Parashat Naso

Pushing the Law Forward

Halakhah and social equality today.

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But as with mei sotah, let us not be appeased by the progress of the past. Jewish civilization continues to wrestle with the unequal status of women in Jewish law. Mesoravot Get, for example, reminds us all too clearly that we remain far from our goal. While the Rabbis protected women financially in the case of divorce, they didn't give them the agency to leave a marriage of their own free will.

Thinking Globally

We must take the ritual of mei sotah, described in this week's parashah, as a place to begin. Social, professional, and political inequalities exist in both the Jewish world and beyond. And women are still disproportionately victimized by gender-based violence, including domestic abuse. In 1996, the UN passed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A year later, Amnesty International observed:

"Explicit discrimination in law against women has not ended. Women continue to be subjected to arbitrary detention and torture, including rape, which police and other security personnel commit with virtual impunity."

As Jews, how do we respond? How can we advocate for women's equality in our own community and across the globe?

Beginning at home, we need to educate Jewish youth about the Jewish values that lead to equality before the law, in the workplace and at home. We must also work to bring the status of women in halakhah to an equal level. As a community, we need to push Jewish law further forward. 

Meanwhile, as the battle for equality before the law rages on in countries far away, we must recognize that their fight is also ours. We should support nonprofit organizations--like AJWS--that protect the rights and well-being of women. We must remind our politicians and leaders to place social equality at the top of the international agenda.

May Parashat Naso, then, inspire us. Just as mei sotah represented a small step in its time, just as our own social conscience compels us to step further forward, let us support politicians, activists, and lay leaders, as well as men and women worldwide, to build a world in which all are treated as reflections of the divine image.

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Evan Wolkenstein is the Director of Experiential Education and a Tanach teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.