One of the harsh critiques aimed at Torah Judaism is that it is chauvinistic – that there are no female rabbis or female cantors, that there is a partition between the genders during prayer, that women don’t read from the Torah, that women are given fewer mitzvoth … and on and on.
This is not merely an academic matter. For this reason (legitimate or not) many Jews have turned to alternative, more egalitarian forms of Jewish experience, ones in which female rabbis, cantors and scribes are embraced.
Their arguments and critiques are not to be dismissed but addressed. And in this week’s Torah reading addressed they are.
Parshat Pinchas throws these chauvinistic notions out of the window. Not only does the Torah not view the male to be superior to the female, but the Torah views the female as having, in many ways, spiritual qualities that are superior to the male, and considers the feminine as being more in touch with the divine purpose than the masculine.
It all boils down to the daughters of Tzelafchad. And a radical statement from the Midrash, coupled by a fascinating interpretation by the Sfat Emes, stating that women fix that which men break.