Women’s Rights and Equality – in the Torah and in the Modern World

This blog post is excerpted from remarks prepared by one of our religious school students, Lauren Gillinov, for Shabbat morning services on July 14, 2012, at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, during which Lauren will become Bat Mitzvah. As she articulates several compelling issues which apply the Torah’s lessons to women’s rights today, we share it with you here on our temple blog in hopes of our engendering dialogue on this continually relevant issue affecting us today in terms of equality, and to be guided by the voices of our young people approaching Jewish adulthood. Thank you Lauren for allowing us to excerpt from your d’var Torah!

Our Torah portion is Parashat Pinchas, which is in the Book of Numbers. My portion begins with chapter twenty seven, which mainly consists of the five daughters of Zelophehad, Moses, and God. In the time period my portion occurred, the family name and property was always passed from father to son. The daughters of Zelophehad went before Moses and explained their father died, leaving no sons.

It is important to remember that when these women went before Moses, they were still grieving the loss of their father. The brave daughters of Zelophehad asked Moses to allow them to inherit their father’s property. Then, his name would not be lost. Moses went before the Eternal One with the special case. God told Moses the plea of the daughters was righteous, and to allow them to inherit their father’s land. God went on with his thought to create a case law. The law created stated that if a man died with no sons, his property would be transferred to his daughters. If the man had no daughters, his land would go to his brothers. If the man had no brothers, the land would go to his father’s brothers. Finally, if the man’s father had no brothers, the property would be inherited by the closest relative of that man. God was very specific in his ruling, leaving solutions for every different case.

The accomplishment of the daughters of Zelophehad was very courageous, especially because they did not have any role models to look up to. In this Torah portion, the topic what struck me was [the Torah’s approach to] women’s rights. Even in ancient times, there were issues with women and men being unequal. Men ruled society, and property was passed down by men. In my portion, I could see that before the daughters of Zelophehad came before Moses, God never considered women’s rights. God had never considered them because before my portion, no woman had ever been so brave as to go try to change their position in society. When God created the case law about the way property should be inherited, it showed women and men were still not seen as equal, but there was a step taken for women to have some rights.

Women’s rights have been an issue from ancient times until now. Although women in America have more rights than women in other countries around the world, the issue affects women everywhere. From not being able to vote in Saudi Arabia to having a lower salary than men for some jobs, women are not treated equally to men. Fortunately, America is a country where women do have the same rights as men, but some inequalities do exist. As shown in politics, women are not seen to have the same power as men. No woman has ever been elected President, and there have not been many to run. As I said before, sometimes women working are not paid as much as a man who has the same job. This is not right, and does
need to change along with harsher realities for women in other countries around the world. But in my portion, I also drew out the lesson that changes do not occur over night. The case law God created did not make men and women equal, but it was a step in the right direction, giving women some power. It will take hard work and time before women are treated equally. This task will be difficult, but not impossible.

As I become a bat mitzvah, I commit myself to doing my best to focus on important aspects of Judaism. From following the commandments to taking a more active role in Jewish holidays, I will be a better Jew. From reading my Torah portion, I have more knowledge of the history of women’s rights in Judaism. From now on, I commit myself to standing up for women’s rights for any situation I might see or hear about. In fact, I will always stand up when I see injustice and to the best of my ability, make it right. Overall, after this day, I will be the best person I can be, and a proud Jew.

-Lauren Gillinov,  Bat Mitzvah Student, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple