* Num. 30:2-17 assumes that all adult women are married. By giving the husband 24 hours to nullify the wife’s vow, it assures him that he is head of the household.
* Num. 31:1. The Lord spoke to Moses: “Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites, then you shall be gathered to your kin.”
What did God mean by “avenge”? God wants retribution for the Midianites seducing Israel into worshiping Baal-peor while the Israelites want revenge for the devastating plague that followed that worship.
This repeated invocation of “gathered to your kin” indicates that ties of blood are important in the Torah world view.
* Was Balaam a good guy or a bad guy? Num. 31:8 says the Jews slew Balaam. Yet we use his words in the Jewish prayer book.
* Dennis Prager: “What did God command [about Midian]? Retribution. There is no other specific command from God. It is all from Moses. Moses does all the commanding of killing. Did Moses do exactly what God wanted?”
* Num. 31:14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Dennis: “The ones who caused the problems were the ones who you spared…so that the Lord’s community got the plague… I do not believe that God wanted the children of Midian killed.”
“They [the Israelites] didn’t kill the women and children. Obviously it is Moses interpreting God’s command. The Israelites got the same command. Retribution. Moses relayed it and the Israelites did what they understood as retribution — kill the men. But that’s it.”
“I think Moses did misinterpret [God’s command]. Maybe God wasn’t vague. Maybe the Israelites understood Him perfectly. Or you have to argue that everyone got it wrong except for Moses.”
“Moshe misinterprets God’s command with the rock…and says we will bring forth water from the rock, not God. Moses is old, angry… Moses is over-compensating for his error that Pinchas corrected when in front of Moses, a Midianite woman is seducing an Israelite man and Pinchas slays both of them. It is clear that God thought this was right because it was unbelievably brazen. In front of Moses, they announced they were having sex and worshiping false gods.”
“We do not have a hint that the Jews obeyed Moses’s command. It is clear that his authority has waned. Maybe for humanitarian [reasons] or maybe because they still like Midianite women, it is clear that they didn’t do it because it always adds they did as God commanded. They never leave it up in the air as to whether or not they obeyed.”
Moses was over-compensating for having married a Midianite wife. This was his way of saying that I will not be swayed by my own personal inclination towards Midianite women. His father in law, Jethro, was a Midianite priest who nursed Moses to health and it is to him that Moses goes to for advise.
Earlier in Exodus, Moses was saved by the daughter of the Pharoah. The Torah does not portray the Jews as the good guys and the goyim as bad guys.
* Num. 31:54. A midrash says that the Jews stripped the Midianite women of jewelry, but they did not rape them: “Each of us had gone into the houses of the Midianites, into the bedchambers of their kings. And we desired their daughters, pretty and beautiful, delicate and tender; and we unfastened the garlands, the gold crowns from their heads; rings from their ears, necklaces fro their necks, chainlets from their arms, chains from their hands, signet rings from their fingers, clasps from their breasts. Nevertheless, not one of us was joined with one of them in this world, so as not to be with her in Gehenna in the world to come.”
* Num. 32: 1-30: The Gadites and Reubenites want to help Israel but they don’t want to live there because they can make more money living elsewhere. Sound familiar?
Dennis Prager on Num. 31-33: “The truth is, who has suffered as much as Jews historically? I can’t think of any group who has suffered as long as the Jews have.” Do Jews win the Victimhood Sweepstakes? And what is the prize for that?
“If you let the Canaanites live with you, they will probably seduced you to their values… And then I, God, will dispossess you. It is hard to make a monotheistic world… At least half of the Jews of the world are not God-oriented.”
“If God took the Jews out of Egypt just to free slaves, then God is a racist. Why didn’t He take ever group out?”
“It is not possible for Jews to think they are better than everyone else when they read the Torah because it describes them as worse than everyone else.”
* Numbers 34: God tells the Jews the boundaries for Israel to let them know not to conquer more and not to become an empire.
* Cities of refuge. There are no accidents in Torah. If you sin accidentally, you have to bring a sin offering. If you kill someone accidentally, you have to flee to a city of refuge and stay there until the High Priest dies. You can’t just pay off the family for your killing.
Literature Scholars in the United States
At the start of the twenty-first century, women of all classes, races, and ethnicities are so fully integrated into American literary academia that it is astonishing that, as little as a century ago, the idea of a woman professor teaching, for example, the novels of George Eliot or Henry James to a roomful of young men and women was inconceivable. In all highly literate cultures, secular and religious knowledge used to be the domain of men, while women were in charge of the practical side of daily life and, in the upper classes, of certain social matters.
In this regard, Jewish culture is no exception. Despite the premium Judaism places on literacy and learning, which in some instances persuaded fathers to teach their daughters and husbands to instruct their wives, the motto among observant Jews remained until fairly recently, a meydl darf nisht lernen [a girl need not study]. While European gentile culture considered women intellectually inferior to men, Jewish culture argued that God designed woman to be man’s “helper” (Gen. 2:18). Women relieved men of domestic chores, and, in Eastern Europe, women often contributed to the family income.
The disturbing attitudes of gentile culture toward both Jews and women, which have only recently begun to change, are responsible for the late entry of Jewish women into colleges and universities. For those Jewish women who sought admission to institutions of higher learning and became the first female Jewish humanities professors, their struggle against Jewish tradition caused many to turn away from Judaism as the source of an intellectually vibrant and spiritually meaningful life.
The first generation of Jewish women professors, especially those in the field of literature, consisted of militantly secular women from a variety of Jewish social backgrounds (labor, socialist, Yiddishist, Zionist, immigrant, and mercantile). They had two things in common: a love of Western literary culture and an ignorance of the Jewish intellectual tradition, its major texts, authors, and debates. While many Jewish women in literary academia were familiar with the most popular ritual and cultural expressions of Judaism, such as the blessing of candles on Shabbat, or the prohibition against pork and shellfish, none had been educated to locate the specific practices of observance within the framework of an intense and ongoing intellectual discussion spanning two millennia, a discussion carried on, until very recently, exclusively by men.
Ignorance of Judaism’s intellectual underpinnings, coupled with a vague emotional appreciation of certain Jewish customs, ranging from hamantaschen on Purim to latkes on Hanukkah, is the single unifying feature of an otherwise extraordinarily diverse group of individuals—Jewish women in literary academe—whose history as a group this article, paradoxically, attempts to sketch.
Overall, the integration of Jewish women into literary academia is much more closely linked to the history of women than to the history of Jews in American universities. The sequence of integration runs roughly as follows: White Protestant men of Anglo-Saxon descent grudgingly accepted Catholic men before accepting Jewish men as colleagues and instructors of English literature. Jewish men, in particular, were ready to open academe further by hiring women, who in turn agitated for the integration of other minorities, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and gays. The history of Jews in American academia shows a significant gender bias; whereas Jewish men were discriminated against as Jews, Jewish women had difficulties not as Jews but as women. The reason for the difference is that Jewish men and women entered the field in different generations—men during the 1920s and 1930s, women during the 1950s and 1960s.
Until the early 1930s, white Protestant men dominated the study of literature. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a few white Protestant women, often educated at elite women’s colleges, struggled into the field. They achieved recognition and full professorships in the early years of World War II, as their male colleagues either volunteered for or were drafted into the army. At the same time, a handful of Jewish men were finishing their dissertations in literature. If these Jewish scholars secured jobs at all at top schools during the late 1930s, their appointments were due to special circumstances. Most of them, however, were hired either in the early 1940s to fill vacancies created by America’s entry into the war or right after the war to help satisfy the enormous demand for college teachers created by the GI bill.
Among the soldiers returning from the European and Pacific theaters were Jews who had started college in the late 1930s, became interested in literature, but graduated without much hope of being able to pursue an academic career in the humanities. Drafted into the United States Army or Navy upon graduation, they now returned to American campuses to find that a few Jews had broken through the ethnic barrier to become professors of English and American literature. Encouraged by these appointments and convinced that the equalizing experiences in trenches and on battleships had undermined the prejudices against Jews they had encountered during their college days, they enrolled in graduate English programs. As teachers, they attracted the third generation of male Jewish literary critics entering college in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the first Jewish women were enrolling in graduate literature programs and the first sizable number of young Jewish women were starting college. While the men of that generation, receiving their doctorates in the late 1950s and early 1960s, secured jobs without too much effort, their female colleagues faced many problems, not only as women in academe, but also in the culture at large as women who did not wish to be homemakers.