Sacrifices, Holiness and Equality

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Simone Schicker is a second year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR. Her favorite area to read and write about is Judaism and relationships – including women and LGBTQ issues, reproductive rights, sex, gender identity and marriage. Check out Simone’s Double Mitzvah column from last week, Giants in the Land – LGBT Rights Torah Style

Rated PG
Equality. We all talk about a need for it, but what does it really mean? When a woman says that she wants to be treated equal does that mean she wants to be treated as a man? I would say no. Rather, she wishes to be treated as a person just as a man should be treated as a person. The sex or gender that a person is or identifies as should have nothing to do with how one person treats another. We are all made betzelem Elohim (in the image of G-d) and therefore should all be treated the same – with respect and with care.

Speaking about equality seems odd when discussing this week’s parsha, which is made famous by its namesake Korach. The parsha covers the story of Korach and of a second rebellion, which were both against Moses. These two stories are woven together and conclude with G-d killing those who have rebelled against Moses. While the story of the rebellions comes to an end, the parsha does not. It continues with the Israelites receiving rules about a few of the many offerings they are to give to G-d. As the head priest, Aaron receives these instructions directly from G-d.

“G-d spoke further to Aaron: I hereby give you charge of My gifts, all the sacred donations of the Israelites; I grant them to you and to your sons as a perquisite, a due for all time. This shall be yours from the most holy sacrifices, the offerings by fire: every such offering that they render to Me as most holy sacrifices, namely, every meal offering, sin offering, and penalty offering of theirs, shall belong to you and your sons. You shall partake of them as most sacred donations: only males may eat them; you shall treat them as consecrated. This, too, shall be yours: the heave offerings of their gifts, all the wave offerings of the Israelites, I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.” (Numbers 16:8-11)

Immediately the issue of gender equality arises when reading this portion. Why is it that only the sons, only the males, are allowed to eat the meal, sin and penalty offerings that are brought? It is only the heave and wave offerings that are made available to the daughters (this would also include daughters-in-law) but even that lessened when the daughters are lumped in with “everyone.” This shows a very stark hierarchy in regards to who is allowed to eat the offerings.

The hierarchy is tied into the offering themselves, repentance offerings are a higher level than heave offerings. The commentator W. Gunther Plaut seems to consider it an unavoidable truth of male-centered religion: “Only they [men] could partake of meal, sin, and penalty offerings, while heave offerings and first fruits could be shared by the women in the priestly family. The former offerings related to the forgiveness of sins and, in a male-oriented religion, only males were priests and could therefore participate.” (1)

While I appreciate Plaut’s attempt at smoothing over this piece of Torah, I don’t believe he goes far enough. It is not only an issue of hierarchy, because the entire system of the priesthood was a system of hierarchy, it is the continued problem that women are not given status but are rather seen on par with “everyone of your household.” Placing women of the family, wives and daughters, on the same level as servants, slaves and children is nothing new in our text. Throughout the Tanach, Midrash and Talmud there are examples of this, for our religion is filled with the troubles brought on by patriarchy. Women are seen as only a means to an end (children) and are not viewed as individuals. They move from their father’s house to their husband’s house, and while there are a few stories of strong women in our text, the stories in which they shine generally have to do with beauty or sex. This is in direct contrast with Numbers 16:3, which states: “For all the community are holy, all of them, and G-d is in their midst.”

What makes one holy? According to the rules for the priesthood and therefore for the eating of the offerings, it means to not only be clean, in a ritual sense, but also to be male. In today’s world we know that not only are men and women equal but that people do not always fall into a simple binary system. While today we no longer have a tabernacle or the Temple to offer sacrifices in, these ideas of a woman’s place are still causing trouble for women around the world and right here at home. Whether it is the right to a legal, safe and accessible abortion or the issues of equal pay for equal work, or danger of sexual violence, women are still seen as “less” than men. Less valuable, less needed, less human. But our tradition also says that “all the community are holy” and that we are all made betzelem Elohim. We must remember to keep these two ideas in our minds as we continue to fight for the day when all people will be treated as pieces of the Divine.

Footnotes

1. The Torah: A Modern Commentary (1981).

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  • Oy!

    Once again, the author of this article appears to have lost direction in the undeniable conflict between modern social trends and the timeless wisdom of the Torah, even as she seeks to twist Torah itself into finding support for her anti-Torah propositions.

    This time the subject is equality for women, and the offensive line in Torah: “This, too, shall be yours: the heave offerings of their gifts, all the wave offerings of the Israelites, I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.” Numbers 16:8-11. The author takes issue with the fact that (1) it is only the heave/wave offerings that the daughters are able to share; and (2) that the daughters are treated no differently than “everyone [else] of your household.”

    Were this verse truly what offends the author, it would be easily put to rest. Acknowledging that Judaism is a male-oriented religion, and that the priesthood is entirely male, one understands that the Temple sacrifices could only be eaten by men because they had to be eaten in Temple — they generally could not bring them home to their families. This is the point of the Torah’s permissive text regarding the wave/heave offerings: these, in contrast, could be brought home and shared with their families. Whereas the author would like to create a hierarchy where there would at least be somethings that the daughters could eat that the servants could not eat, Torah is simply stating that some things are given to the male priesthood to be eaten in the Temple, and some things they may take home and share with their family. (Why is the author comfortable with treating servants that live with the family as a lower class than the family itself?)

    Indeed, it is ironic that the context of the entire Torah portion is one in which class discrimination is directly raised and addressed — it’s just not about men versus women. The “equal opportunity” verse quoted by the author is a challenge made by Korach and his cohorts to Moses and Aaron: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” Numbers, 16:3. In other words, these were MEN accusing other men of discrimination (in the form of nepotism). They were saying, why do only the children of Aaron get get to be priests — are we not all holy? Significantly, the wife and daughters of a priest are permitted to eat heave/wave offerings that the vast majority of Jewish MEN are prohibited from eating! The balance of the Torah portion is about how G-d did indeed intend to separate out the priesthood, elevating their status above that of all of the other Israelites, and granting them special gifts and privileges. Like it or not, they belong to a higher class. But it has nothing to do with women.

    Of course, the author does not care about heave/wave offerings; she only uses this week’s Torah portion as a pretext to devolve into a wholly-unsupported discussion of Torah’s mistreatment of women. The following are some of the author’s anti-male anti-Torah gems:

    “[O]ur religion is filled with the troubles brought on by patriarchy.”

    Is it? Is THAT why there are troubles today? Today, women are more “emancipated” then at any point in history; are there fewer troubles in the world? In fact, biblically-speaking, the role and influence of women in the shaping of our biblical history is ENORMOUS.

    Our matriarch Sarah, whose beauty is not even NOTICED until it became an issue when she moved with her husband to Egypt (see Genesis 12:11), was an incredibly strong woman, and influenced our world in several significant ways. Most notably, it was Sarah’s decision to banish Ishmael from their home; G-d instructed Abraham to listen to his wife. Who knows what the world would look like today had Ishmael not been banished?! Additionally, Abraham was made wealthy partially from Avimelech’s gifts to him, which Avimelech gave in Sarah’s honor after he was FORBIDDEN AND UNABLE to sleep with her. This is the ultimate female-power success story, in which Avimelech has so much respect for Sarah even after he knows that sex is off the table! Genesis, 20:1-16.

    Our matriarch Rebekah contrived to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau (Genesis, 27:1-27), which G-d later confirms as having been the right decision. (Genesis 32:29, Rashi’s commentary). Who knows what the world would look like today had Esau received Isaac’s powerful blessings!

    Our super-matriarch Eve, of course, played perhaps the most critical role in our history, by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge and giving Adam of the fruit to partake. Genesis, 3:6. The rest is literally history.

    The (male) Talmud unequivocally states that it was in the merit of the righteous women that the Israelites were redeemed in Egypt. See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah, 11.

    The Torah states that “Miriam…took the tambourine in her hand and all the women went forth with tambourine and dances,” and led the women in song. Exodus, 20:15. This was the women’s ecstatic response to the miracle of the splitting of the sea and to the subsequent demise of the Egyptians. Rashi’s commentary takes care to note that “the righteous women…were certain that G-d would perform miracles for them, so they took tambourines out of Egypt.”

    Then of course, there was the prophetess and judge Deborah, aptly named the mother of all Israel (did you know that she was married? Her virtually-unknown husband’s name was Lapidut). Judges, Chapters 4-5. Was she pretty? I’m not sure we know.

    Then we have Chana, the mother of the prophet Samuel. She taught us our entire format for prayer, and her story is read publicly on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year.

    Then we have Ruth, whose story is publicly read on the holiday of Shavuot. Ruth’s beauty is irrelevant to her tale. She is the standard for all future converts to Judaism; she teaches the meaning of loyalty to family and G-d (“where you go, I go”), and is the grandmother of David, Israel’s first king.

    And so on and so forth.

    It is against this rich tapestry that the author states:

    “They move from their father’s house to their husband’s house, and while there are a few stories of strong women in our text, the stories in which they shine generally have to do with beauty or sex.”

    The author is either entirely ignorant of Jewish history, or she finds that history to be inconvenient to her agenda. Either way, the failure to acknowledge these, and many other examples of the incredible women that populate our history and heritage, is inexcusable.

    The author states that:

    “Women are seen as only a means to an end (children) and are not viewed as individuals.”

    This laughable statement is refuted entirely by the Code of Jewish Law, which requires that a man respect his wife more than himself; which requires him to redeem her from captivity; which requires that he clothe her as befits HER station; that he give her sexual pleasure to the very best of his ability; that he feed her; that he think of nobody else while he has sex with her; that he never have sex with her against her will; and that he not even have sex with her while he is ANGRY with her. And there is no exception for post-menopause or barren women. It has nothing to do with “an end (children),” and everything to do with respect for “the woman of valor, the crown of her husband.” Proverbs, 12:4.

    How sad that the author concludes that women are seen by the Torah as less holy than men, when in fact the reverse is true. Indeed, G-d’s divine presence is referred to as being feminine in nature, and given the feminine name of “Shekhina.” (By the way, Leonard Nimoy has captured some of the beauty and power of the “sacred feminine” in his book of photography “Shekhina,” viewable at http://www.rmichelson.com/artist_pages/nimoy/pages/Shekhina.html.) I am an orthodox Jew, and I have walked away from my Torah education with the firm conviction that my wife is more holy than I; just as Sarah was a greater prophetess than Abraham, and Rebekah had a greater understanding of blessings than Isaac. How did the author manage to miss this message?

    From the very beginning when G-d created man and woman to JOINTLY form Tzelem Elokim, the image of G-d (Genesis, 1:27), Torah has always recognized that a man and a woman would form the most powerful of partnerships, each playing a distinct role that compliments that played by the other. Equal; but not the same. Women are most powerful when they work in harmony with their men, who are most powerful when they work in harmony with their women, each exercising their own unique abilities and talents to their fullest. When this principle is forgotten, we all suffer. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lydia-lovric/working-mothers-childcare_b_4024763.html

    P.S. Women don’t really earn less pay for the same jobs that men do (which would be illegal). See also http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/01/no-women-don-t-make-less-money-than-men.html

    P.S.S. Men also shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions; and women shouldn’t be able to kill their fetus on a whim, just because they changed their mind mid-term. When they do need to have them, they should definitely be able to have them in a safe environment. As far as I know, that is indeed the current state of things.

    P.S.S.S. Sexual violence has nothing to do with women being LESS human. Indeed, if that were the case, then bestiality would be a far more common practice — because don’t we obsess about sex with a less-than-human? Of course not. The reason that some sick men resort to sexual violence is because of the inherent recognition of a female’s superiority, that he feels he must simultaneously possess her and subdue her. Sexual violence is abhorrent, and must be stopped by any means necessary, but it has nothing to do with a woman being less-than. I guaranty that if we were able to inculpate in the mind’s of all would-be predators an understanding of a woman’s magnificence, it would not do anything to reduce sexual violence. It does women a disservice to callously toy with the real issues that many women face by blaming them on trendy non-issues.

  • Ah!

    The TRUE Jewrotica story present in the Torah portion of Korach illustrates the power of two different women:

    The very first verse of the Torah portion begins with “Vayikach Korach” – “and Korach took,” and lists those that joined in his challenge to Moses and Aaron. The last person on his list was “On, the son of Peles.”

    Who was this On? Why have we not heard of him before? Why is he singled out from the other 250 men that supported Korach? And why do we not hear of him again, even when it describes those that were swallowed by the earth with Korach?

    The Talmud states that On ben Peles is mentioned to tell us of his wife and her influence. On’s wife wanted very much to keep her husband away from Korach and and the dissent and ill-will that he was cultivating towards Moses and Aaron. What did she do?

    When she saw Korach and his followers approaching their tent to collect On for the final stand against Moses, she sat down at the entrance to the tent, uncovered her lustrous hair, and began to brush it. She understood that this would put Korach and his followers in a dilemma . If they ignored her and proceeded towards the tent, this breach of modesty would undermine their claim to be equally holy to Moses and Aaron.

    Sure enough, upon seeing her so positioned, they turned away, and proceeded on their way without On. On was thus saved from suffering the same fate as Korach and his followers.

    On the other hand, on the words “And Korach took,” the Midrash states that Korach took “etzas ishto,” the advice of his wife; i.e., the challenge to Moses and Aaron was her idea and inspiration. Tradition has it that she urged Korach to challenge Moses for the sake of their family, complaining that Moshe was taking everything for himself and his close family and leaving nothing over for him and the rest of the Levite tribe.

    Korach took her advice and made his infamous challenge against Moses, the man G-d selected to lead the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. Sadly, we are told told his wife shared his fate. “The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses… They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the assembly.” Numbers, 16:32-33.

    Such is the power of women!