Judaism is quite content with the challenging of known laws and when necessary these laws can be changed. Five women, “Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah” stood before Moses and do exactly that. Their father, “Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph” dies in the wilderness and according to the inheritance laws that could not enjoy the inheritance as he had no sons. They dispute this arguing, “Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” Moses does not have a ready answer for them as this is for sure a diversion from known law and therefore “brought their case before the Lord.”
The Daughters of Zelophehad (sound like shadows and fear in hebrew)
The answer received to this quandary changes dramatically the laws of inheritance. Moses hears this, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.” Admittedly there is still a difference between the rights of men and women in the hierarchy of rights within the laws of inheritance but certainly there is a new precedent here.
It is important to mention this many times taught over lesson especially on this particular week. It is important as it shows that it is valid to change laws, even dramatically, and certainly interpretations of the laws, as progress towards equality is paramount for a more just society. If we compare society before and after the change in the laws of inheritance we find that it advanced towards a more equal society than it was before. It is important to stress here that it does not meant that each has exactly the same but rather that less discrimination is present and more equity is achieved. It is not yet ideal but it is a step towards that.
This week the Israeli minister of education began a controversy, here in Israel as well as elsewhere, during an interview with Dana Weis on Channel 12. I think that the real problem was actually camouflaged due to the concentration on his views on conversion therapy, and we still must address that issue. The minister, among other topics, seemed to suggest that conversion therapy in the LGBTQ+ community is effective treatment. It is good that since he has retracted his stance on this issue. However the discourse on this important issue covered an even greater opinion that the minister brought forward. He suggested that Judea and Samaria should be annexed as soon as possible. This in itself is a political position that I do not intend to address here – this is not the right platform for it. The interviewer made it more difficult for him and asked him about voting rights to which he responded that he thinks that the Arabs there should not enjoy political voting rights and continued to state that we will make sure that they are well treated. These are words of an hypocrite and a bigot. Instead of working towards more equity and equality in the spirit of the daughters of Zelophehad (צלפחד) he goes for the shadows (צל) and fear (פחד).
It is unfortunate but there is no other name to what the minister suggested as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What he is suggesting is that Israel becomes an apartheid state – that will not be and cannot be. The combination of Israel and apartheid are like mixing oil and water that just simply do not mix. If the minister does not wish to grant political rights to the people who live on the land then he must announce that he accepts the consequences and is willing to leave the territory. If, on the other hand, he wishes to hold the territory than there is no Jewish way to accept the case where the rights of the Jew and the foreigner living within us are not the same rights. We should never be fooled, one who is willing to sacrifice the rights of others of a particular group will have no problem whatsoever to drop the political rights of another group. This is a slippery slope and no matter how forcefully the minister will deny that this is his intent, it is not that which counts. What counts are the results of such policies which we have experienced often enough.
Unlike the case of “Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah” here there is no need for new laws. These laws are spread throughout our beloved Torah. In Leviticus (19 34) it is said, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” In Exodus (12 49) we find, “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” And in Leviticus (24 22) “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” Even if all of these and many more where not there still in the spirit of the changes of the law for the daughters of Zelophehad it would still be more just to work towards more equality rather than less of it as suggested by the minister and shamefully not dismissed forcefully and unequivocally by the prime minister. The minister’s statement is dangerous and endangering and we must continue to powerfully uproot these dangerous racist approach to life in Israel so that it shall never raise its ugly head here.
Reuven Marko, 19 July 2019, 17 Tamuz, 5779