This week the synagogues around the world read from Numbers 25:10 – 30:1. This is a very dramatic reading. The two stories that make this portion of the Torah are the deed of Pinchas who took the law into his own hands, and the story of the daughters of Zelophehad (27:1-11). I shall focus on the aspect which has received less attention: comparing Torah laws on the right of daughters to inherit with the practice of the ancient nations around us.
The daughters of came to Moses with a story and a request: “Our father died in the wilderness…for his own sin” (Num. 27:3). Even though he died for his sin, his daughters apparently honored his memory. “And he has left no sons” (Num. 27:3) — since he only left daughters, and daughters could not inherit or receive a holding in the land according to the Law of Moses, they also could not continue the name of their father’s family for the future generations. These seven daughters of Zelophehad argued: “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!” (Num. 27:4). It is important to stay with the text and understand that the daughters of Zelophehad requested to inherit their father’s land not so that they could be landowners, but for the perpetuation of the name of their father and his honor.
In my opinion, this is the first act of Women’s Rights/Women’s Liberation. The Torah recognizes only the male children as inheritors of their father’s property. There are good reasons for this ancient rule. Especially because the Land of Canaan was divided to each tribe of Israel and within the tribes to each family. So, only if the sons, who are those who hold the name of the family, inherit there is no danger that the property will move to another tribe when the daughters marry men from the other tribes.
In the nations around the land of Israel it there were no sons to inherit from the father, a daughter could inherit all her father’s property. Archaeologists have found documents from a place called Alalakh, (Stratum VII, 17th cent. B.C.E.), indicating that daughters had the right to inherit just as sons. There is evidence that this practice continued up to the 15th century B.C.E. This practice continued later, as well, as is documented in sources from Stratum IV (15th cent. B.C.E.). In Ugarit (13-14th cent. B.C.E.) the laws are not as clear on this issue of daughters inheriting in the presence of a male sibling. However, it is clear that they could inherit their father in the absence of a male brother. In Emar (13th cent. B.C.E.) when specified in a testament of the father, daughters could inherit the same as sons. In a few cases the father could specify in his testament that the daughters could inherit and give his daughters the status of a “son” that would give the daughters the full rights to do all the ancestral rites. In Egypt, in the time of the Old Kingdom (2675-1980 B.C.E.), daughters inherited the property of their dead father, but their brothers inherited a larger portion. This practice in Egypt continued also into the New Kingdom that means all the way to the time of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt.
The finding from the ancient Near East shed an interesting light on the issue among the Israelites. Moses was raised as an Egyptian Prince in the house of Pharaoh. He probably was well versed in the Egyptian laws. Now after the giving of God’s law in Sinai – there inheritance was given to the sons and the elder son received half of the inheritance and the rest of the sons shared the rest. Suddenly, a problem arises, there are daughters who have no male brother and they want to inherit their father’s land. What are the options of Moses:
- He could say to these women, “The Law is the Law” there is no way to change the law. Not everyone who is unhappy with the Law can come and demand to change the Law and make it to his private liking.
- He could say, I see your point, all the nations around us, allow the daughters to inherit the father if there are no male children. Why should be different than all our neighbors?Let these girls inherit.Equality between man and woman from noble families is a well-established practice in our world.Let us be like everybody else around us.
Moses takes a different rout. He does not feel that he has the right to change the Law or the custom of the people of Israel on his own. He has a higher authority to ask a solution to this problem. He considered the problem and didn’t dismiss it.
Num. 27:5-11, “So Moses brought their case before the LORD. 6 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. 8 And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.’” And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the LORD commanded Moses.”
Moses presented the problem to God and God understand the problem and actually changes the Law not only for this specific case, but also for the future. God says, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter.”
Dear brothers and sisters, I can’t express properly how happy this story makes me. I am a witness of a major breakdown of church hypocrisy. Churches who have been waving the flag of Restoration, and Bible only is our authority, and we want to be like the New Testament Church, have ignored the clear instruction written in the New Testament on many issues, but especially on the issue of women and their role in the life and practice of the church. I have wondered how intelligent men can be so un-intelligent when it comes to the Bible. The New Testament gives women a spectrum of possibilities to establish their equality. Let me just list a few from the very texts that promote equality and privileges for women:
1 Cor. 11:5, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.”
- It is clear in this text that women can pray and prophesied in public as long as they have their hair covered. Churches should have been teaching this and not forbidding women from praying in public.
- For the churches to deny women from praying in public – they have sinned against women and against the church itself.
Rom. 16:1-2, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”
In this text from Paul’s letter to the Romans we see that in the church of Rome there were female deacons.The English text reads that Phoebe was a servant.The Greek word for “servant is daikon.”
Just the case of women praying in public in this case women were serving in every church, but they were not recognized that their service was titled the same as the men, Deaconess.
There are many more examples and statements, but this prayer list is not the place for enlarging on this topic. For conclusion, I must say that Christians state Paul’s statement regarding the Jew – Gentile challenge, but they forget that the next words in Paul’s statement in Galatians is: Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This appeared as a part of The Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, July 14, 2017.