Women are so rarely mentioned in our Torah that we remember most of their names. Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah, Miriam, Devorah, Ruth, and then? The daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah are names that we don’t remember, but we should.
They challenge Moses, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the LORD, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:3-4)
Moses has no answer, so he turns to God, and God answers, “The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.’” (Numbers 27:7-8) And thus, through their willingness to assert their rightful claim, women in ancient Israel earned the right of inheritance.
It was a small step toward equality. In this moment in our history, as women assert their rightful claims to leadership, to control over their bodies, to equal pay, and just treatment, we should remember that feminism is a Jewish value, as the daughters of Zelophehad teach us.
It is incumbent on all of us men and women to support the struggle for women’s rights, because women’s rights are human rights.