Monday, July 18, 2005

Feminism and the Daughters of Zelophehad

Were there daughters of Zelophehad, who argued with Moses and demanded to be counted equally in inheriting from their father (Num. 27:1-7), early models of feminists? Granted, they only asked to be allowed to inherit if the father has no sons. However, they demanded at least some rights that bordered on equality.

R. Elhanan Samet (here, and in Hebrew here [RTF]) argues that they were not asking for their own rights, but for their father's rights:

Should we see the struggle of the five daughters of Tzelofchad to inherit their father as an example of an ancient feminine struggle? Now that we have uncovered their motivation, as expressed by the question "Why should the name of our father be eliminated?" - it is clear that the answer is negative. They were not motivated by their own rights, and their own welfare, nor was equality of inheritance rights for women what lay at the root of their demands, but something else entirely - the concern for the name, the memory, the continuity of their father, which will continue to exist through his daughters and grandchildren who will live on the land which he received from God. These five women are not trying to bring about a revolution, not even a small one. Their arguments arise deeply from within the conceptual world of the Tanakh concerning the establishment of a man's name over his land, and they are arguing for the extension of this biblical principle and its precedence over the general laws of inheritance.

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