By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
July 4, 2013
There are only six chapters in the Bible named after people: "Noah", "Chayyei Sarah " (Life of Sarah), "Jethro", "Korach", "Balak", "Pinchas". One out of six is perhaps not too bad if one looks at the disproportionate attention on male figures in the Torah. If we look at the totality of the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible – there are two books, Esther and Ruth named after women but then there are all the prophetical books and Ezra and Nehemiah named after men, the female prophets when they are named, such as Huldah, possibly demoted in favour of more popular male peers.
Is the same to be said of women in British history, whether it be that of politics, science, society or any field? Barring the fact that we currently have a female monarch whose face adorns every pound note and coin, if the Bank of England goes ahead with its plans, there will be no other female faces on any current bank note in circulation. Since portraits were introduced in 1970, only Elizabeth Fry – the social reformer – who is slated to be replaced by Winston Churchill – and I am not arguing against him being a deserving candidate – only one other woman has been portrayed amongst 14 male historical figures, Florence Nightingale.
Is it just a fact of society of the years that it has been far harder for a woman to make an impact on her contemporary Britain or rather our perpetrating a male domination?
Either way, I am delighted for many reasons other than my own personal fatigue or loneliness in my study at the top of the Synagogue, that Rabbi Lea Muhlstein will be joining our rabbinic team on Monday. Rabbi Lea is incredibly talented and will contribute to all areas of our community life. She also stands as a female role model for our all our generations. As well as speaking with gentle authority, the quality that I most appreciate is her humility.
Humility is not a female preserve. In our parasha, Moses appreciates that the test case bought by the daughters of Zelophehad has not been provided for in the initial legislation and brings the case to a higher authority, to God. If that were the end of the story, we might be satisfied with the equality of halakhah, Jewish law, regarding inheritance.
The ancient Rabbis – male – legislated harshly against the inheritance of women “despite the compelling reasons to allow daughters to inherit and despite legal ways in which they might have liberalized the law in Numbers to attain this goal (Rabbi Pamela Wax, The Women’s Torah Commentary citing Mishnah Bava Batra 8:5 & 8:2 & Bava Batra 110b & 111a).” Men chose to inflict their rulings on their womenfolk, subjugating their righs. Where was the humility of these men to look to a higher authority as Moses had done?
Of course, this is not the only way in which women have been subjugated in halakhah, which one must admit is more lenient than some other religious and societal systems. Thank goodness for the primacy of laws of the land, dina d’malchuta dina invoked for the Diaspora that allows for inheritance and most civil matters to be legislated by the cultural and legal norms of the land in which Jews were living.
I am concerned that the quality of humility, anavah, is devalued in British society and especially in politics that values self-promotion through being all-knowing. This was particularly evident in a week dominated by party politics where only a few – and from the small sample I experienced most were women – practiced any notion of anavah, of humility.
I am not sure about you but I was left utterly bewildered by the Wednesday’s announcement of the Government’s spending review. On the whole, politicians followed their party lines and commentators who were independent thinkers, too few to my mind, focused on slating one aspect over another without providing any plausible alternative. The one comment from a female ‘expert’ that did ring true was when asked for a prediction she simply stated, ‘I do not know.’
Not for one moment am I suggesting that we use a morning such as this, of pray and worship in our Sanctuary, to look to God for the answer. For I know that one will not be forthcoming. Yet I do know that those from all sides of society and politics do need to start listening to each other and work together.
For Britain to deserve its title of ‘Great,’ we need leaders who exemplify anavah, humility and a population that frees itself from accusing others of their personal ills but can look to confidence to their neighbor and neighbouring district of a different economic or ethnic composition knowing they will be heard and supported.
Whilst I have a clear vision of an ideal Great Britain, successful in the world because its philosophy has a solid ethical grounding exemplified by the attribute of anavah, humility, I do not believe that any single individual whose face might appear on a pound note of the future knows how to get there. Whilst I have a clear vision for this community, I know that we will only achieve it by hearing everyone’s voice informed by deep thinking and connections to God found through anavah, humility.
Freddy, in the process of preparing for your Bar Mitzvah, you have shown a clear self-confidence founded on anavah, humility. May you ever grow and develop your confidence in your conscientious and detailed way of being. May you and we ever grow to take our place in the community able to hear and appreciate the contributions of others with the knowledge that together we might understand God’s will and make it affective.
We cannot leave the state of our community or country to politicians. We are the ones who condone their behavior by our silence. With anavah, humility, may we make our contributions to better society.