Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:
The story: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Naso we come across a moment in the Torah where the words of the Jewish peoples’ most sacred text do not necessarily match up with our modern-day ethics. The parsha describes the law of sotah: the punishment given to a wife if a man has suspicions that she’s had an affair. The Torah reads, “If a man has suspicions…he brings her before the kohen (priest), who makes her drink a mixture of holy waters and earth. He removes her head covering and warns her that if she has indeed been with a man other than her husband, the ingested waters will cause her thigh to collapse and her stomach to distend.”
As dvar tzedek author Adina Roth writes, “Having heard the kohen’s warning and just before drinking the water, the woman must answer “Amen, Amen.” In this context, we realize that ‘Amen,’ despite its benign, comforting associations today, actually means to submit to God’s will. ‘Amen’ is sinister here, as the woman is forced to surrender her fate to forces beyond her control.
The takeaway: It can be difficult to reconcile passages in the Torah like this, when they seem so opposite to our modern day understanding of what’s right and wrong. But Roth writes that the passage – as difficult as it is to read – reminds us that, “the telling of women’s stories in their own voices can be a powerful antidote to oppression…stories can serve as activist tools to help women in all cultures move beyond ‘Amen Amen’—and into empowerment.”
The “to-do”: Roth writes, “Women across all cultures are working to author their own stories. Whether it is the sharing among Jewish women in a Rosh Chodesh circle or the oral narratives of women travelers in sub-Saharan Africa, stories are being used to make room for today’s…women’s voices to be heard.” Support this movement by supporting organizations – like Change.org and WITNESS – that give women, and all people, a chance to voice their side of the story.
Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.