
4) A husband and wife are a team and even one's parents shouldn't divide spouses.
5) A couple should be self-sufficient and not rely on others, even family members, for luxuries.

On another note, I think it's worthwhile pointing out what REAL deprivation and poverty were like back then: a piece of cloth instead of fine materials, course barley bread instead of pastries, and onions instead of meat. Kind of puts things in perspective given the luxuries everyone today takes for granted.

Anonymous said...

JS: And now, homemade course barley bread made from organic barley flour (i.e. the type available back then) is a luxury that costs more than many pastries.

Kiddushei Hashem said...


Your words are so true. It just makes me cringe seeing so many frum people with iPhones. Sure I try to be dan l'kaf zchut that maybe it was a gift or something, but even so, the monthly charge is just so high. I know that money is coming at the expense of something else whether it be tzdakah or C"V the family's welfare.

Of course, sadly this is nothing new. Before this is was the Palm treos and before that the Startac and before that the car phones. Baruch Hashem my wife and I are able to afford basic smartphones on a heavily discounted plan because we too suffer from this affliction. Maybe someday we'll be able to kick the habit.

Northwards said...

What is the Ben Ish Chai's book actually called? Who published it?

Anonymous said...

Kiddushei: It is not hard to kick the smart phone habit if you try. My DH and I have gone to basic phones (free with a plan) and the cheapest plan we could find. 400 shared minutes a month for the two of us is more than enough and we don't miss not having photos and itunes and apps and internet available 24/6.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why she couldnt take her husband with to eat the 'meat'. Maybe that is the real point of the story. If the husband is not welcome in her father's house then she also isnt going!

Kiddushei Hashem said...

@Anon 7:45

You're absolutely right. We lived for a long time without any type of phone and we should be able to do it again now. I guess it's just hard to give up convenience. At the very least, we make a point to plug our phones in when we get home and have "phone free" evenings together -- although I suppose that's a whole separate issue for many people.

tesyaa said...

My point in the first comment was not gadget addiction, but that men and women spend on different things and it's not necessarily true that women are more profligate spenders than men.

However, now that you brought it up - I think a lot of people don't even realize how much they're spending on talk/text/data plans, and they don't think about cutting down even when they can't pay their other bills.

Ariella said...

From what I see, those who don't earn the money are sometimes the quickest to spend it. I don't earn very much, but I do earn something. So when I contemplate a purchase, I am aware that it takes me X number of hours to earn what it costs. For those who are buying with other people's money -- even when that person is a spouse, or perhaps a parent, or even money demanded of the community, as evidenced by five town shuls requests -- that frame of reference is absent. Some women who just spend their husband's income on credit cards, spend far more freely than I do, because they don't think of the work that goes into earning the money. Of course, that does not apply to all women, and some men may do the same with their wives', parents' or father-in-law's money.

Orthonomics said...

The English Title of the Book is "Laws for Women." This is one of many books from the same publisher: Salem Books Jerusalem (Yehoshua Salem).