This week’s Torah portion, Naso, focuses on four central themes. In the first section, God tells Moses to take a census of the Levites, issuing those of a specific age range (30 to 50 years of age) detailed instructions regarding the Tabernacle. The second section outlines the procedure for dealing with women who are suspected of adultery, thus bringing impurity to the community. The third section describes the laws of the Nazir/N’zirah (yes, a woman could also subscribe to this way of life) as well as God’s instruction to Moses to bless Aaron and his sons (the people of Israel) with the powerful words we know as the Priestly Blessing. Lastly, the final section describes the offerings brought by the various chieftains to the Tabernacle.
At the heart of Parashat Naso is a disturbing (to say the least) description regarding the misogynistic treatment of women who were suspected by their husband of adultery; misogynistic because men were not subjected to the same denigrating rituals if they were suspected of adultery. If a woman was suspected of adultery (she was known as the “sotah”) the husband was required to take her to the priest. The husband must bring along one-tenth of an “eifah” of barley flour, which serves as a meal offering for jealousy. The priest has the woman stand before God. Then he takes an earthen vessel in which he has poured sacral water and adds earth taken from the floor of the Tabernacle, adding it to the vessel. Her “sin” is written on parchment paper along with the name of God, and it is added to the bitter waters that the words might wash off in the liquid. The priest then bares the wife’s head and makes her hold the meal offering that represents jealousy. Finally, the priest addresses the admonished wife, explaining the terms of the ritual before administering the bitter waters for her to drink. If she has not committed adultery, she will be immune to any harm from drinking the potion. However, if she is guilty of adultery, she will be cursed; her belly will distend and her thighs will sag, to which the wife must reply, “amen.” Public shaming. Patriarchal control. Unfair and inequitable treatment.
That was then. Here we are in 2019, and the oppression of women regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic status, etc. still exists, and it’s gaining momentum in our nation at an alarming rate. But we, the women, won’t back down. We are raising our voices more loudly than ever, educating our communities, praying with our feet, addressing our representatives, and demanding justice. We are demanding reproductive freedom, equal pay in the workplace, and as women, equality and equity in all walks of life. Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) is leading the way. Most recently, at the WRJ Social Justice Conference, it was announced that WRJ is partnering with the RAC (Religious Action Center) of Reform Judaism to support those congregations who choose to organize in the name of Reproductive Justice. Visit the WRJ Women Act webpage to learn about the many ways in which WRJ continues its long history of advocating for social justice and how you can become involved.
May we be blessed as were the people of Israel, and may our lives be a blessing toward a just world.
May God bless you and keep you;
May God’s light shine over you and be gracious to you;
May God lift up God’s goodness over you and grant you (God’s most precious gift) peace!
Kein Y’hi Ratzon
Sandy Adland currently serves as WRJ Executive Committee Member-at-Large and WRJ YES Fund Chair. She is a past president of WRJ Central District. Sandy is a member of Temple Israel Sisterhood in Canton, OH where she resides, and also a member of Congregation Beth Shalom Sisterhood in Carmel, IN. She shares her love of Jewish music by serving as Music Specialist in the religious school and as Cantorial Soloist for Shabbat worship.