Who Rules the World? Girls and their Karaite Inheritance


The Barden Bellas or Zelophechad’s Daughters?

In case you have not heard the bad news: Pitch Perfect 3’s release date was moved back from Summer 2017 to December 2017 (amid reports of squabbling amongst the movie’s stars). Pitch Perfect is centered around the all girls A Capella group, The Barden Bellas.

And this bad news comes just as Jews throughout the world read the story of the five daughters of Zelophechad who petitioned Moses for their rights to inherit from their deceased father. [1.]  This is probably a good time to explain how the Karaite sages generally interpreted the laws of inheritance.

And at the end, you can vote for your favorite Karaite position and can tell me which Pitch Perfect was better: PP1 or PP2.

One of the cooler aspects of Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) is the story of Zelophechad’s five daughters. The ancient world was (let’s be honest) male dominated, so it is great to see stories in the Torah about women – in this case five sisters: Mahla (“dancing”) [2];  No’a (“movement” or “swaying”); Milkah (“Queen-like” or “Princess”); Hogla (“dancing”) and Tirtza (“pleasing”).

In my opinion, it is not a coincidence that these daughters, who were given such strong and beautiful names, grew up and advocated for their rights to inherit.

In short, these daughters petitioned Moses and asked whether they were allowed to inherit their father’s land, given that their father passed away and had no sons. Moses did not know the answer, so he asked God.

God’s response is: “if a man dies and has no son, then you shall give his inheritance to his daughter” (Numbers 27:8). According to Mikdash Me’at, there were main three Karaite opinions on this verse. The second and third ones are particularly interesting.

1. Daughters only Inherit Absent Sons: According to this view, a daughter could only inherit from her father, if he has no sons. That’s pretty straightforward. According to Judah Hadassi’s Eshkol Hakofer, this view was held by Daniel Al-Qumisi and Benjamin Nahawendi. [3.]

2. Daughters and Sons Inherit Equally: The most well-known Karaite to hold this position was Hakham Yosef Ha-roeh. He held that there is no reason to distinguish between sons and daughters in regard to the laws of inheritance.  His reasoning is kind of genius and I encourage you to read it in Mikdash Me’at. Basically, he said that the question of whether a daughter inherits when a man has sons was never put to God – so this question is left open. And his interpretation of this open question is that daughters should inherit. He would make a great lawyer.

3. Daughters inherit 1/3 of what Sons Inherit: This view was held by some of the Karaite sages. Hakham Elijah Bashyatchi held that a daughter only inherits in the absence of sons, but believed that it was the sons’ obligation to care for their sisters. Thus, despite his contention that sons should theoretically inherit before daughters, in practice he held that each daughter should receive a portion of inheritance equal to half each son’s portion.

Which Opinion is Best:

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And almost as important . . .

Which Pitch Perfect was Better:

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1. If you have not seen Pitch Perfect 2, the connection between the Barden Bellas and Zelophechad’s daughters may be lost on you. In Pitch Perfect 2, the Bellas were facing a ban from school activities. They then advocated for their right to perform by negotiating to get reinstated if they win the World A Capella Championship. This makes them just like Zelophechad’s daughters who petitioned to inherit from their deceased father. If you still can’t see the connection, trust me: it’s there.

2. See Exodus 15:20, where the women followed Miriam with timbrels and dances.

3. See Gender Equality in Yefet ben Eli’s Commentary and Karaite Halakha, Ilana Sasson AJS Review 37:1 (April 2013), 51-74, p. 66. This view also was held by Hakham Yefet ben Eli and Hakham Levi ben Yefet.  As an aside, I go back and forth as to whether it is fair to consider Nahawendi as a Karaite in the current sense of the word – even thought it is clear that he had a Karaite-type, non-rabbinic movement.


Filed under Benjamin Nahawendi, Elijah Baschyatchi, Eshkol Hakofer, Inheritance, Judah Hadassi, Levi ben Yefet, Mikdash Me'at, Pitch Perfect, Yefet ben 'Ali, Yosef Ha-roeh, Zelophechad

5 Responses to Who Rules the World? Girls and their Karaite Inheritance

  1. Glenda

    I’m just considering this from a simple perspective and accept I may be wrong and please forgive if so. Didn’t daughters usually marry and have a dowry from their parents, which was a form of inheritance? (scripture sometimes mentions about a wife buying a vineyard, implying she had independent money?) Didn’t married women live with their husbands on the land which the husband would inherit from his father since husbands didn’t get dowries? Wasn’t this inheritance question about unmarried daughters inheriting land with no mention of dowries? Peace to you

  2. For discussion: Why would the Sages limit a daughter’s financial/other inheritance, when the question was about tribal land? Tomer? Others?

  3. Lauren

    I voted for the first option, but I would like to clarify my position.

    First, the second daughters of Zelophehad ruling requires inheriting women to marry within their tribe. Whoever inherits bears the responsibility of keeping the estate in the tribe of origin. In a patrilineal society, you can’t do that if a woman inherits and marries outside her tribe/clan. This has been an issue in my father’s family, as we would like heirlooms to stay with people passing on the correct surname, but the only people interested in heirlooms or family history are women.

    Second, women have historically often received the equivalent of an inheritance as a wedding gift, sometimes taken from property her mother brought to her parents marriage.

    Third, TaNaKh consistently promotes flexibility in succession instead of strict primogeniture. The son who was favored or seemed most responsible or capable inherited the greater portion and position. I would argue that a man could bequeath to a daughter if he believed she was more qualified than her brothers, especially if the sons were feckless. He could certainly bequeath to a grandson and make his daughter manager of the estate–a trustee, if you will–during the grandson’s minority.

  4. Ana Carolina Lopes

    Although I like to defend women’s rights, I think Torah is clear on this subject: daugthers only inherit in absense of sons. And the reason is simple: in that time, the women were supported by the father or by the husband. When the father died, the sons were to support their mother and unmarried sisters, beside their own families (wives, children), whereas the daughters, when they marry, they would be supported by their own husbands.

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