Reb Zalman reads the book of Ruth
Portable holiness (Radical Torah repost)

This week's portion: head by head


Take a census
family by family
listing the names
every female, head by head

record them in their groups
all those in the community
who can weave wool
and spin tales

do this with women
alongside you, each one
the recognized head
of her ancestral house

count each girl and woman
able to plant seed
and nurture new growth
to turn grain into bread

each one who can teach
the ways of her mothers
imagine if our Torah said this
how different our story would be

This week's portion, Bamidbar, begins with instructions to take a census of the Israelites, head by head, each man attached to his ancestral household. In some ways it's a peculiar locution, given that Judaism has historically operated in terms of matrilineal descent. (Today the Reform movement accepts patrilineal descent as well, though it's still a controversial subject in many quarters.) The tradition traces Jewishness through the mother, but this census takes note of men and their fathers -- no mention of the women at all. That's the disjunction out of which this week's poem arose.


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