On Tuesday, July 26th, as Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party, I tried to explain to my five year-old daughter the import of the moment. This was not the first time I have shared with her the legacy and history she carries as a girl, and one day a woman, in this world. “Women couldn’t always wear pants,” “Women couldn’t always vote,” and “Women couldn’t always be rabbis”—just a few of the things my daughter, and I, have the opportunity to do through the pioneering of the women who came before.
When I was younger, I did not fully appreciate this legacy. After all, I took for granted that as a woman I would have opportunities equal to any man. I was then exposed to the realization, little by little, that I have a woman’s voice in a world that is not always ready to listen. As a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife and now a mother, my worldview is shaped by these roles and my identity as a female. It is only in recent years that I have embraced my role as “woman rabbi” and the opportunities to raise the feminine voice—my voice—with pride and strength.
With the headlines in mind, that week I began preparing that weekend’s Torah study which included teaching about the daughters of Zelophehad. While every Torah commentary teaches about these women and the influence they had through their actions, I turned to The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ Press, 2008), knowing that it is women talking about our text unapologetically through a feminine lens. I often use this commentary when preparing for teaching or preaching, because it offers a perspective unlike other commentaries and helps me to read the text in a different way.
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary invites all of us, regardless of gender identity, to learn Torah with an ear towards women’s voices and interpretation. It should be one of many Torah commentaries we use—I believe that we are the best keepers of our sacred texts when we push ourselves to listen to many voices besides our own.
During that historic week we heard a lot about women and girls, but we as we have heard, when we break down the obstacles for one group, it clears the way for everyone. The same is true for our interpretation of Torah. The more inclusive we are of the many voices speaking from our texts, the stronger our tradition and our communities will be.
Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus serves The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia, and Social Action and Advocacy VP for the Women’s Rabbinic Network.