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July 17, 1987 - Image 35

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Zelophehad's Daughters:
The Roots Of Feminism

RABBI RICHARD C. HERTZ

Special to The Jewish News

Zelophehad is hardly a
household name today. He is
remembered in Jewish
history only because his five
daughters had a complaint.
Zelophehad died in the
wilderness of Sinai when the
Israelites were journeying
toward the Promised Land.
He died without any sons to
inherit his place. His five
daughters requested of Moses
that they be recognized as his
female heirs and be given
their father's inheritance of
land. The accepted practice of
that time dictated that land
was inherited through the
male line only. If a man died
without sons, his brother was
to marry the widow and their
sons would become the heirs.
But that did not apply to
the daughters of Zelophehad.

Shabbat Pinchas:
Numbers 25:10-30:1,
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3

They went to Moses and
pleaded that although their
father had died during the
desert wanderings, he had
committed no sin. He had not
participated in the revolt of
Korach. Moses then consulted
God. It was determined that
the daughters of Zelophehad
were right: Why should their
father's patrimony be
abrogated simply because he
left no sons, only daughters?
As the Midrash says, God
created the world and extend-
ed His love to all His children,
not just a man's sons.
daughters
of
The
Zelophehad were the first
Jewish feminists. They
brought about a general
statement about the law of in-
heritance which from that
time on became a tradition in
Jewish life: Daughters count;
daughters may inherit land
from their father. Women
have rights. "You shall give
them a hereditary holding
among their kinsmen.
Transfer their father's share
to them . . . If a man dies
without leaving a son, you
shall transfer his property to
his daughters." (Numbers
27:7-8)
That was a revolutionary

Dr. Hertz is rabbi emeritus at
Temple Beth El.

principle for those times.
After all, laws were written
by men to regulate a society
dominated by men. The con-
cept of equality never occur-
red to them. Hence, such an
egalitarian law as this was
surprising.
Yet there are other ex-
amples within Jewish law
that appear to make women
the equal of men. In the -
Mishnah, the first part of the
Talmud, while Jewish law
concentrated on the status of
married women (a single
adult was virtually unknown
in those days) and the patriar-
chal system made the man
the head of the family,
women's rights were still pro-
tected. F6r example, the mar-
riage contract (ketuvah)
specifically protected the
bride's dowry. She was never
chattel in Jewish law. She
could not be married without
her explicit consent. She had
sexual rights, as well.
lbday, many Jewish women
feel that they are second-class
citizens under Jewish law. In
the last two decades, a new
awareness of Jewish rights
has developed among
American Jewish women.
They have been examining
halachah in order to deter-
mine what constraints on
women can be changed.
Women have now become
bat mitzvah. They have been
participating in prayer mi-
nyans. They have been called
to the Torah. They have taken
leadership positions in
synagogues and temples.
They have become presidents
of congregations. More, they
have become rabbis and pro-
fessors of Jewish studies in
American universities. Sex-
ism in the language of Jewish
prayerbooks and texts is be-
ing reexamined to eliminate
the pro-male bias.
Jewish life today is in the
midst of a social revolution
that has changed attitudes
toward the position of women.
While the Orthodox are not
expected to accept the idea of
women rabbis, they are per-
mitting women to obtain
greater educational oppor-
tunities in Torah and Talmud
studies so that their spiritual
and intellectual needs might
be met.
Discrimination against
women in secular life is being
matched by a zealous effort to
overcome discrimination
against women in Jewish life.
Equality for all must include
equal rights (and equal rites)
for Jewish women.

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The Jewish Community Center Health Club

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8th Annual

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Wednesday, July 29

cocktails at 6:00 p.m.
dinner at 7:00 p.m.

$9/person, $17/couple
Bring a friend.
Purchase tickets in advance at the
Health Club Reception Desk.

661-1000 Ext 301

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

35

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