July 2, 2021
We recently celebrated Father’s Day and, next week, we will say the special blessing for the coming month of Av, which means, “Father”. So, is it just a coincidence that Sunday is the 4th of July where we remember the trials and tribulations of our Founding Fathers?
But let me ask you something, what about the Mothers? Well, again, is it just a coincidence that this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), talks about a group of women, sisters, who go to Moses to complain that it is wrong that they, as women, have no rights of inheritance? I can’t help but think of Patrick Henry’s famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death”. But, just in case you forgot, when he said those words, he was only referring to men and, remember, at that time the term, “Men” did not include Native Americans, Blacks, or Jews; and, it also failed to include women.
And yet, it was one of the Founding Fathers, John Adam’s wife, Abigail, penned a letter to her husband to make sure to remember the ladies or, there would wind up being another revolution of women fighting for their rights. And again, this week we are reading about women who had to remind Moses, long before the War of Independence, that those of the female gender should also have rights, dare I say, God given rights.
Don’t fool yourself, the battle is still on and, sadly, it seems like far too many people in positions of power are trying to go back, not to The War of Independence, but to the Middle Ages. Oh, I know, we give note to Betsy Ross for sewing the American Flag. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that that is not exactly true. And yet, while we tell and retell the story of The Ride of Paul Revere, have any of you ever heard of a teenage girl by the name of Sybil Ludington? (Thanks to Rabbi Craig Ezrig for teaching me this!) How odd that we don’t teach her story in our schools. Sybil road twice as far as Paul Revere…and, she did so in the midst of a deluge; alerting members of the militia that they were being called to muster as the British had attacked nearby. During the War of Independence many of the women followed their men. They become known as “camp followers”. While it’s true that they usually started by doing what a male chauvinist pig would call; “Women’s Chores” (like; sewing up uniforms, preparing meals, and cleaning). It didn’t take long for them to start tending to the wounded and, you had better believe that there were women who disguised themselves as men so they could take part in the fighting. Plus, many of those women whose husbands were shot or wounded, quickly took up their weapons and took their place in the battle zone.
Biblically, we have women who were warriors leading others into the heat of battle. And, for those of you who might be wondering about The Modern State of Israel, let’s not forget that women were fighting alongside men from before Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. But, that does not mean that women were treated as equals. Still, Israel has a mandatory stint in the Army for both men and women. And, while women had full combat status during the War of Independence, once that was achieved, from 1948, to the late 1990’s, women were not allowed in combat roles. But from then on, women are permitted to serve in most types of combat positions, including as members of the special forces and as combat pilots. David Ben Gurion knew the importance of not only permitting, but of requiring women to serve, not just because they were needed to fill the ranks, but as Ben Gurion is quoted as saying; “Since you rightly believe that the security of the State must be pursued night and day, I want you to know that that security will not exist if our nation’s women do not know how to fight. We are few – and our enemies are many….” While that quote sounds like Ben Gurion knew women to be equals, the rest of his quote might change your opinion as he says; “If, heaven forbid, a war falls upon us, the men will go to fight the enemy, and if, heaven forbid, the women who are protecting their children at home do not know how to use a weapon – what will be their end if the enemy falls upon them?” Oddly enough, even when women weren’t allowed to serve in battle, they wound up serving as field instructing jobs within the IDF.
Just as this week’s portion has a group of women appealing to Moses that they should have rights that were being denied them, so too, did a female immigrant (from South Africa), state her case that women should be permitted to serve in combat. Her name was Alice Miller and, over a period of time, she finally won her suit which made it possible for women in Israel to train and become a part of their amazing Air Force. That fight for equality to protect Israel continued and it wasn’t until three years later, in the year 2000, that Israel passed the Equality amendment to the Defense Services Law which would make it known that women had the right to serve in any role that the Israel Defense Forces had.
By the way, that was only 21 years ago, and yet, the fight for equal rights for women continues to this very day. As we celebrate the 4th of July, women still do not get compensated at the same wages as men. Women still have to fight for their rights pertaining to what happens to their own bodies. And, that is just the tip of the iceberg. In Israel there are still neighborhoods where a woman cannot bare her arms or wear anything other than a long skirt or they are putting themselves in danger.
Today, I would like you to remember this; while America and Israel still have work to do on women’s rights and equality, there are other countries out there that still seem to be living in the Dark Ages when it comes to women’s rights.
We always talk about America being a beacon of light, a country that sets an example for others to follow. Let’s work together toward the goal of achieving not just a semblance of, but of real equality for women in our ranks.