Challenging the Torah

As I am sure is that case for many people, our email inboxes are filled with lots of messages, some more wanted than others. I intentionally like to receive the various spins on the Torah portion of the week which come as “Torah commentaries.” It helps me to get in sync with the Jewish calendar—something, by the way, which is among the most difficult things for those entering the Jewish community from the outside to do. Some weeks I read them all carefully. Other weeks I simply skim them. But it has usually more to do with content than with the time I have available.

This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Pinchas, has two salient elements to it: the daughters of Zelophechad (whose inheritance as daughters is called into question) and the rewarding of the zealot Pinchas who kills an interfaith couple because they were involved in a “forbidden” relationship, forbidden because they come from different religious backgrounds. I read each commentary that I received this week, including those from the more liberal on the religio-political spectrum in our community. And each one focused on the women’s issues implicit in the “daughters of Zelophechad.” None of them questioned the actions of Pinchas. After all, the tradition celebrated his action. It even named a Torah portion in his honor.

I for one am tired of defending the actions of those in the Torah, especially when those actions seem to have a Divine imprimatur on them. The classical Reform movement had its way of dealing with objectionable segments in the Torah. It simply skipped over them and didn’t read them in public. But I believe we have an obligation to study these segments and confront them head on. And when they are morally repugnant, as is this section, to challenge the tradition.

Some colleagues will argue that any tradition needs its boundaries and this is the Torah’s way of demonstrating its boundaries. Well let it find its boundaries another way, not in the death of a couple whose only sin is that they have fallen in love with one another.

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