Sex. Lies. Magic Spells. Humiliation…this week’s Torah portion is definitely NSFW.
Without going into all the gory details, Parshat Naso describes how to prove that a woman has cheated on her man. It involves going in front of a temple priest and drinking “bitter waters” made from a mix of water (duh!), dirt and burned parchment which formerly read God’s name. She drinks the water and if she lives, she didn’t cheat. If she cheated…well…you get the drift. Very Salem Witch Trials, if you ask me.
Adultery, in the Biblical sense of the term, is always the burden of the woman. When read literally, Biblical adultery only occurs when a married woman has sex with someone who isn’t her husband. A married man, by that logic, could sleep with any woman he wants provided she isn’t married. That seems a little too convenient if you’re a guy.
Outside of this week’s portion, it could be argued that there is no worse “curse” by the Torah’s standard than being born a girl:
- Adam is superior to Eve his helper (the term helper in most places in the Torah refers to an inferior helping a superior)
- Polygamy is a common practice in the post-Creation account, the Patriarchs and in the story of Kings. In addition, men were allowed to keep concubines
- We cannot know for sure if Sarah giving Abraham permission to sleep with Hagar included any consent on Hagar’s part
- Lot offered his two virgin daughters to an angry crowd of rapists
- The wives of slaves remained the property of the slavemaster after a slave was set free in the seventh year
- Male soldiers can force a captive woman to marry them
There are more passages than this. But you get the drift.
The perceived bias against women in the Torah has made many an atheist. Looking at these passages in a vacuum, it would be clear that the Bible contains a moral code not worth supporting in a modern era — especially if egalitarianism were involved.
The real question is whether or not the Torah is a static document, one frozen in time (as atheists argue) or a living document. My take is the latter. While parshah like Naso and the passages above are unsettling, it’s also worth noting that women have been great political agents (Hebrew midwives outsmarting Pharaoh, Deborah, Rahab, Michal, Huldah, Miriam, Ruth, Esther), have the same status in parenting as their husbands (Exodus 21:15), and have even been instrumental in God changing halachka (see Numbers 27).
The Torah does not give one view of anything. For every commandment that makes God look like a blood thirsty, jealous cult figure, there is another that shows God as the Universalist who loves all of Creation. For every Eve who brings downfall to man, there is an Esther who save us all. For every “you shall” there is a “you shall not”.
The Bible is not the problem. The problem is what we choose to do with it.