Friday, June 28, 2013

Two-Minute Torah: Early Israelite Feminists

According to Torah law, inheritance of land and property went only to sons and not daughters. Presumably, the daughter would be supported by her eventual husband, and of course, that husband would be heir to his father.

But in this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, a man (Tzelofchad) dies who has five daughters and no sons. The daughters find it unfair that they cannot inherit and that their father's property will pass on instead to their uncles and cousins. They bring their case to Moses, who seems to agree with their concern but also be powerless to do anything about it, since he has already received the law from God. He agrees, however, to discuss their case with God.

The Sifrei, a late Midrash from the Land of Israel, explains how it was that the daughters of Tzelofchad felt they had a chance of changing a law they thought unjust: When the daughters of Tzelofchad heard that the Land of Israel was to be divided among the tribes, and not among the daughters, they took counsel together and said: “The mercy of God is not like the mercy of human beings. Human beings treat better than their daughters, but the Holy One, Blessed be He’s mercy is equally distributed to all, male and female, as it says (Psalms 145): ‘His mercies are on all of his creations’“

I find this recognition that the tradition's non-egalitarian nature reflects human tendencies and not divine desires to be quite interesting. As it happens, God ultimately agrees with the daughters of Tzelofchad, and they are allowed to inherit their father’s property.

No comments: