Parshat Pinchas

In follow up to the dramatic incident of Pinchas, this new generation is now counted and Hashem presents the algorithm for dividing up the Land of Israel between the tribes according to their numbers. A group of ladies, the daughters of Zelofchod who do not have any brothers in the family feel left out and choose the opportunity when Moshe has gathered the entire assembly in front of the Tabernacle to bring their case for a portion of land. The text provides our sages sufficient clues to shower superlatives on these five smart young ladies but with their commentaries carefully avoiding treading into the dangerous discussion of feminism and equal status for women within our society.

The Talmud in Baba Batra 119b discusses the issue and pronounces that these ladies were clever, learned and righteous and had studied though the topic before bringing their case and it would seem that they had such a good argument that we are told that Moshe had to bring their case before Hashem. Interestingly the Midrash tells us that Moshe in fact did know the law, but the ladies had followed the proper procedure, they brought their case through the hierarchy of the judges of ten, fifty, thousands and the princes and out respect for their behaviour in going to their superiors Moshe showed that he also went to his superior which was, of course, to Hashem. There are also those who say that when they came to Moshe they showed great respect by saying that their father had died but was not part of Korach’s gang as they were aware of the distress caused to Moshe by Korach, who seemingly came forward with queries on interpretation of the law.

To the issue itself, these ladies, wish to claim their right to a portion in holyland and this is where our sages give them credit. In retrospect they are the only ones who show their love for the land and request their portion, if anything it was the men all along who had demanded a return to the miseries of Egypt, even remembering the melons, cucumbers, fish etc. the oft heard complaint that things were better once. In addition they are from the tribe of Menashe who plan to take part of their portion of land on the other side of the Jordan but they clearly say “give us a portion with our father’s brothers” which the Netziv interprets as with the other tribes on the west side of the Jordan where we are today.

These ladies even get the honour of being presented by name, Machlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, where as often women, such as Samson’s mother are not named. Interestingly when they arementioned later on and we are told that not to cause a big mess they married their cousins from the same tribe, they are then presented again by name but in a different order and we are told that, that was to show that they were all equal in wisdom and they treated each other with equality.

Well many of my readers I know wait for the week’s story at the bottom and certainly we had some credit for women a couple of weeks ago when I wrote of very special lady Governor the Bank of Israel. I was on the phone to our Rav this week and he told me he had officiated at a wedding this week where a lady had been the presenter of the order of ceremony under the chupa and the last sheva bracha had been given to a lady. He expressed his surprise at being faced with this, “fait accompli” and that he understood that many poskei halacha are unhappy with the changing face of the fairer sex our religious framework, but as often did not state his own personal point of view.  I like the story a heard some years ago of the struggle for women to represent women at the Rabbanut in divorce proceedings. The women came to the Religious authorities asking to be allowed to represent lady clients and the Rabbis could not think up any reason why not, but what they did was made the exams more difficult.  It did not work as the Rabbis expected, and all the women passed the exams and most of the men failed and the women won their right to be “toanot rabaniot”

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