CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 7

Chukkat

Matot

(Amy Scheinerman)

...Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red
cow without blemish, in which there is no defect
and on which no yoke has been laid. (Numbers
19:2)

red heifer purify one from the greatest level of
tum'ah, that which comes from contact with a
corpse. If tum'ah is a brush with death, taharah
is about restoring life.

It is difficult to understand how the ashes affect
purification, and even more bewildering to
understand how the purified priest who handles
them thereby becomes impure with contact. Even
King Solomon found the laws of the red heifer
recondite and baffling (Kohelet Rabbah 7:23).

The (possibly fictional) autobiography of
Salomon Maimon uses it to ridicule Talmud as a
compendium of tedium and irrelevance:

Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger) suggests that
tum'ah is about disruption in the proper order, a
trespass of proper boundaries and limits, in this
case of the body most directly, but by extension
to the world order. The danger impurity presents
to the body is mirrored in the society as a whole
because the individual's body is a microcosm of
society (the social body).
Jacob Milgrom tells us that the ashes of the

Balak

Take the subject of the Talmud...in which the
oddest Rabbinical conceits are elaborated
through many volumes with the finest dialectic,
and the most absurd questions are discussed
with the highest efforts of intellectual power; for
example, how many white hairs may a red cow
have, and yet remain a red cow....
Yet the Talmudic discussion of the red heifer
says less about the nature of Talmud than the
gulf between our ancestors' notions of order/
disorder and life/death and ours. How do we
speak about, and ritualize, them today?

(Louis Rieser)

How goodly are your tents [ohalecha], Jacob,
your sanctuaries [mishk'notecha], Israel.
What is the difference between a tent (ohel)
and a sanctuary (mishkan)? The Degel Mahane
Ephraim (Moshe Chaim Efraim, 1748-1800, a
grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) teaches that
an ohel is something temporary and a mishkan
is something permanent. This designation
remains a bit vague. In the realm of the spiritual,
what is it that can be considered temporary and
what permanent?
Rav Kook considers a similar question when
he contrasts Torah, which he characterizes as
chayei olam, with t'filah, which he describes as
chayei shaah (Olat R'ayah, p. 20). By Torah, he
means those durable truths that broaden one's

Pinchas

spiritual knowledge. Through Torah study, we
enrich our understanding and encounter new
revelations. Prayer, on the other hand, does
not reveal new information but allows us to
connect emotionally with that knowledge we
already possess and lets those truths impress
themselves on our being. Torah is intellectual,
objective, expansive, and eternal. Prayer is
personal, immersive, emotional, and fit for this
particular moment.
How goodly are your tents, those temporary
moments when we need the cover of the Holy
One to help us navigate in a world filled with
challenges. How goodly are your sanctuaries,
those durable institutions where our common
truths are publicly proclaimed, where all who
wish can ascend God's Holy Mountain.

(Amy Scheinerman)
Matot is a not a happy parashah for the status
of women.
Matot opens with a discussion of vows, with
special emphasis on how vows made by
women living in, or coming into, the domain
of a man, can see their vows annulled by their
father or husband. Talmud limits his authority
to annul her vow to those of self-denial and
those affecting the marital relationship (BT
Nedarim 79), but it is not difficult to extend
the latter to anything of which he disapproves
or which run contrary to his interests. Only
widows and divorcees are independent agents
vis-à-vis their vows; attachment to a man
makes a woman subject to his authority. In
turn, these laws evoke the most infamous
vow of the Bible, that of Jephthah concerning
his daughter, which led to the murder of an
innocent under religious pretense (Judges 11).
Also in this parashah, we read about Moses's
final retribution against the Midianites in a
campaign of annihilation commanded by
God. Torah records that the Israelites took the
women and children of the Midianites captive
and seized as booty all their beasts, all their
herds, and all their wealth (Numbers 31:9), but
after the fact, it appears, Moses expresses his
anger that they spared the lives of non-virginal
women, who are the very ones who, at the
bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to
trespass against Adonai in the matter of Peor,
so that Adonai's community was struck by the
plague (Numbers 31:16).
Given reproductive politics here in the Uinted
States and conflicts rife around the globe,
perhaps this parashah might serve as a
reminder to consider and evaluate the position
of women here and abroad at this juncture in
history.

(David Novak)

When the daughters of Zelophehad challenge
the laws of inheritance, why does Moses have
to turn to God for an answer? There are several
possible reasons. First, Moses really does
not know what to do in this unique situation.
Second, Moses has not been explicitly
instructed by God as he was on so many
other occasions. Third, based on Moses's past
experience with women, he presumes that
they don't count. They were excluded from
revelation at Sinai. They don't figure into any
census taken. The text "others" the experience

of women.
This is not to suggest that in this novel situation
Moses was wrong in turning directly to God.
In doing so, it becomes God's authority, in
the moment, to create legal precedent for
the inheritance rights for women when there
are no male heirs. Zelophehad's daughters,
too, recognize the significance of what they
were doing in approaching Moses. Perhaps
we can give Moses the benefit of the doubt
that in turning to God, he knew that it would

be best for God, not Moses, to make the
direct pronouncement of the legal rights of the
women. Still, one wonders if Moses's silence
derives from how he has dealt with women in
past encounters.
Today, inspired by the daughters of Zelophehad,
we should strive to live engendered Jewish
lives where nothing is prohibited to any Jew
based on gender and where the dignity of all is
fully respected in our religious and communal
practices.
(Continued on page 8)

7



CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014

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CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 2
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