Last week, Moses was presented with a problem. The land promised to us was about to be conquered, and every tribe and family was about to be given an inheritance. Yet there were people left out of this division, and so without a means of livelihood. This was brought to his attention by the five daughters of Zelophehad, whose father was dead and who had no close male relatives.
Their objection was one that, in the days of women’s equality, we can easily understand. If the men inherit and their portion is given to their male children, what about those who have no sons? It is not fair to disinherit daughters in this way.
Moses listened carefully and asks God for a solution. Since the land was given to the men in a tribe, the women could marry within the tribe (keeping the land linked to their family).
If a person had no children, there was a simple rule as to where the land then went, male relatives in line of precedence from uncles. The law is not dissimilar to that of Levirite marriage and, as we see in the Book of Ruth, marriage and land or wealth transactions are linked.
This rule was both sensible and humane, yet it should be noted that it is not given as a permanent solution. This is just as well, as a religious Jew would have problems if the law were to be applied even today.
Instead, the law was temporary. It was annulled, and women who inherited were allowed to marry other tribes.
An interesting note is that according to some opinions, 15 Av is the date on which this law was relaxed. This later became the day on which matches were made and today remains a minor feast day of romantic connotation and celebration, known as Tu B’Av.
As we enter the second of the Three Weeks, we look forward to the happier times symbolised by this day.
- Rabbi Zvi Solomons serves the Jewish Community of Berkshire, JCoB.org