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Domestic Peace

DOMESTIC PEACE (Heb. שְׁלוֹם בַּיִת, shelom bayit). The Jewish tradition visualizes God as seeking peace: in the heavenly spheres, between the nations on earth, and especially between *husband and wife. Since every man is considered a king in his own household, Scripture regards a man who establishes peace in his house as a sovereign who establishes peace in his dominion (ARN1 28:3). The rabbis sensed that the ultimate achievement of peace on earth depends upon its achievement in the smallest social unit – the *family. They also said that God's presence leads to peace in the home. However, the view that "Great is peace that reigns between husband and wife" had legal and moral consequences as well. It was permitted to tell a lie for the sake of domestic tranquility. God Himself had done this when He reported to Abraham on Sarah's soliloquy (Gen. 18:12–13 and BM 87a). Moreover, the practice of Jewish women to light candles every Sabbath eve, established by the rabbis as one of the principle commandments to be performed by females, is expressly for the purpose of promoting an atmosphere of warmth and peace on the holy day. The rabbis queried which of two commandments is to enjoy preference when there are insufficient funds for both, Sabbath or Ḥanukkah candles, and ruled that Sabbath candles were more important because they contributed to shelom bayit (Shab. 23b).

That God strongly desired shelom bayit was derived especially from the fact that according to the *sotah ritual (Num. 5:11–31), He had permitted His holy name to be inscribed on parchment which was placed in water, though He knew that His name would thus be erased by the liquid. Yet He lent His name to this abuse that He might be a party to the restoration of marital tranquility. However, the rabbis in many places cautioned husbands not to make it necessary to resort to the ritual altogether. They should behave properly and not be tyrannical or jealous (Sot. 2b). Because of the principle that one cannot be expected to live with a snake under one roof, the rabbis ruled that the husband would not have the right to exact from his wife an accounting under oath with regard to her management of household goods (Ket. 86b). Either the relationship was one of trust, they stated, or it was better for it to be terminated. It is apparent from the Bible that the institution of polygamy was frowned upon because of shelom bayit long before it was abolished by the ban of R. *Gershom, in about the year 1000. The patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, who had more than one wife, had domestic strife; the prophet Samuel was born in such a home; and the kings suffered harmful intrigues because of their harems. There could hardly be shelom bayit when there was more than one mistress of the household, and the Bible proves this by its description of the relationship between the two wives of the same man by the word ẓarah, which also means misfortune and suggests that two wives of one husband can only bring grief to each other and to the home. Because of shelom bayit, husbands were urged to heed their wives' counsel (see the commentary of Me'iri on BM 59a) with regard to all household affairs, and especially the feeding and clothing of the sons and daughters. This, however, is only one of numerous rules involving the love and honor due to a wife from her husband and the husband's legal obligations because of the marital relationship. Moreover, for the sake of shelom bayit, a husband whose parents unjustly find fault with his wife is not required to please his parents by showing his agreement with them thereby angering his wife (Sefer Ḥasidim, 564). Thus even the fifth commandment of the Decalogue, to honor one's parents, is superseded by shelom bayit.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.