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Zelophehad, Hillary, and Our Daughters

Zelophehad, Hillary, and Our Daughters

The ketubah, or marriage contract, is Western Civilization’s earliest example of a prenuptial agreement. Wives were granted the property rights of their husband and were protected from being impoverished when he died.

Last week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, formally establishes the inheritance rights to the daughters of Zelophehad. (Numbers 27). For its time, this was a revolutionary occurrence. Zelophehad died, leaving no male heirs, and now the rights of inheritance for women would be firmly established. Women, Moses would rule, do have rights! Women count!

Yes, the world has certainly changed, not only since the days of the Zelophehad and the rabbis of the Talmud.

They’ve changed in our modern lives, too. Growing up, my sister was one of the first young girls to have a bat mitzvah in Nashville, TN. Today, girls who are raised in Reform congregations think nothing of the fact that they have a bat mitzvah – but it is. Within the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people, it is something truly special.

In a similar vein, regardless of political persuasion, we can all admit that the events of last week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadehia were truly historic. For the first time in American history, a woman was nominated to be the presidential candidate of a major political party.

As I watched Hillary Clinton speak, I couldn’t help but also notice that many in the audience at the convention center were tearing up. I looked over at my wife, and sure enough, there were tears in her eyes, too.

And then I remembered that just the day before, a 5-year-old girl named Rachel came to our synagogue with her very pregnant mother for a blessing prior to the new baby’s birth. Rachel is so bright and clearly has incredible potential.

I’m sure that by the time Secretary Clinton spoke the next night, Rachel was long asleep, dreaming the kind of dreams that 5-year-old girls dream. She might have been dreaming of sugarplums and fairies, but one of these days, she will dream bigger! – and the events of last week tell her that there should be no limit to her dreams.

I am proud of the fact that Reform Judaism was the first major Jewish movement to ordain women rabbis.

I am proud of the fact that Reform Judaism, years ago, became the first major Jewish movement to become truly egalitarian.

I am proud of the fact that I've been able to serve under four outstanding female presidents of our congregation. When I first came to town, the first president that I worked with, Midge Pines, was also the first woman to serve as president of the congregation.

I am proud of the fact that it is the Reform Jewish community and its leaders, especially Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall, who have been at the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel.                                                                  

I am proud of the fact that I have an amazing daughter, in addition to my two amazing sons, and that she understands, especially now, that there are no limits to what she can achieve.

Time will tell whether the United States will elect its first female president. Israel elected Golda Meir years ago, and at the time, it didn’t seem like such a big deal – but it was, just as what is happening today in our country is a big deal.

The voice and the role of women in the 21st century are no longer diminished as they once were – and yet, there are still challenges left to address, especially the issue of equal pay for equal work.

Something historic occurred last week. It was more than a simple nomination. It is nothing less than a challenge to all of us: to acknowledge our diversity and to see the Divine in each and every human being.

I am absolutely convinced that when each of us contributes that which is best within them to the overall good of a whole, the whole is made much stronger. Together, we are strong.

May we be blessed to see a time when no one’s presence or voice is diminished. May we be blessed to live in a time when the voices of all – regardless of gender, religion, sexual persuasion, political affiliation, or race – will be cherished and honored as a part of the fabric that makes nation and our world truly special.

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel and served in an Israel combat unit in the 1980s.

Rabbi Fred Guttman
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