Parshat Pinchas: Egalitarian July 7, 2023

​Bamidbar 27:8

וְאֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל תְּדַבֵּ֣ר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֣ישׁ כִּֽי־יָמ֗וּת וּבֵן֙ אֵ֣ין ל֔וֹ וְהַֽעֲבַרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־נַחֲלָת֖וֹ לְבִתּֽוֹ׃

Speak to the Israelite people as follows: “When one dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.”

This case is often pointed to as the first expression of egalitarianism in the Torah. In a society where land ownership transferred from father to son, the daughters of Zelophechad brought a case to Moses calling out the practice as unfair. Before we get too excited – no this did not put daughters on equal footing with sons. The next son to be born in the family line would then inherit the land. Nevertheless, it is seen as progress, one step toward equality between men and women.

Only in the last few hundred years, women became members of society equal to their male counterparts. The way Jewish communities accept or reject this notion of equality still distinguishes different denominations today. This is a personal point of pride when it comes to our denomination. Like the traditionalists, I believe that Judaism is most effective for a person’s soul when we commit ourselves to observing the commandments, the holidays, and keeping our traditions. I also know that women can lead as well as I can, should read from the Torah when they become bat mitzvah, and be counted in a minyan. 

Is the Torah egalitarian? No. The Torah speaks in terms of the society of that time, thousands of years before the enlightenment. Does the torah have within it the seed of egalitarianism? Yes. We are blessed to be enjoying its fruits in our generation, and are challenged to cultivate this value to create a more just and equal society.