The Mishna on our lists seven activities that a woman is obligated to perform on behalf of her husband:
- Grinding flour
- Washing clothing
- Nursing her child
- Making the beds
- Spinning wool
Rav Shlomo Adani in his Melekhet Shlomo points to the Talmud Yerushalmi that interprets these activities as similar to avot melakha on. That is to say, each of these activities represents a category that she is obligated to do. For example, baking would include all the preparations involved in kneading the dough, etc.
The Gemara opens with a question about the first category – grinding flour – inquiring whether a woman is truly obligated to do so. Rashi understands this to be a practical question. Since grinding flour was often performed by a water-driven mill, it is the water that does the grinding – not the woman! Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah offer a different definition. Since grinding flour was often done with a large grindstone that was driven by a large animal, could the Mishna possibly be suggesting that a woman was obligated to turn such a stone?!
Two answers are offered by the Gemara. According to the first, the Mishna simply means that a wife is obligated to oversee the grinding and ensure that there is a supply of flour in the house. The second answer suggests that the Mishna is referring to a small hand mill that was used in homes.
Hand mills were made with a hole in the top where the grain could be inserted and another on one side where a stick could be placed, allowing the grindstone to be turned. These were often used at home and turned by women who were responsible for running the kitchen. When there was a need for a large amount of flour, or when flour was produced commercially, larger mills were used, whose stones were turned by water power or by animals. Such mills could, in emergencies, be turned by people as well (see, for example, Shoftim 16:21). Nevertheless, it would be most unlikely for such difficult, manual labor to be the responsibility of the woman of the home.