Women and Men are equal. Why would I even need to write those words? The Torah reading for this week, Pinchas, incorporates a story of a rung on the ladder to climb a wall toward such equality. We have not yet finished the climb.
We read that the five daughters of a man named Zelophehad demand their share of his inheritance in a world where women had no such rights. After consultation with God, Moses offers limited rights to these women. With further push back from the men of their tribe, their inheritance rights are later affirmed but limited in scope. Two steps up, and one step down.
Women are still seeking equal rights. I am acutely reminded of this with the death of Rabbi Bonna Haberman on June 16, 2015. Bonna was the founder of Women of the Wall, a group pressing for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. For decades, she brought awareness that women have an equal claim to pray and ultimately access to God in all places, especially at the remaining wall of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
That same week, the modern Orthodox Yeshivat Maharat in New York ordained five more women. While the Orthodox leadership is not ready to call them rabbis, a rose by any other name.
There are many examples of women’s degradation in this world. I choose this week to be inspired by the climb toward equality of women in our faith communities. We have not yet reached the heights. There's more wall yet to scale.
Women’s equality, gay rights, inclusion for persons with disabilities, ending racism, . . . all of these human rights are processes which remain unrealized goals. The Torah points us to note a starting place and reminds us that the process will happen in fits and starts. As the Talmud teaches, it is not your job to complete the task (of perfecting the world), but neither are you free to desist from it. pirke avot 2:21). In the wake of July 4 Independence Day, remember to keep the momentum toward full human rights going in your interactions. Check your bias. Open your eyes and your hearts. Extend your hands. Be an advocate. If you are a woman, demand your share. Keep climbing.
Rabbi Evan Krame.