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Family Patterns

Several overlapping family patterns may be found in Israel.

The mainstream family. Among Israeli Jews, the great majority of families, of both European and Afro-Asian origin, combine traditional Jewish family values and norms with modern features. These are medium-size families with an average of three children. Marriage is seen primarily, though not only, as a framework for raising children. The man is expected to be the major breadwinner and the woman to fulfill the duties of wife and mother. Although 70 percent of the women work outside the home, work is secondary to childrearing. Divorce is viewed as a failure, not as an opportunity for growth. At the same time, under the impact of feminism and Israel's egalitarian ideology, the men in these families are increasingly involved in childcare, decisions are made jointly, and resources are divided democratically.

The ultra-orthodox family lives by literal adherence to Jewish religious law and at a remove from what they view as the corruption of Israel's secular society. It emphasizes personal modesty (married women must cover their heads); the separation of men and women in education, worship, and public places; early marriage; and clear role divisions. The woman's task is to be a wife and mother, responsible for making a Jewish home. The man's task is to pursue religious studies. The commandment to be fruitful and multiply is taken literally, resulting in a high birth rate. At the same time, ultra-orthodox women have always worked (in feminine occupations, such as secretary and teacher) so as to enable their husbands to study. In addition, there is increasing cooperation with the secular authorities to deal with family problems that were traditionally kept within the community.

Postmodern and single parent families. Israel has a small percentage of postmodern families. These include double-career families, in which the husband and wife are financially autonomous, as well as cohabiting couples, same-sex couples, some of them with children, and unmarried parents by choice.

In 1998, 11 percent of all Israeli families were headed by single parents, 90 percent of them by mothers. Of these mothers, 68 percent were divorced, 17 percent widowed, and 15 percent unmarried (Central Bureau of Statistics 1999). The unmarried mothers are mostly middle- and upper-middle-class college-educated women of European origin, who first gave birth in their midto late thirties. Their choice reflects both the high valuation of having children in Israeli society and the legitimacy it accords to the individual's strivings for self-actualization.

The kibbutz family. The kibbutz family today falls into the mainstream family pattern, but it was once a daring social experiment. The kibbutz is a collective community that was created in Israel on the basis of egalitarian, Marxist principles. For ideological and economic reasons, the family took second place to the community. The legal and ceremonial aspects of marriage were de-emphasized, meals were taken in the communal dining room, and community pressure was exerted on people to spend their leisure time in communal activities rather than with their families. Children were raised with their age mates in separate children's houses. They were cared for by child minders and spent only leisure time, two to three hours daily, with their parents. Their physical, social, and emotional needs were to be met by the kibbutz.

Although kibbutz members have contributed beyond their numbers to the defense and leadership of Israeli society, the psychological impact of this communal upbringing and loosened family ties was always a matter of debate. Beginning in the 1970s, one kibbutz after another returned the children to their parents' homes and care. Moreover, extended families now constitute a recognized part of the kibbutz social landscape.

The Arab family. The traditional Arab family is hierarchical, patriarchal, partrilineal, and collectivist. Individuals are expected to subordinate their wishes to the needs of their families, and wives their wishes to those of their husbands. The nuclear family nests within the hamula, an extensive kinship network formed by ties of marriage and blood, whose traditional function was to provide its members with cohesion and financial support (Haj-Yahia 1995).

Over the latter part of the twentieth century, the Arab family in Israel has been undergoing a process of modernization. The hamula has been whittled down in size and the status and the authority of its elders undermined (Smooha 1989). Arab men have seen their traditional role as head of the family eroded and their authority over their wives and children diminished. Arab women have become increasingly educated and, to help carry the economic burden, have started to work outside the home. Nonetheless, women are generally still expected to be deferential to their husbands, parentsin-law, and parents (Haj-Yahia 1995). Divorce, though on the rise, is strongly stigmatized (Cohen and Savaya 1997; Al-Krenawi and Graham 1998).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsIsrael - Factors Affecting The Israeli Family, Family Patterns, Public Support For Families