Ki Teitzei by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Kee Taytsay: Imagine a World of Women-Rule

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

“A man marries a woman and has relations with her. If he decides he doesn’t like her anymore, and he starts a false rumor that she wasn’t a virgin when they married, the parents of the woman shall stand before the Elder Women of the Town, or a Council of Israelite Women, should such exist at that time,  to plead their daughter’s case.”

–Adapted from Deut. 22:13-14

 

It so happened that a lazy, stubborn lout of a man, Atzel ben Menucha, brought such charges against his new wife, Betulah. They came before the Council of Eldern Women, and Atzel ben Menucha spoke his piece: “She was no pure creature when I married her,” he said, “and I desire that her parents return to me the bride-price that I paid, one hundred silver shekels.”

Which was false, on the face of it: Atzel had promised to pay the hundred shekels, but had turned over six, in total.

Before rendering judgment with her sisters of the Council, the Chief Eldress purified herself, and entered the Tent of Meeting. And there, she communed with the Spirit of the Shechinah, God’s Feminine Presence, who said to the Eldress, clearly and plainly, “The man is lying, as men will.”

And the Eldress left the Tent, and informed her Sister Judges of what the Shechinah had said; for the Shechinah is loving, and wishes only for the Women of Israel (and most of the men; that is, the honest and upright ones) integrity, affection, and faithfulness. And the Council ruled that Atzel ben Menucha was a scoundrel, unwilling to work but desirous of cheating his in-laws and, were he able to do so, the Women of the entire Town. And Council ordered Atzel to spend four months in the Wilderness, there to repent to do better, after which Azazel, the Demon-Spirit of the Desert, would decide whether he was to live, or die. And so was it done.

 

“In the case of a virgin who was engaged to a man—if, in the Town, another man comes and seduces her, and she does not cry for help, then you must take them before the Council of Women.”

–Adapted from Deut. 22:23

 

This was a complicated case and, during the days of the Old Law, both man and woman would have been executed by stoning—that is, being taken to a desert cliff, and thrown off, breaking their necks on the rocks below. When the Old Ones died and the young Council of Women took over, they decided that this was altogether too harsh, horrifying, and primitive. They therefore refused to continue to enforce it.

Instead, they sent the man to the City of Therapeutic Refuge to cure his aberrant display of asocial behaviors: a sentence lasting ten years, with possibility of parole. As for the woman, she was to be treasured, and dandled, and soothed, to help her recover from this tragedy. And the shame of this behavior was eventually removed from the midst of Israel.

 

“No Ammonite or Moabite shall come into the Congregation of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever be admitted into the Congregation of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey through the Wilderness after the Exodus, and because they hired Bilaam to curse you…but the Lord your God turned the blessing into a curse.”

–Deut. 23: 4-5

 

It so happened that Pi-Baal, an Ammonite, and Baal-roi, a Moabite, wished to marry two Israelite women, with whom they had attended both school and after-school programs. And the parents of both women cast them out, in right and  proper fulfillment of the above verses.

But the women and their affianced pagan men turned to the Council of Israelite Women, which questioned both Pi-Baal and Baal-roi, though not born Jews, concluding that they were nonetheless willing to enter into the Covenant of the Lord, following proper preparation. And the Eldresses would meet with these men to teach them Ways of Torah, in the open, under a palm tree, to show that they were not violating the laws of modesty. And in due time, these two young men, though not born Israelite, were found to be learned in the Torah of God, and thereby entered the Covenant, once certified by the Council of Women.

 

“You shall not turn over to his master a fugitive slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.”

–Deut. 23:16

 

There came into an Israelite town a runaway slave, an Egyptian, who had been sold into slavery to pay off his financial debts. And his master was cruel, and evil, and used him most harshly; and so, the Egyptian fled, seeking freedom. The townspeople gathered, and gave him water to wash, and both bread and milk, prior to haling him before the Council of Women.

And there were those Israelites who protested the Egyptian’s wish to settle among them, for his people had oppressed the Children of God by enslaving them, decades before. And there were others, more tender-hearted and just, who believed the man should be given a second chance, and hidden, in case any slave-catchers should come hunting him. His name was Smendes, and of a good family of chariot-builders; he was unable, due to lack of mathematical ability, to keep track of his moneys.

And the Egyptian Smendes was brought before the Council of Israelite Women, where his case was heard and deliberated. And the Eldresses declared him free from slavery, but also that he take courses in the Science of Mathematics with the Temple Priests, so that he not err once more, to become, sadly, a slave.

And Smendes settled among the People of Israel, converting to the Faith of God, and taking to wife Neferkare, whose ancestors had been among the Mixed Multitude which departed Egypt, years before. She, too, was Israelite, after her great-great-grandmother had joined the People through conversion.

And, under the wise guidance of the Council of Israelite Women, the land had rest for more than forty years.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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