The Bible Says What? ‘The 12 spies should have been women!’

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The Bible Says What? ‘The 12 spies should have been women!’

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein looks at a controversial issue in Jewish texts and applies a progressive response

Rabbi Goldstein is Senior Rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue

“With my knowledge from seeing into the future, it would be better to send women who cherish the land because they don’t count its faults.” (Midrash from Keli Yakar, 17th century, imagining God giving advice to Moses)

When Moses sends out the 12 spies – a group of Israelite chieftains containing one man from each of the 12 Tribes – to scout out the land of Canaan, they come back with a negative report.

The follow-up is a disaster: a calamitous attempt to win back God’s favour and 40 years in the wilderness until the slave-generation who knew Egyptian bondage had died. But what might have happened if the scouts had been women?

The midrash from Keli Yakar suggests God thinks there were no pessimistic, fearful, worried women amongst the Israelites; or at least the 12 that God would have chosen had the vision to see past the immediate issue of conquest – perhaps a primary male focus – to the essence of the land.

Putting aside for a moment contemporary concerns for the Canaanites, the people who the Israelites would supplant, the women were able to perceive in the land, the promise that God had given to the Israelites.

As we see today – from Belarus to Libya to western Black Lives Matters movements – it has been women who have led protest. Protest to change a status quo or to fight for justice, not to conquer.

In every generation, there is more we can do and it takes time for a
society founded on male-dominance to attune and appreciate gender equality. We still have not reached that goal.

It makes it all the more important to listen to the words and vision of women, not just hear their voices. Advice that may have helped Moses.

Aaron Goldstein is Senior Rabbi at The Ark Synagogue

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