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This week we have one of the longest single parshaot in the entire Torah, Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1. The parsha begins with God giving Pinchas, the Zealot introduced at the end of the previous week's parsha, His "covenant of peace" (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם). More on that below the fold. The parsha continues with a census of the Children of Israel and some rules for allocating the land. The parsha concludes with a detailed listing of every offering that is specific to timing; these sections are read as the additional readings on Shabat, Rosh Chodesh, and Holidays. Rarely, we get to read the actual haftarah for Parshat Pinchas, which is 1 Kings 18:46-19:21, a narrative of the experience of Eliyahu the Prophet, and this is one of those rare occasions this year.

The offerings are worthy of a separate diary which I may write some day. Details regarding the rest of the parsha are below the fold. And I will mention as part of the discussion some of the exciting things that have been happening recently within Orthodox Judaism regarding roles for women, things for which there is at least a slight allusion in this weeks parsha.

Last year, I extensively discussed Pinchas and zealotry in a Dvar Torah for last week's parsha. The link is here. I made reference to this week's haftarah and I would encourage everyone to read it and to comment in the comments section of this diary.

The parsha continues in chapter 26 with the census, and an instruction that the results of the census are to be used to apportion the Land of Israel among the tribes and among the nation once the Children of Israel arrive there:

נג  לָאֵלֶּה, תֵּחָלֵק הָאָרֶץ בְּנַחֲלָה--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת.
נד  לָרַב, תַּרְבֶּה נַחֲלָתוֹ, וְלַמְעַט, תַּמְעִיט נַחֲלָתוֹ:  אִישׁ לְפִי פְקֻדָיו, יֻתַּן נַחֲלָתוֹ.
נה  אַךְ-בְּגוֹרָל, יֵחָלֵק אֶת-הָאָרֶץ:  לִשְׁמוֹת מַטּוֹת-אֲבֹתָם, יִנְחָלוּ.
נו  עַל-פִּי, הַגּוֹרָל, תֵּחָלֵק, נַחֲלָתוֹ--בֵּין רַב, לִמְעָט.

53 'Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.
54 To the more thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance; to each one according to those that were numbered of it shall its inheritance be given.
55 Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot; according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
56 According to the lot shall their inheritance be divided between the more and the fewer.'

There are, however, two groups notably left out here. One, the tribe of Levi, is explicitly excluded. Verse 62 concludes as follows:
לֹא-נִתַּן לָהֶם נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel.

It is the other group that is implicitly excluded that the Torah now considers, and and about which I wish to mention some exciting recent developments -- women.

At the beginning of Chapter 27 we meet the  daughters of Zelophehad, whose father died without sons. In a bit of brazenness that would be unheard of coming from a woman in traditional Judaism for a millenia and a half of the past two millenia, they challenge what is going on:

ד  לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן; תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ.

4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.'

Incredibly, Moses does not know how to respond, and the very next verse reports
ה  וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטָן, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.

5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.

Note the sequence: The Torah lists a procedure to be followed to distribute inheritances that leaves women out. Five women, quite clearly learned in at least that relevant Torah, complain to the leader of the generation, who doesn't know what to do.

God sides with the women:

ז  כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת--נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם; וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת-נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן, לָהֶן.   

ח  וְאֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תְּדַבֵּר לֵאמֹר:  אִישׁ כִּי-יָמוּת, וּבֵן אֵין לוֹ--וְהַעֲבַרְתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְבִתּוֹ.

ט  וְאִם-אֵין לוֹ, בַּת--וּנְתַתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְאֶחָיו

י  וְאִם-אֵין לוֹ, אַחִים--וּנְתַתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לַאֲחֵי אָבִיו

יא  וְאִם-אֵין אַחִים, לְאָבִיו--וּנְתַתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ לִשְׁאֵרוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֵלָיו מִמִּשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, וְיָרַשׁ אֹתָהּ; וְהָיְתָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְחֻקַּת מִשְׁפָּט, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה.

7.  'The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.

8. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

9. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.

10. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren.

More details are found in the very last chapter of the Book of Numbers, which we will read in two weeks. To this day the four verses above describe briefly the basis for traditional Jewish inheritance law today. You will note that daughters do not inherit from their father unless he has no sons. The daughters of Zelophehad may have been happy with the outcome, but millions of Jewish women since have been left out!

And it has not only been in inheritance that women have been left out. From roughly 200 CE to the 19th century, women were almost completely locked out of both Jewish education and of leadership roles within Jewish communities. In earlier times, women served as prophets and judges; the famous verse in Chapter 4 of the Book of Judges identifies one particularly important example:

ד  וּדְבוֹרָה אִשָּׁה נְבִיאָה, אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת--הִיא שֹׁפְטָה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּעֵת הַהִיא.

4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

Deborah, of course, was also a military leader, something that deserves its own diary given that the preponderance of halachic opinion is that women should not serve in the military at all!

A later example, from the second century CE, was Beruriah

, whose father and husband were also great rabbis.

But for the next 1600 years, it was almost unheard of for a Jewish woman to be a Jewish scholar, much less a leader (and it should be noted that in traditional Jewish communities, the scholar IS the leader). One of the few exceptions were the daughters of Rashi but the evidence for them having played a major role in the development of the Jewish tradition themselves (as opposed to the more usual role of that time of supporting their husbands and sons) is weak.

A am happy to report that this is changing. Slowly. Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was last noted around Dailykos protesting about the kidnapping of Nigerian girls and Israeli boys, spent much of his career teaching young women at Stern College for Women and within the past few years has chosen to up the level of education and responsibility to the point where his students are sufficiently trained and learned to receive the equivalent of orthodox rabbinic ordination. After ordaining Sara Hurwitz in 2009, he started with Hurwitz a formal yeshiva for women with a program leading to ordination, Yeshivat Maharat. And last month it just graduated its second class.

Another trailblazing Orthodox Rabbi, Shlomo Riskin, has ordained two women who have completed a program at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Israel, and they have published a volume of halachic decisionsdecisions, something that would have been unimaginable a generation ago.

Of course there has been significant pushback. As Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof notes, there is TRADITION!

But in fact there is absolutely nothing in any rabbinic source that would prevent a woman from serving the traditional function of rabbis today, of teaching and deciding issues of Jewish religious law. Just as we can acknowledge the women who forced Moses to ask God for a change in the Torah, we should salute the women who have dedicated years to study of Torah and to service to the Jewish community.

The names of the ordained Orthodox women:

Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Chachamah Anat Novoselsky, Chachamah Idit Bartov, Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold, Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Maharat Abby Brown Scheier, Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, and Maharat Victoria Brelow.

Originally posted to charliehall2 on Thu Jul 10, 2014 at 07:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by Elders of Zion, Community Spotlight, and Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  In Conservative Judaism (6+ / 0-)

    The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recently voted that women and men are equally obligated to engage in daily prayer and daily donning of tefillan.  Kiddushin 29a exempts women from performing positive commandments that are performed at a particular time, while obligating women to perform all positive commandments that are not time bound, and Kiddushin 29a also obligates women to obey all negative commandments.  Kiddushin 29a effectively exempted women from daily prayer and tefillan, but the majority of the rabbis on the committee held that Kiddushin 29a was a rabbinical enactment not required by Torah and therefore can be reexamined as society has changed.  The dissenters stated that most women (as is the case for most men including myself) do not pray daily, so why turn half the Jewish population into sinners?  The counter argument is that sin means murder rape theft and the like and people are not sinners just because they don't pray and put on tefillan each day.

    I looked for this on the web site, here, but I don't see it posted yet, but it was adopted shortly before Passover of this year.

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Jul 10, 2014 at 07:50:22 PM PDT

    •  The dissenters are correct IMO regarding tefillin (7+ / 0-)

      and in fact there is signficant rabbinic support for women NOT putting on tefillin. (If I had more time I could explain the logic; maybe tomorrow.) There is also significant support for rabbis not issuing decrees they know will not be followed.

      There is a much better case to be made for the idea that prayer obligations are the same for men and women. Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch hold that the obligation for both men and women is biblical!

    •  CJLS (5+ / 0-)

      It's important to note that the CJLS doesn't actually vote to declare anything as binding (with very rare exception)- rather, they vote to declare something as an acceptable position.  That's why you have decisions that both support and oppose same sex marriage, both passed with a majority of votes (one person voted for mutually exclusive opinions).  So the CJLS voted that the obligating men and women equally is an acceptable position, but a Conservative rabbi or a Conservative synagogue wouldn't have to agree with that position.

      •  There is an idea in traditional Judaism (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mayim, ramara, Rogneid

        is that rabbis of today no longer have the power to issue binding decrees unless an entire community accepts them. This is clearly not one that will be accepted.

        I happened to have prayed this morning in an Orthodox synagogue where a woman showed up with her tallit and tefillin, and put them on. This is extremely rare; in my synagogue, known for supporting some of the advances mentioned in the diary (Rabbi Avi Weiss is our senior rabbi) there are no women in the congregation who come to synagogue to put on tefillin. I happen to agree with those who say that it isn't really a problem (and more importantly, my rabbi agrees) but that is not a commonly held position within Orthodox Judaism today.

    •  Now if they could just get the (7+ / 0-)

      ultra orthodox sect to stop throwing stones at young school girls for not being dressed correctly...

      http://www.bbc.com/...

      •  Lots of orthodox rabbis have criticized this (6+ / 0-)

        including the largest rabbinic organizations in America.

        People who throw rocks at elementary school girls are not religious.

      •  Hear hear. (6+ / 0-)

        I swear, there are days I want to move to Israel just so I can walk those girls to school with a baseball bat.

      •  An Orthodox rabbi once semi-defended this (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara, Velvele, Amber6541, Fishtroller01

        to me.  After the ultras pelted a group of mixed - male and female - Jews praying at the Western Wall with rocks and feces.  He condemned the violence but said the Heredim are so insulated that seeing men and women praying together with women leading the services and women wearing tallit and tefillan is as foreign to them as if a flying saucer had landed in the Kotel plaza and out stepped little green Martians who started praying at the wall.  I had three responses:

        First, anyone who has ever seen an alien invasion movie knows you don't start up with the aliens - their technology is greater than ours.  You let the aliens start the War of the Worlds.

        Second, the Martians are showing they too believe in God and pray the same way we Jews do.  This interplanetary unity of belief would prove their really is a God - Fishtroller would even agree - and that Judaism is the true faith.  So why throw rocks at our fellow Jews?

        Third, instead of throwing rocks, look to see if the boy Martians and girl Martians separate themselves or pray together and then we can resolve our little difference.

        The rabbi just laughed.

        "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

        by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 02:18:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A long time ago (the 1980s) (6+ / 0-)

    when I was just out of college, I read a book called "The Book of J" that said Biblical scholars say that different parts of the Bible (specifically the Pentateuch, the first five books) were written by five people, referred to as E, J, D, P, and R. E is the Elohist (because God is called Elohim), J is the Jahwist (because God is called Jahweh (it's Jahweh in German -- or Yahweh in English), D is the Deuteronomist, P is the the Priestly author, and R is the Redactor (who edited or redacted the various different parts and got them to fit together). I think there might have been something in there about different versions of the Pentateuch in the Northern and Southern parts of Israel.

    Anyway, there are some people who have proposed that the J author (the Jahwist) might have been a woman. I am by no means a Biblical scholar, but I remember that it was an interesting theory -- that at least one of the authors of the Bible might have been a woman.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Thu Jul 10, 2014 at 11:32:46 PM PDT

    •  Composition theory (6+ / 0-)

      Most theories on biblical composition have moved away from the Documentary hypothesis, which more or less felt that you had those 4 texts combined by a redactor.  Some scholars go for a Fragmentary Hypothesis (i.e. the bible being created from a number of fragments), while others support a supplementary hypothesis (starting more or less with one text and then an accretion over the course of hundreds of years).  The original documentary hypothesis has also been called into question by computer analysis- stylistically, some parts that were securely considered to be one author or another, like the second creation story, don't actually look that way to a computer.  There are a few other ideas that combine some of these, but that's the direction the field has headed in during the last 30 or so years.

      •  Thanks for that update (4+ / 0-)

        As I said, I'm not a Biblical scholar, but that sounds like an interesting development. As a child of Norwegian Lutherans, I couldn't choose my religion, but I've drifted into some kind of atheism/agnosticism. I'm still interested in the history of religion (and in my family tree there's sort of a split between ancestors who followed the State-sponsored Lutheran Church of Norway and the Haugeans, who were sort of like today's Evangelicals).

        "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

        by Dbug on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 12:16:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  A problem with that hypothesis (5+ / 0-)

      is that the Christian scholars who came up with it were completely unfamiliar with the huge tradition of commentary by Jewish scholars going back thousands of years. The issues that the documentary hypothesis attempted to address had all been noticed and addressed by the Jewish commentaries. Admittedly some of the resolutions do seem forced, but the longer people look at the documentary hypothesis the less secure it looks.

      •  If William Jennings Bryan had studied (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara

        Talmud and Rashi, he would have done just fine handling Clarence Darrow's bitter questioning at the Scopes trial.

        "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

        by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 02:20:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm trying to imagine that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Navy Vet Terp, Amber6541

          Bryan could not have imagined that such disagreements existed, and he would have been appalled at midrash. The Bible was the word of God for him. That alone explained any and all discrepancies.

          We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

          by ramara on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 03:14:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Not very scientific (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara, Navy Vet Terp, mettle fatigue

        While the documentary hypothesis may have its flaws,  at least it takes a scientific approach towards uncovering the origins of the bible. The same cannot be said of the thousands of years of Jewish madrashim et al, for which the Bible is the word of God.

        •  On the other hand (4+ / 0-)

          the very concept of midrash keeps us from seeing the Bible as etched in stone, but rather as something that is a beginning, not the be-all and end-all. Imagine being able to add stories about what happened to these ancestors of ours, to work out their thoughts and motivations.

          Today's religious right cannot conceive of such an approach. And our midrashim are not static - I have written some, and so have friends of mine.

          We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

          by ramara on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:24:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I always think of it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueyedace2

      as five groups, with each group editing earlier texts. For example, commentary in the Jewish Study Bible states that the story of what happened at Sinai according to the Priestly source was simply that Moses went up the mountain, got the plans for the Mishkan, and that all the rest of Torah was written in the Tent of Meeting.

      Think about it. No revelation, no ten commandments, no golden calf - nothing. In addition, there is a story from II Kings, that the first northern kingdom king was worried that his people would want to make the journey to Jerusalem when the next festival came. So he set up two shrines, each with a golden calf, to serve as places for people to bring their sacrifices for the festivals instead of the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, the people who inserted the story of the golden calf might have meant it to authorize these shrines and not as a negative thing at all. This would have been anathema to the priests when the second Temple was built, hence the sin of the golden calf.

      One redactor could never have put all these pieces together. It must have been done by several people over many years.

      We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

      by ramara on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 03:10:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I first said about fifteen years ago (5+ / 0-)

    that sometime within the next fifty years (... thirty-five years, now) there would begin to be ordainment of women as rabbis in the Orthodox world -- women who would not lead congregations, but who would receive a title equivalent to "rabbi" and would give halachic decisions, and would teach for a rabbi's wages -- and that there would be another schism over it.

    I'm pleased to see that at least some of that is happening.  It would be nice if we could avoid the schism, but I'm not optimistic about that.

    (Also, in talking about women Torah scholars, it would be unconscionable not to mention Nechama Leibowitz.)

    •  We are trying to avoid the schism (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Batya the Toon, mayim, ramara

      but I am not sure we can avoid it.

      •  We've already had micro-schisms (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mayim, charliehall2, ramara, Amber6541

        over far less significant differences of opinion.

      •  Here in Baltimore (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara

        I have seen Orthodoxy move far to the right during my 64 years.  I live literally on the edge of an Orthodox neighborhood - everyone for miles on one side of me is, but no one is Orthodox on the other.  I have seen the dress code become de rigueur, I have seen separate but equal gender segregated seating replaced in more than a few synagogues by walls behind which the women must sit.  Of course a women can become a rabbinical scholar just as a man can, but how does the woman rabbi cross that wall onto the male side to give her d'var Torah?

        As someone who is non-Orthodox, I strongly believe there is no reason to treat one half of the Jewish population any differently from the other half - for example, it was a female rabbi that wrote the recently adopted responsum I mentioned above.  But I certainly respect differences.

        "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

        by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 02:27:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My rabbi (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Navy Vet Terp

          back in Massachusetts told of once attending a bat mitzvah in an orthodox synagogue in Israel. (He said that for him Israeli trips were like a busman's holiday, and he shul-hopped.)

          The girl gave her d'var Torah for everybody in the garden after the service was completed.

          We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

          by ramara on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 03:18:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Kol Isha (the voice of a woman) (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya, mayim, ramara

    Can an Orthodox woman lead prayer services (or any public speaking task) and not violate the prohibition of Kol Isha?

    •  The Kol Isha issue isn't the problem (7+ / 0-)

      as it only applies to singing, not to speaking, and according to many sources (including my rabbi) only to situations that would engender licentious thoughts. I attend opera frequently and my rabbi insists that it is not a problem.

      The bigger issue is that it is an almost unanimously held position among Orthodox rabbis that women were exempted from the obligation to participate in the communal prayers that are held in most synagogues multiple times a day, and that only one who is obligated in such prayers can lead them. While there is huge interest, even demand, for increased opportunity for women studying all areas of Torah, I have seen very little for a requirement of attending daily services in synagogue. For several years my wife was the ONLY woman in my community who attended daily synagogue services who was not reciting kaddish.

  •  A 19th C woman Rebbe if not, perhaps, rabbi (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp

    was the Maid of Ludmir.

    Thanks for interesting drash.

    Shavua tov.

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