After taking another census of the nation, the first claim for equal rights for women in Jewish history is documented in this week’s parsha when the five daughters of Tzlophchad, a man who left Egypt with the Israelites but has since been killed for sinning, petition Moshe and the entire congregation to grant them a portion of the land of Israel even though their father did not leave a male heir, as is stipulated by law. While the fact that an event like this was included in the narrative of the Israelites’ travels in the desert might be surprising enough, I find what comes next even more surprising. First, Moshe does not adjudicate this legal matter, as he was expected to do with all disputes that arose, as a sort of supreme court of one, but rather immediately referred the question to Hashem. Before looking at the answer, it is worth noting that the verse describing Moshe asking Hashem for an answer (27:5) is separated in two distinct schematic ways from the answer, as the text splits into a new paragraph after this verse, and into another aliyah (section of the Torah read at once in a synagogue). This is quite surprising as it does not appear to be a fitting place for either of these divisions, most definitely not for a new aliyah, as that means that the answer is delayed until the next reading begins. Finally, the answer that Hashem gives is unequivocal support without any reason: “The daughters of Tzlophchad have spoken rightly, you shall surely give them a portion of the land as an inheritance among the brothers of their father and the portion of their father shall be passed on to them” (27:7, my translation). Further, this case is clearly the motivation for the next section, detailing new contingencies for cases where a father dies without having a son (27:8-11).
A son or daughter
Fit to inherit the land