What is Aishes Chayil?

Who is a woman of valor?

Ruth the Moabitess
Getty Images

Every Friday evening, before the festive Shabbat meal, Jews the world over sing a special poem to honor the Jewish woman. 

Meaning

The song, or poem, is called Aishet Chayil, although it is spelled a multitude of different ways depending on the transliteration. Different ways of spelling it include aishes chayil, eishes chayil, aishet chayil, eishet chayil, and so on. The words translate as "a woman of valor."

The song minimizes beauty ("Grace is false and beauty is vain," Prov 31:30) and elevates kindness, generosity, honor, integrity, and dignity. 

Origins

One reference to a woman of valor appears in the Book of Ruth, which tells the story of the convert Ruth and her journey with her mother-in-law Naomi and marriage to Boaz. When Boaz refers to Ruth as an ​aishet chayil, it makes her the only woman in all the books of the Bible to be referred to as such. 

The entirety of the poem derives from Proverbs (Mishlei) 31:10-31, which is believed to have been written by King Solomon. It is the second of three books believed to have been written by Solomon, son of David. 

There is a ​midrash that suggests that that Proverbs 31 is actually about Ruth. 

"Many women have done valor, but you surpass them all." This is Ruth the Moabite, who entered under the wings of God. "Grace is false and beauty is vain." [This refers to Ruth,] who left her mother and father and her wealth and went with her mother-in-law and accepted all the commandments. Therefore, the poem [concludes], "Extol her for the fruit of her hand and let her works praise her in the gates." (​Midrash Proverbs 31:29-30)

How To

Aishet Chayil is sung every Friday night after Shalom Aleichem (the song to welcome the Sabbath bride) and before Kiddush (the formal blessing over the wine before the meal). Whether there are women present at the meal or not, a "woman of valor" is still recited to honor all righteous Jewish women.

Many will keep their wives, mothers, and sisters specifically in mind while singing the song. 

The Text

A Woman of Valor, who can find? She is more precious than corals.
Her husband places his trust in her and profits only thereby.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She seeks out wool and flax and cheerfully does the work of her hands. She is like the trading ships, bringing food from afar.

She gets up while it is still night to provide food for her household, and a fair share for her staff. She considers a field and purchases it, and plants a vineyard with the fruit of her labors.
She invests herself with strength and makes her arms powerful.
She senses that her trade is profitable; her light does not go out at night.

She stretches out her hands to the distaff and her palms hold the spindle.
She opens her hands to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She has no fear of the snow for her household, for all her household is dressed in fine clothing. She makes her own bedspreads; her clothing is of fine linen and luxurious cloth.
Her husband is known at the gates, where he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes and sells linens; she supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is robed in strength and dignity, and she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth with wisdom and a lesson of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks after the conduct of her household and never tastes the bread of laziness.
Her children rise up and make her happy; her husband praises her:
"Many women have excelled, but you excell them all!"
Grace is elusive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears God -- she shall be praised.
Give her credit for the fruit of her labors, and let her achievements praise her at the gates. 

Print your own copy with the Hebrew, transliteration, and English at Aish.com, and listen to a recording, too. 

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is Aishes Chayil?" ThoughtCo, May. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p5-2077015. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2017, May 19). What is Aishes Chayil? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p5-2077015 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is Aishes Chayil?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p5-2077015 (accessed December 17, 2017).