Skip to main content

Lena Kahn on Marriage, Child Rearing, and Kashrut

"Every woman should make it her task to always be cheerful and friendly around her husband"

Lena Kahn published Die Frau auf richtiger Fährte (The Wife on the Right Track) in 1901. She was born in Sulzburg (Baden-Württemburg, Germany).  In her memoir Kinder-Erinnerungen, she describes a happy childhood filled with hard work, strict Orthodox religious observance, and fond recollections of food.  She married Moritz Kahn, a Sulzburger cattle merchant,  and they had four children together.  After her husband’s early death, Lena Kahn relocated to many different places, including Güntherstal and Basel (both near the southwestern edge of Germany close to Freiburg), where her book was published.

Siegfried Heilbrunn.jpg
Lena Kahn's cookbook including directions for kosher slaughtering. Pictured here is Siegfried Heilbrunn with a cow in front of his butcher shop. LBI Archives, Siegfried Heilbrunn Collection, AR 3438. LBI Photos, F 2466.

Although the title of her book did not specify that it is a Jewish cookbook, it contained sections on managing a Jewish kitchen, with guidance on how to prepare meals for the Sabbath and Pesach, how to keep a kosher kitchen, and how to do kosher butchering. Kahn's recipes were German-style cuisine, with recipes for Linzertorte, Honey Lebkuchen and Bavarian dumplings. Although she wrote the recipes for a Jewish kitchen, she described that she had always felt at home with Christians and felt that many Christian housewives would appreciate her recipes. In addition to recipes, her cookbook was also a manual for household management.

Kahn provided advice for managing home finances; caring and feeding a newborn; and raising spiritually and physically healthy children. She encouraged young middle-class women learn about art and literature so as to be good conversationalists with their husbands:

... what can be nicer than when a woman's husband after the day's burdens, not to have to be harassed with gossip about clothes and servants, but instead can converse about art and literature ...[the matters] that awake in him wellness and interest ...

She even included marital advice, urging women to always maintain a cheerful and friendly disposition around their husbands:

... every woman should make it her task to always be cheerful and friendly around her husband. Also, whenever there is washing or cleaning at home, the cheeriness should never suffer, that takes away from from her pleasant disposition. A woman has it in her power to make the home a paradise for her husband, but it is also in her hand, to make it a hell for him. This latter part comes namely through pouting and arguing, which often degenerates into brawls and quarrels ...
Elsa Glass with daughter, circa 1915
A portrait of Elsa Glass with her daughter. LBI Archives, Julius Glass Collection AR 10178. LBI Photos, F 60047. In her advice for child rearing, Lena Kahn urged mothers that "the child needs love like the flower needs light."

She stresses the vital role of women in the spiritual development of children:

... through love and tenderness one awakens the trust of the child ... While what the child learns on the lap of his mother never again leaves him. For that reason the mother should never forget to speak to the child about God and later move to the sublime prayers and Psalms ... with devotion and understanding ...

The most remarkable thing about Kahn’s book is the sense of maternal pride and joy she conveys in her descriptions of raising children in a Jewish household; the same feeling found in the memoirs of her childhood.  Sadly, no original copies of the 1901 publication can be found.  Further editions were not published until its reprint in the late 20th century and early 21st century by Menes-Verlag.