Traditional Jewish family life is often presented as a virtual utopia. Both popular presentations and even many scholarly descriptions offer an idyllic view that is overly based on rabbinic prescriptions rather than on a closer analysis of reality. One summary of the sentimental view put it as follows.
The traditional Jewish family consisted of a large nuclear core with strong
ties to the extended family. . . . Following marriage—usually at a very
young age—came the bearing of many children, who were named after
deceased relatives. The strong, caring wife generally stayed in the home,
often supplementing her husband's modest income through handiwork
or by running a shop. The husband simultaneously attended to both the
support of his family and his religious commitments to synagogue and
house of study.1
Marital fidelity and loving care of children were also significant components of this idealized portrait. Glikl bas Leib's autobiography, for example, presented a romantic portrait of devoted spouses, incessant anxieties on behalf of her children, and textbook piety toward religious values and commandments. Glikl's confirmation of the idyllic picture of family life may actually be one of the primary reasons for the tremendous current popularity of her autobiography.
Other memoirs provide a much more varied portrait of Jewish family life. Testimonies from primary sources indicate that Jewish family life in Germany in early modern times also included instances of severe family strife, infidelity, physical abuse, and even rare cases of infanticide.
A cautionary note is in order, however. Historians, imbued with curiosity and a fascination with the dark side, can easily be drawn toward the negative, the hostile, the antinomian side of human behavior. In addition, deviant