Counting in the Courts

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 other Double Mitzvah columns, Giants in the Land – LGBT Rights Torah Style, Sacrifices, Holiness and Equality, Finding Our Voices, and last week’s column, Curses or Blessings : Coming to Know the Other.

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Within Judaism we often emphasize the importance of the community. For example: you cannot celebrate a wedding or say many of the prayers within a service aloud or have a Torah service without a minyan. Yet, we are also taught that the individual is made betzelem Elohim. This belief that we are all made in the image of G-d grants the individual an important place within our tradition. This week’s parsha is special because it is the first time that women are granted the right to own land. It is only permissible for them to inherit if their father has no sons to pass his land on to, but it is still an enormous step forward in our history. The idea that a woman would be allowed to possess land is something that many other cultures would not allow for centuries.

But this is not what I wish to focus on about this week’s parsha. I would like to speak about the fact that the mention of a woman by name in the Torah is a rarity. However, in this week’s parsha we are granted not only the name of one woman but the names of five different women: “The daughters of 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, came forward, and his daughters’ names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.” (Numbers 27:1) While these women will not speak as individuals, but rather as a group, this does nothing to diminish the fact that they are granted names.

Why does the Torah grant these women the right to be named? Why are they not known only as Zelophehad’s daughters? I believe that it is to teach us the importance of seeing the individual’s rights within the community. Zelophehad’s daughters approached Moses, in front of the entire gathered congregation, to appeal the ruling that men would inherit from their father because they wished for their family line to continue even though they had no brothers. They were not modern women who were brought up to believe that they were to be treated equal to their male counterparts. Yet they stood up for themselves because they saw an injustice and they were successful in changing the status quo.

I believe there is a lesson to be learned from the bravery of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the lesson of standing up in the face of injustice. It is of supreme importance that when an individual sees an injustice that they speak out because without the voice of the individual there would be no movements. Every group of people with a cause started with one person who saw an injustice, who gathered other individuals who saw or experienced the same injustice to join them in speaking up and out for change. Without the individual, there would be no change. Margaret Meade said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This lesson has immediate applicability for many of us as we follow the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in regards to the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case. This is not the first case to make it to the Supreme Court that has limited a woman’s right to health care but it is certainly going to have an enormous impact on women throughout our country. It is during times like these that we must apply the lesson of this week’s parsha and tell our individual stories. Time and time again we have seen that when a person can connect a friend to an issue that this stops merely being an issue, and becomes a cause of importance.

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  • Oy

    The Hobby Lobby decision in no way limited a woman’s right to health care. Before Obamacare was passed, women had every right and access to every kind of birth control. Then Obamacare came along and forced employers to PAY for every kind of birth control – even those that went against the employers deeply-held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court’s decision does not prevent women from obtaining or taking whatever birth control they wish. It does not deprive them of ACCESS to whatever kind of birth control they wish. It merely says that they cannot force their employer to provide a form of birth control that the employer finds morally and religiously repugnant.

    To the author I have only two questions:

    1. Do you have access to every kind of birth control? (Answer: Of course)

    2. Do you think that employers should be forced to pay for their female employees’ abortions? (Answer: Of course not)

    The Hobby Lobby case has NOTHING to do with women’s rights, and EVERYTHING to do with religious freedom. You may not LIKE the decision, but why disingenuously mislead those who may not have read it za to its true import?

  • Oy

    Another thing that troubles me is that the author’s characterization of the Hobby Lobby decision actually HURTS women, and misses what would otherwise be an opportune teaching moment.

    Hobby Lobby provides coverage to its employees for many different kinds of contraceptives. It objected, on religious grounds, to four specific types, which it believes are a form of abortion. These include the “morning after” pill. Let’s the science of it, and whether or not the “morning after” pill does in fact abort a conception.

    What is likely to be the most common use of the morning after pill? Obviously, these are not women that develop health problems during pregnancy, or who find themselves either physically or psychologically unable to cope with pregnancy. It is, after all, the MORNING AFTER. Are the users of the pill primarily rape victims? I would suggest not. Statistics reflect that many users of the pill have done so more than once. Or they do so as a “belt in suspenders” – just in case their other measures didn’t work. Or they do so simply because they chose to have unprotected sex. See

    On the other hand, there are a vast number of people in out country who genuinely believe that life starts at conception, and that the morning after pill destroys that life.

    Now, the debate over premarital sex is over. Premarital sex is here to stay. And the debate over ANY kind of contraception is over. The Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut expressly preserved a woman’s right to use contraceptions

    All that a girl needs to do to have and enjoy premarital sex, to avoid pregnancy, and to avoid even the POSSIBILITY of snuffing out a life, is to use of the 14 other types of contraceptives that Hobby Lobby provides to its employees.

    Wouldn’t that be the most responsible course? And shouldn’t we still teach our daughters a sense of responsibility – both when it comes to sex and when it comes to possibility of conception? Is it good for them when we embrace every kind of irresponsibility and disrespect, and to enshrine it in “women’s rights”? Is there any point at which we might want to really teach our daughters that sex is powerful and beautiful, with real and lasting consequences, and that it should be practiced responsibly? Or will we simply reward a lack of responsibility by terminating a pregnancy at any stage, for whatever reason, and in the face of the millions horrified by what they see as extinguishing a life — and call it women’s rights?

    Maybe the pro-life people are wrong. (By the way, anybody have the statistics on how many pro life people still oppose the Hobby Lobby decision because the morning after pill doesn’t terminate a “life”?). Maybe those addicted to the morning after pill have the true monopoly on what G-d wants, and the pro-lifers’ antiquated and dusty views shouldn’t be taken seriously. But when millions of your fellow citizens are offended by something, and you can easily do without that thing, and it would even be more RESPONSIBLE for you to do without that thing, isn’t it disrespectful to rub their faces in something that pains them greatly?

    My father won’t drive a BMW, because it was a prominent German car during World War II. He personally is not offended by a BMW, and he doesn’t believe that he is effectively boycotting Germany by not buying their cars. He doesn’t drive it because there are still people alive who are bothered by the sight of a Jew in a BMW. Crazy, right? But it doesn’t matter. It offends them, and there are many other cars that he can drive that won’t.

    Is this the best we can do? A perpetual attack on the values of others in the vague and dubious name of progression? And particularly as Jews – shouldn’t we be presenting a wiser, more luminous model for how we raise our children?