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    Thinking of the women – Pinchas

    The daughters of Tzelofchad, illustration from a 1908 bible

    The daughters of Tzelofchad, illustration from a 1908 bible

    The daughters of Tzelofchad appear twice in the Torah, in this week’s portion of Pinchas and also in Parashat Mass’ei.

    The story is that their father has died without leaving sons, and the question is what is to become of his estate. The rest of the tribe seem to lack sympathy for the women’s predicament: how ever, they argue, can women be allowed to hold property?

    God has another point of view, though. According to the Sifrei, “Human beings have a feeling for male rights but not for those of the women; but the Holy One, blessed be He, is different, for ’His mercies extend over all His works’ (Psalm 145:9)”.

    The ruling conveyed through Moses is that the daughters can inherit, but to keep the estate in the tribe they will have to marry within the tribe. This marital restriction, however, is examined by the Talmud and determined not to be a permanent rule, so the women can marry whoever they choose (BB 120a).

    It is the first time in Biblical and Jewish history that women’s rights are publicly claimed, and it seems that though the men are hesitant, God is on the women’s side and is adamant that they get a fair deal.

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