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.There are, however, two groups notably left out here. One, the tribe of Levi, is explicitly excluded. Verse 62 concludes as follows:
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.'
לֹא-נִתַּן לָהֶם נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.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.
there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel.
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.Incredibly, Moses does not know how to respond, and the very next verse reports
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.'
ה וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטָן, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.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.
5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
God sides with the women:
ז כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת--נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם; וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת-נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן, לָהֶן.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!
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.
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.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!
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
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.
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.