Naso: status of women


© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

Torah Classes for the Children of Noah: Naso (Numbers 31)

From the many topics of the Parshah, we’ll select

  • The suspected adulteress (Sotah)
  • The Nazarite
  • The new logical way to derive laws.
    Interestingly, all these topics revolve around the issue of the status of woman in Judaism.

    1: The connection between the sections

    Since the section of the Nazarite follows the section of the adulteress woman, there must be a connection between them.
    The sages said: what brought the Nazarite to abstain from wine? He must had seen how wine had corrupted the woman and brought her to sin.
    In fact, the story reminds us the Garden of Eden, where the Serpent gave the ‘woman’ wine (not apple) before enticing her to cohabit with it.
    One can therefore argue that in the Torah’s eyes, women fall as an easy prey to sexual enticement. “Women are light headed,” “her nature is weak.” Indeed, the literature is filled with such statements.
    This attitude is enforced by the story of the Sotah herself.

    2: The Sotah

    The Talmud dedicates an entire tract for the study of the Sotah, the adulteress woman.
    The term Sotah means “the one who has deviated,” a c leaner way to refer to the adulteress. If her sin is proven by truthful witnesses, she and her lover get equal punishment in public. The section in our Parshah deals with a case where her sin is in doubt. You can read the entire section on your own, and here we’ll only mention the basic laws. Having denied the sin, the woman is brought the Temple to stand before a designated priest. There she offers a “jealousy offering,” that can turn into a source of blessing in case she was innocent. As she stands before the priest, he places “holy waters” into a clay bowel, only that there are no such a thing as holy water.
    Then the priest takes some dirt from the ground of the Holy Temple, write on it the holy Name YHVH, then places the dirt in the water. The Talmud describes a stone in the courtyard, that could be lifted for digging the dirt. The priest then warns the woman, in impressive tones, that if she had lied about her sin, the waters would turn into a big curse in her body: her belly and tights would swell and she would become a pariah among her people. The woman then twice says Amen, and drinks the waters.

    As most commentators say, the test is basically psychological. In fact, the Talmud says that it rarely worked. There are also many reasons for its failure: if the husband is wicked, it wouldn’t work. So rarely it worked, that women became unscarred of it. They advised each other to stand the test with no fear. Finally, the rabbis had to cancel it altogether.

    3: Should women study Torah?

    What caused the Sotah to sin? The rabbis debated:
    1. The woman was too smart. She wasn’t afraid from the water test, and thought that she would never been caught. Hence, women in general should not study Torah (Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, First Century AD)
    2. The woman sinned because she was not learned, Had she learned Torah she would avoid sinning. Hence women in general should study Torah (Ben Azai, First Century)

    Who prevailed?
    Though rabbi Eliezer was a disciple of Shamai, whom we do not generally follow, his idea about women took root in Judaism. Perhaps because of surrounding influence from the gentile societies. For many centuries, rabbi Eliezer’s opinion prevailed, and Jewish girls usually did not attend Torah Academies like Yeshivot, although few women fought the system and did study Torah: like the daughters of Rashi.

    Today’s rule
    Nowadays the general change in women’s status has affected Jewish practice; and increasingly more women, young and old, do study Torah in groups or in Yeshivot for girls. It is as if Ben Azai’s opinion finally surfaced to prevail, as it should.

    4: The Nazarite

    You know the laws. A person takes an oath to refrain from drinking wine, and shaving his head for a certain period of time: 30 days, or more.
    The question is: how does the Torah relate to such a person? Is he holy, someone whom we should admire and emulate? Or is he someone whom we should not copy?

    We know the opinion of other religions. A person who retracts from society to a cave or a monastery in order to dedicate his life to God, is considered holy, someone whom we revere.

    But the Torah decrees that at the end of his abstaining period, the Nazarite should bring certain offerings to the Temple, among them a guilt offering, so that

    “…and he (the priest) shall atone for him
    For he had sinned with his soul…“ (37:11)

    Why should he atone for a sin? What sort of a sin did the Nazarite commit?
    The answer is profound: He sinned by denying himself what G-d had made for him.
    The Torah does not wish us to retract from society and meditate all day long about godhead. She wants us to introduce holiness in our daily life. She wants us to enjoy wine, enjoy marital relationship, enjoy life, with out violating ELKM laws.
    The Nazarite was wrong by assuming that the wine had caused the adulteress woman to deviate. The culprit is not the wine, but the Serpent in our heart.

    5: Precision in speech

    The third section in our Parshah that we would like to discuss today does actually appear before the section of the adulteress woman. It says:

    If a man or a woman sin with any sins of Adam,
    Thus being untrue to YHVH, their soul becoming guilty
    They should confess their sin and return their guilt…” (Numbers. 34:6)

    The section deals with a person who has sinned against his fellowman, for instance denying a deposit that had been given to him to guard. He supported his denial by swearing to the Court.
    If he later repents his sin and confesses, he should return the deposit to is owner plus a fine, and should also bring a guilt offering to the Temple.

    The section is straight forwards and not complicated, but it has one strange feature: it has been said already earlier in the Book of Leviticus, almost word by word. Why then is it repeated here?

    Had it been another piece of legislation in another religion, one wouldn’t pay too much attention to the repetition. But dealing with Moses’ Torah, every word is in place and meaningful.
    Why then did Moses repeat this section here?

    The rabbi (Oral Torah) gives the answer. Usually the text of the Torah is analyzed by 13 logical principles (Midot, ways.) You can find the list of these 13 way printed in our daily prayer books. But here in our section the Torah uses another, the 14th logical principle by which we can analyze a text: The rule of exacting speech (di yuk be-dibur)

    It means: when you have two or more identical texts in the Torah, you should match them word by word. If you find a word or a sentence that is mentioned in one text but not in the other, know that it came to teach you SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT.

    Thus when we compare the text in Leviticus to our text in Numbers, we see right away one difference:
    The Leviticus text says: “If a man sins with any of the sins of Adam…”
    The Number’s text says: “If a man or a woman sin with any of the sins of Adam…”

    Thus our text is superfluous in one word: it adds “or a woman.”
    Teaching us an important message:
    That the Torah equates man to a woman in regards to any sin of Adam.
    It means: Men are equal to Women in regard to all the negative laws, or prohibitions in the Torah.
    A man nor a woman should steal, lie, murder, cheat, swears falsely, and so on.

    This has enormous implication to the study of Torah. Since women are warned as well as men, they too need to study Torah to understand their obligations.
    This is why Ben Azai said that women should learn Torah to know their obligations.

    what about positive commandments?
    In fact, the Torah equates Ewomen to men also in regard to positive commandments (Thou shall do this or that) EXCEPT from those Commandments that are “time dependents,” meaning that they should be performed at a definite time frame.
    Like hearing the horn blowing on RH, praying in certain time of the day, wearing 4 fringes’ cloth at daytime, etc. Over all there are only 6 such positive commandments that women are exempted from.
    The reason for this exemption is simply related to the woman as a mother. Once she has children to take care of, believe me, she has no libido and patient for anything else.

    6: Eve, the mother of all life

    In summary: we have to be precise in our speech. Saying that women are inferior in the Torah eyes is not accurate, if not a lie.

    Let’s be accurate: the Torah first says that the woman that YHVH ELKM formed in Eden, had no name. She is called “the woman,” whereas on Earth, Adam called his wife Eve, “the Mother of all life.”

    If “the woman” in Eden was ‘weak,’ it does not necessarily reflect about the character of Eve. We need to be careful with the words of the Torah. If Moses changed “The Woman” to Eve, he did that for a good reason.

    As it turns out, Eve was indeed the mother of all life on Earth. After the Eden trial that took place on the THIRD Day, before there was any grass, shrub or tree on Earth, not even rain, YHVH ELKM formed a Garden in Eden full of trees, and formed the Adam and the Woman in that putative, virtual Garden for a test. Had they won it, the humans could stay in Eden forever, till the arrival of the Seventh Day. In that case, they would have been spared the experience of facing Evil and Death on Earth. Once they failed their test in Eden, the Heavenly Court decided to MAKE then on real Earth. So on the THIRD Day, when Eden trial was over, the Heavenly Court seeded life on Earth, to bring grass, shrub and trees. From there, via Evolution, the Heavenly Court led CREATION Day by Day so that on the Sixth Day, Adam and Eve would arrive on real Earth, Eve being the last to be MADE. This is why she is called the “Mother of all life.” The entire Six Day were made so that Eve would finally appear on Mt Moriah, where the Holy Temple would one day stand FOR ALL OF HER CHILDREN.

    And then, it was Eve who first saw YHVH standing alone, without ELKM by Her side. She accomplished that after her first childbirth. When she named him Cain, that comes from Cano, to purchase, she said: “I have purchased a man with YHVH.” Never before the name YHVH appears alone in the text.

    So, it was Eve, holding her newborn son in her bosom, her blood flooded with hormones and her cheeks crimson red, her heart full of joy, mercy and compassion, who COULD perceive what our mother in Heavens YHVH feels for us. Her husband Adam couldn’t feel that, and still can’t till our own days.

    So, do not ever look down at women. They feel what males can never feel: the perception of MERCY, COMPASSION, HOLE AND LOVE that YHVH stands for. As the creature that was made last, Eve was the epitome of Evolution.
    She may not NEED to study Torah, because she can feel YHVH Holiness in Her heart even without Torah.
    She is EXAMPT from certain Commandments that depend on time, since being a mother has given her already the feeling of YHVH in her heart. After all, Mercy, Rahamim, comes from ‘rehem,’ womb.