Wise Women Who Spoke Out Against Injustice
In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), God instructs Moses to divide the Land of Israel among the paternal families of the tribes of Israel.
Sensing an injustice that inheritance favors sons, the five daughters of Tzelafchad petition Moses to receive the portion of land belonging to their father, who died without sons. God acknowledges their claim and incorporates it into the Torah’s laws of inheritance.
Missionaries jump on this story to disprove the argument that the New Testament’s claim that Jesus did not have a physical father disqualifies him from being the Messiah.
According to Genesis 49:10, the Messianic king can only be from the tribe of Yehuda. Additionally, tribal membership is inherited through male descendants, as it says, "Then they registered their ancestry in their families by their fathers’ household" (Numbers 1:18). Since the New Testament claims Jesus did not have a physical father, he cannot be a member of the tribe of Judah or the Messiah.
Although the victory for the daughters of Tzelafcha appears to strengthen the missionary’s argument, it actually disproves it.
Before entering the Land of Israel, the heads of the tribe of Menashe raised a concern to Moses. If Tzelafcha’s daughters marry men from another tribe, their land would be transferred to their husband’s tribe and lost to Menashe.
God tells Moses that the plea of the tribal leaders is correct, and therefore, Tzelafcha’s daughters “may marry anyone they wish, but only someone from their father’s tribe” (Numbers 36:6).
This ruling refutes the missionary argument and demonstrates that tribal membership is transmitted only through male descendants.
As described in the book of Judges, once Israel was settled and land permanently allotted, the restriction of marrying only into the same tribe was lifted.
Although one’s father determines tribal membership, more importantly, Jewishness is determined by one’s mother. This principle is demonstrated in Ezra 10:44, where the children of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother are not Jewish.
May this Shabbat provide opportunities to appreciate the invaluable role of Jewish women and the pursuit of justice.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz