Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, July 23, 2022

Within the last month the Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to an abortion. Immediately, what had been law for 50 years was eliminated and in many states women were immediately denied the right to have an abortion. A human right that had been taken for granted for half a century was taken from us.
Without going too deeply into this issue, the rights of women were denied in favor of the rights of the fetus. Jewish religious law stands in fundamental opposition to this line of reasoning. This decision is also a cruel reminder that the struggle for women’s equality and for human rights is ongoing and is never settled. It also reminds us that what we often call women’s rights are in fact human rights as many other individual freedoms that courts have found to be implicit in the Constitution may now come under attack or be stripped away. This week’s Torah portion shows us that the struggle for women’s equality goes back to the earliest days of our people, the daughters of Zelophehad approach Moses saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against ADONAI, 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 takes their case to God who 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 father dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.” (Numbers 27:7-8) Commenting on the first words of God’s response to Moses, “The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just,” Rashi (12th C. Germany) wrote, “This tells us that their eye saw what Moses’ eye did not see. They had a finer perception of what was just in the law of inheritance than Moses had.” Zelophehad’s daughters understood the law better than Moses, perhaps because they were victimized by its patriarchal bias. Their willingness to stand up for their rights as women made Israelite society more just and fair. Or, in the words of Rashi, more in line with God’s will and intention. The daughters of Zelophehad remind us that when women are denied their rights, all of us are denied our rights. The oppression of one group ultimately affects all society.