Georgian Jews - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Marriage. Marriages among Georgian Jews were, as a rule, endogamous. The Georgian Jewish marriage ceremony was tied to the agricultural calendar: in the fall and beginning of winter, it was associated with the harvesting of crops, particularly of grapes; in the spring, with the rebirth of nature. This ceremony preserves completely the wedding traditions of Jews of biblical times; it is a mystery play representing the union of heaven and earth, fertilization of the earth, and the growth of plants.

The traditional closeness of the Jewish family is grounded in traditions of loyalty and moral behavior of the spouses, particularly the wife. Raised in strict accordance with ancient traditions, she was to be modest and discreet in relations with men, particularly those with her father-in-law and the older brothers of her husband. A daughter-in-law might not address her father-in-law for years, and if she did, she would call him "Batonno" (lord, sir). She would also address her mother-in-law and her husband's older brothers respectfully.

Domestic Unit. As a rule, Georgian Jews lived in large extended families. At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the introduction of capitalism into the villages and for other socioeconomic reasons, large families began to break down more frequently into small, nuclear families.

Division of Labor. Primary occupations of men were agricultural work, craftsmanship, and trade. Work that fell into the category of men's obligations was directed by the elder male, usually the father. After the father's death, the oldest son was supposed to become the head of the family and to be endowed with the same rights and to command the same respect as the father. The head of the family would distribute current and seasonal work, watch over its timely accomplishment, regulate relations with the outer world, provide for the family's needs, give children in marriage, and divide property. At the same time, to be the head of a family did not mean to direct affairs only in accordance with one's own desires: in deciding questions that were important for the family, the head of the family usually consulted the household.

Primary responsibilities of women were child care and domestic work. Household chores were divided among the daughters or daughters-in-law and the mother-in-law. The eldest woman (usually the mother-in-law) directed the women's work. She was in charge of everything in the home, and daughters-in-law unquestioningly followed her instructions. Among the personal responsibilities of the mistress of the house were the baking of bread and the preparation of food. All remaining housework was performed by daughters-in-law. In the event of the death or incapacity of the mother-in-law, the responsibilities of mistress of the house were passed to the eldest daughter-in-law.

Women's contribution to agricultural activity was minimal. It was considered a disgrace for women to engage in agricultural work—plowing, sowing, weeding. They participated only in harvesting.

Socialization. In the family, great attention was paid to the teaching of children. Boys from a young age were inculcated with a love for crafts and trained in agricultural work; girls, in housework and needlework. Ten- to 12-year-old girls were expected to have mastered these tasks.

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