“Parsha and Purpose” – Pinchas 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Voices of a Just Cause: The Modern-Day Daughters of Tzelofchad”

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“The Voices of a Just Cause: The Modern-Day Daughters of Tzelofchad”

What a time to be alive! It seems like every time we check our phones, we see and read about truly historic events taking place.

So it’s quite timely that in a period of structural societal change taking place across the globe, Israel’s Attorney General issued a groundbreaking decision last week that will fundamentally transform Jewish life for the better – and in particular, the landscape of women’s Torah leadership.

Thanks to the remarkable efforts of the ITIM organization and others, women Torah scholars will now be able to obtain the very same level of government-approved accreditation for their Torah knowledge as men do.

This means that women who earn accreditation will be able to apply for and obtain those same positions that, when halachically appropriate, should be open to men and women alike who have mastered a corpus of Torah knowledge.

This decision establishes that at long last, women will have access to their rightful inheritance in the Torah.

That’s why it’s so fitting that we will be reading this Shabbat in Parshat Pinchas about a group of women fully committed to the future of the Jewish People who appeal what they viewed as an injustice in what they are told is Torah law.

The daughters of Tzelofchad stand before Moshe and entire leadership, pleading: 

If we are considered to be sons when it comes to the laws of Levirate marriage, why are we not considered sons when it comes to the laws of inheritance?  

Our family deserves an equal portion in the land.  

Why should it be that the status quo of a woman not receiving an inheritance causes the name of our family to be erased?

Why are we treated unequally when it comes to the laws of inheritance? Why do we not have the right to an equal portion in the land?

Why should we be denied our rights?

God acknowledges the claim of the daughters of Tzelofchad; the status quo is changed; and they are assured of their rightful inheritance.

With the decision from the Attorney General last week, we see another improvement on a contemporary status quo that has now been rightly rectified.

Until now, women who studied the same texts as men studied for rabbinical ordination could not receive any form of government accreditation that would recognize their studies and their skills.

This meant they were paid less for the same jobs as their male counterparts. And they were unable to apply for positions that were otherwise halachically-appropriate, such as kashrut supervisor in the Knesset, which required government-recognized Torah knowledge of kashrut. 

There are wonderful programs in existence in which women study seriously – such as in Ohr Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership, an intensive five-year graduate program in which they study the same subject matter as men in our kollelim who are studying for rabbinic ordination.

The women take the same tests as men, except we, a private organization – Ohr Torah Stone – administer them instead of a government entity.

These women scholars, who study full-time for five years, while at the same time nurturing growing families, do not seek to supplant the rabbinical profession, God forbid, but rather want to complement it.

We were all frustrated that until now, their privately-conferred certification did not enable them to receive the same compensation in a high school or a seminary for the same work that their male counterparts received. Until now, the current status quo meant that their studies, their impressive accomplishments, were not recognized.

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik taught that when important events happen, look at the parsha and allow it to speak to you in a contemporary context.

This week, one need not look very far or wide to see just how true this is. 

Welcome, B’not Tzelofchad!

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Riskin

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Advocate Osnat Sharon

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