Kosher Queers

39 — Matot-Masei: Lesbian Farm Communes >>> War

July 16, 2020
Kosher Queers
39 — Matot-Masei: Lesbian Farm Communes >>> War
Chapters
Kosher Queers
39 — Matot-Masei: Lesbian Farm Communes >>> War
Jul 16, 2020

This week, the gender binary makes things like "discussing big household decisions with your spouse" unnecessarily complicated, we wrestle with what to do with a story that's pretty explicitly genocidal, and Tzipporah is the Elvis of the Tanakh. Also, we root for the groups unionizing against Moshe, who has seemingly gone full evil in this parsha. Plus, Lulav is into the fact that Jaz reads books.

Full transcript available here.

Lulav gave a shout out to her friend Khesed, who you can follow on Twitter @KhesedBein. In this episode, we referred to our guest episode with Anat Hochberg, episode 16, and our Pesach episode, with many comments from listeners. Jaz read A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy by Jane McAlevey.

We talk briefly about about our land acknowledge at the end of the podcast, and wrestling with the atrocities committed against indigenous people in the US. If you're listening to us, it's worth listening to podcasts by indigenous creators as well; I can personally recommend Gender Reveal and All My Relations. Also, you can support MIGIZI, a Native youth center near Lulav that recently burned down and is working on rebuilding.

Content notes: this episode contains extensive non-graphic discussion of textual genocide.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at kosherqueers@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript was written by Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

Support the show (http://patreon.com/kosherqueers)

Show Notes Transcript

This week, the gender binary makes things like "discussing big household decisions with your spouse" unnecessarily complicated, we wrestle with what to do with a story that's pretty explicitly genocidal, and Tzipporah is the Elvis of the Tanakh. Also, we root for the groups unionizing against Moshe, who has seemingly gone full evil in this parsha. Plus, Lulav is into the fact that Jaz reads books.

Full transcript available here.

Lulav gave a shout out to her friend Khesed, who you can follow on Twitter @KhesedBein. In this episode, we referred to our guest episode with Anat Hochberg, episode 16, and our Pesach episode, with many comments from listeners. Jaz read A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy by Jane McAlevey.

We talk briefly about about our land acknowledge at the end of the podcast, and wrestling with the atrocities committed against indigenous people in the US. If you're listening to us, it's worth listening to podcasts by indigenous creators as well; I can personally recommend Gender Reveal and All My Relations. Also, you can support MIGIZI, a Native youth center near Lulav that recently burned down and is working on rebuilding.

Content notes: this episode contains extensive non-graphic discussion of textual genocide.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at kosherqueers@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript was written by Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

Support the show (http://patreon.com/kosherqueers)

Lulav: Hi Jaz, what's cool and queer or Jewish in your life, right now? 

Jaz: Hey Lulav! One cool thing recently was that, just this morning, I got to go to a student's Zoom b'nai mitzvah and that was really exciting. It was the first one of those that I'd been to on Zoom and I was really proud to be able to see them. 

Lulav: Yeah, I'll say that's exciting! Have you done b'nai mitzvahs for other students? 

Jaz: Yeah! I mean, I taught some 7th graders last year and so all of them (Lulav chuckles) had b’nai mitzvahs in this past year.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Because of the way that the schedule worked, I often wasn't able to be there for the whole service, because I had to be teaching 3rd graders during Saturday services, but since it's not during the school year, I haven't been teaching 3rd graders on Saturday. 

Lulav: That's amazing. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Any particular wisdoms from the dvar torah? 

Jaz: Mmmmm, well, there was a thing about balancing caution and optimism and using both to guide your decision making, which I was very impressed with. The rabbi picked it up as like, a thread of her dvar too, following, about how like, then you can use that to make real concrete change in the world.

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Lulav, what's something cool or queer or Jewish you've done recently? 

Lulav: Well, my, like, physical life is kind of a disaster, even as my emotional life is great. I have so many friends and I'm having a great time with them. But, I did have like, an entire kitchen full of dishes, and so: Khesed and I were talking about their legal name change process. Spoiler alert: the government is hostile to people. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: They asked me how I was doing and I was like, (moaning) oh, I have so many dishes and I'm tired and there's a mouse in my bedroom and flies all over. (modal voice) And they were like, I could come over and help you clean. 

Jaz: Awww. 

Lulav: And so they did and we like, checked our contact circles to make sure we were at very low risk of COVID transmission?

Jaz: Mhm.

Lulav: Which meant that we could be mask-less and have a friend hug, which is not a thing that is often the case. (laughs) 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: I gotta say, they did an excellent job. I have such a clean kitchen and I'm so thankful. And also, I got my property management company to bring some steel wool and plug up the hole that the mouse was coming in through. 

Jaz: Good! 

Lulav: So like, basically all of my problems are solved. 

Jaz: (laughs) everyone should be so lucky. 

Lulav: Yeah. But the Jewish part of that is we davened mincha and like, they have a siddur. I don't. So it was basically them starting off the chanting and then just kind of mumbling vague approximations of the words under their breath while we both did a knee bounce, and it was… really nice? Just like, I got a chance to think, because I couldn't like, read along with them. I was just like, listening to a little bit of drone of prayer and just stimming, and... yeah, it was really meditative. So yeah, I wasn't able to follow along verbally in basically anything except for 80% of the amens. 

Jaz: Mm hmm.  

Lulav: But when we got to the end, they were like, (sings) "v'ne-emar, v'hayu[sic] Adonai," (Jaz chuckles) and I joined in and we were just like shout-singing the last bit and it was really fun. I love that part. And I love my friend Khesed. 

Jaz: That's so lovely, all around. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: So you imagine that to be the sort of thing that you would repeat, like, having a friend come over to do some stuff? 

Lulav: Yeah, I mean, it's a really good idea. It's not something that I want to make a regular thing because I didn't like, compensate them? I've just been a moral support through their name change process and like, 

Jaz: Mhmm.

Lulav: We're both autistic, so it's really helpful for me to be like, "here's the answer to a couple of your questions and here's what it was like in practice for me." But like, I feel bad when there are unequal exchange of labor.

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: And so I don't want to make regular practice of inviting friends over to my place unless I am also doing favors for them. 

Jaz: Sure. 

Lulav: But like, being helped out in a tight spot where like, the things that I usually would be doing in therapy, I just haven't been doing. 

Jaz: Mmmm.

Lulav: So this was like, a special thing.

Jaz: Sure.

[Brivele intro music]

Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions! Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They’re Jaz — 

Jaz: And she’s Lulav — 

Lulav: And we’re here to joke about Judaism and talk Tanakh together. Today, our chevruta is learning Matot-Masei. Would you like to talk about this... last double parsha?

Jaz: Yes, please.

Lulav: Nope, it's not the last one, sorry.

Jaz: It is! This is the last two!

Lulav: What about Nitzavim-Vayelech?

Jaz: What?

Lulav: It's the penultimate reading from D'varim

Jaz: Oh! You confused me. This is the last one of Bamidbar, and that's what I thought you were talking about.

Lulav: Oh! It is! Right! I like, briefly forgot about that. So how much time do you want to close out the quick summary of Bamidbar?

Jaz: I guess I'd take 75 seconds to do Matot-Masei.

Lulav: Yeah, that seems reasonable. Okay, 3,2,1, go.

Jaz: Vows happen and the gender binary makes everything unnecessarily complicated, (Lulav giggles) but also gives women an out? Then there's a battle and apparently the Midianites had five leaders? The Israelites win and have a bunch of people captive, and Moshe tells them to kill most everyone, except young virgin girls. Then some brief purifying of the deaths, then dividing up of the spoils of war, which includes lots of animals, a bunch of gold, and (agitated sounding) also people! Maybe those same captured people! The officers give up some gold, but the foot soldiers hold on to theirs. The Gadites and the Reubenites have a bunch of livestock, and they don't want to enter the land — they just wanna farm and shepherd. (Lulav laughs) Moshe argues, and finally says they can do it if they also contribute soldiers. Then, in the last parsha — the last one of Bamidbar! — there's a long travelogue of where they've been so far, followed by instructions to get rid of idols and the heavy implication that they're going to wipe out the current residents of the land.

Lulav: Yup! 

Jaz: There's some land boundaries and each ancestral house gets a section, G-d instructs Moshe about sanctuary cities and the difference between murder and manslaughter and the importance of proof. Finally there's a note about limiting marriage options for women who inherit land. Done.

Lulav: Okay, that's great, you had three seconds left. Good timing.

Jaz: Apparently this is a new skill that I have, (Lulav chuckles) being able to just look at a thing and see how long it will take.

Lulav: Excellent. I thought that was a really good summary and probably a lot of the things and, um, tone to the things that I would have used, had I been the summarizer this week.

Jaz: Glad we're on roughly the same page about this one, (Lulav snortchuckles)

Lulav: Excellent. Do you want to drill down into what all this is?

Jaz: Sure. Moshe's giving instructions to the leaders of the people, about vows. Also the name meaning here, "matot," is the word we usually translate as "tribes" or “staffs." 

Lulav: Yeah!

Jaz: We talked about this a while back.

Lulav: Mm hmm. And boy, like, we were talking about how matot were specifically a military division and this sure is a military parsha.

Jaz: Sure is. Okay, well, there's this note. I have questions a little bit about the translation, but my translation renders it as, "If a householder makes a vow —"

Lulav: Mm!

Jaz: " — or takes an oath," can't break that pledge, has to carry it out. If a young woman makes a vow or assumes an obligation, her father who she lives with can veto it if he does so the first time he hears about it, but if a day goes past, he can't nullify it in the middle. He has to do it on the first time.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And the same holds true for a married woman. Her husband can nullify a vow on the first day he hears about it — but not after that — and then she's not obligated to it anymore.

Lulav: So just to make sure we're on the same page about this, this is like, if your 14-year-old daughter saw a hot dude at a party and he was from the rival house and they ran away together and got married, you could be like, "No, you're not married, that's a really bad idea. Please come home."

Jaz: Yes? It's not even just, please come home, it's like, "you're not married, it does not count that you said you were."

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: "Time to come home now."

Lulav: And I think a lot of the thing here is less about the Romeo and Juliet relationship that I was giving an example of, and more about the obligations that people can make of somebody who has made promises.

Jaz: Mmm.

Lulav: So like, if you're married to somebody, they have certain inheritance rights and stuff like that, and you have obligations to them and so does your family?

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: And so like, a person whose house you are living in, who is an adult,

Jaz: Mhm.

Lulav: Can be like, "no, actually we don't owe you a dowry," or whatever.

Jaz: Mm. How would you frame that in terms of the spouses example then?

Lulav: Can you give me a line, just so I can… ?

Jaz: Sure. It starts at chapter 30, verse 7.

Lulav: Yeah, I don't love that. I think, in the sense that the resources of people within a marriage are held in common between those people, like, they have a joined future, I think it is reasonable that a spouse might be able to annul obligations made by a spouse. I think the gendered nature of it is — right, this is a clean episode — poopy.

Jaz: Uh huh. Sure. You can see the obvious problems with being able to annul somebody else's vow, to not have people just be able to stand on their own and independently and make their own promises. I think that the idea of limiting autonomy has obvious problems.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: But you've proposed that there is also positives to this idea that if your spouse makes a vow that you could annul it within the day. Could you spin out some of those positives for me?

Lulav: Sure. The understanding with this framing is that it's coming from a society where the husband has agency and the ability to… gain money? And so if there is an obligation made which will require payment or temple sacrifice, the spouse who will actually be responsible for paying that, I think it is reasonable to give them veto power.

Jaz: So if we were to extrapolate on that lesson —

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Not just leave it in ancient society, but put it in modern society —

Lulav: Before you make promises to your friends about resources that the, um… employed person in the relationship is — it's their resources — you should probably talk to that person and make sure they're on board with it.

Jaz: Sure.

Lulav: And like, in general I don't think it is necessary to, like, defend the rights of property owners, right? I think that a society in which people are not reliant on marriage to provide for them economically would be a much better society. But like the general rule of, "talk to your spouse if they're the one who has money that you’re promising to other people," (Jaz affirms) I think that's reasonable.

Jaz: Yeah, and I wonder even if you could extrapolate it out further. I'm about to, hopefully, in a few months, live with some roommates.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Who I'm not romantically involved with, but, um… one of my roommates wants to get a dog, and that's a decision that would affect all of us, even though it would be her dog.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And that we might all, say, chip in to buy food for the dog. And so there was a certain amount of like, well, if one of us had said we really really didn't want the dog, probably we would have had veto power.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: In the same way that one of her current roommates is allergic, and so she doesn't have a dog, even though she wants one, and so you could sort of extrapolate: sometimes there are things that other people get to have veto power over.

Lulav: Sorry to use a Dan Savage phrase, but like that's a price of admission for the relationship of being roommates.

Jaz: Right.

Lulav: Some people will be dead-set on needing a dog and some people will be dead-set on not having a dog in their space, and so either somebody compromises or you just don't have that relationship. And I'm glad that, as far as I can see, you and the Hawk will be roommates and have a great time of it.

Jaz: And also, probably, she'll have a dog. Which will be great.

Lulav: Heck yeah.

14:30     

Jaz: Okay, so next, there's war.

Lulav: (sighing) Yeah.

Jaz: So G-d speaks to Moshe and says "Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites. Then you shall be gathered to your kin." And I think the thing we're supposed to think they're getting revenge for is the idolatry —

Lulav: Yes.

Jaz: — that the Israelites participated in, or were convinced to participate in, or whatever, from last week.

Lulav: That is my understanding.

Jaz: Yeah and so 1000 people from each mateh go forth, so there is 10,000 of them. Pinchas leads this mess, (Lulav chuckles) and um —

Lulav: Also, that's an obscene number of people.

Jaz: It's a lot of people.

Lulav: Like if they're all armed, in a time when presumably there aren't a ton of standing armies, that's so many people.

Jaz: Yeah, it's a lot of people. And it says "and they slew five of the leaders of the Midianites and took people captive."

Lulav: Um, what's the thing in the middle there?

Jaz: And also killed Balaam.

Lulav: Yeah. So, a question that I have written down is: why did they kill our dude Balaam? Like, I know there's retroactive justification in a bit, but knowing what we know from the text to this point, why would they kill Balaam? This is like, drashmaker, drashmaker, drash me midrash.

Jaz: It feels like the thing that they're going for says, "look if you made a bomb, even if in the end it didn't go off and instead sprouted flowers and fertilized the land, like, if you tried to bomb us, that's bad."

Lulav: I see.

Jaz: I think that is part of the implication.

Lulav: So the idea that he was willing to curse them if that was what G-d said, would be the reason for you?

Jaz: I mean, he... hmm. I think the idea here is that he tries many times to curse them and that G-d physically stopped him from doing so but he is very much working with the people who are trying to destroy the Israelites.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: I mean, I know that the rest of this justification is about, like, him persuading them to engage in idolatry, but it feels more like it's about attempted murder.

Lulav: Yeah, that seems more like a good reading for the text as it stands, rather than having retroactive justification.

Jaz: Yeah, okay. So and then they have all of these people imprisoned and all of these animals and gold and stuff that they captured, and they bring them back to their settlements. Not their settlements — to their... camp?

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Where they are greeted by Moshe and Eleazar and the other leaders of the people. So Moshe comes out to greet them and then gets mad. And then thing he gets mad about with the military leaders, is that they brought people back alive, in particular that they brought back a lot of women alive

Lulav: Uh huh.

Jaz: And he gives this reading that says Balaam was working with the women, the women are the ones who persuaded Israelite people to worship idols, and so they should not be spared. And he is sort of working on the implication that Balaam was organizing the women to do this, and that the women were doing it by seducing people, so he tells them to slay every woman who has had sex.

Lulav: Every male among the children as well.

Jaz: Yeah. And every male among the children.

Lulav: So the question that I wrote here is, "Let's talk about ways in which this is explicitly, textually, genocide."

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: For instance, they slew every male. In the context of 31:7, you can read that as, like, they fought everyone who was fighting them, but in the context of "you spared all the women, so now slay every boy child,” like, this is explicitly designed to completely wipe out the people of Midian.

Jaz: Yes. And we know that wiping out every boy child is an established technique for that explicitly because it was used against them a generation ago.

Lulav: Yeah, I mean… I guess now that you mention it, Hashem is saying to Moshe, "do this thing and then you'll die," so it might just be him like, flailing and being as mean and evil a person as he possibly can be.

Jaz: Mm. Because he's about to die?

Lulav: Yeah, so it's like, "Oh, that thing that I was spared from? We're just going to do it on these people. And… yeah, that's totally what G-d commanded."

Jaz: In many other parts of this narrative, it is very explicit, "and then G-d said it," and this one does not include that. It is just Moshe giving these instructions.

Lulav: Right. It's like, take revenge for the idolatry thing, rather than all of these specific things, like, wipe them all out. This sucks.

Jaz: It's bad!

Lulav: And like, there's this whole paragraph of, they took the women and children captive, and "seized as booty all of the beasts," so like, all of the food that they have, and all their wealth, and then they destroy by fire all the towns in which the Midianites were settled, and their encampments. So like, it's not even that they're using it; they're just burning it to the ground.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: And taking the finest parts of it, divested from formerly living people.

Jaz: Yeah. And look, it's not that I think you can never burn something to the ground. (Lulav chuckles) There is a place to argue that when there is systems that need to be overturned and changed, that you need to get rid of systems and start over.

Lulav: Right.

Jaz: But I don't think there's as strong of a case that that's what's happening with the Midianites. The Midianites were their friends and allies — like, Moshe's wife is a Midianite!

Lulav: Yeah. Well, she's dead, right?

Jaz: I don't know if we get a report of Tzipporah dying.

Lulav: Oh yeah!

Jaz: Do you know if we get a report of Tzipporah dying?

Lulav: Um, maybe Tzipporah is the Elvis of the Tanakh, like she's still alive. She's out there. I know it.

Jaz: (chuckles) I mean, Moshe's still alive at this point. There's no reason to believe that necessarily his wife has to have died.

Lulav: Okay. Yeah. That's cool.

Jaz: I mean, is it?!

Lulav: Well, not the whole genocide thing. That sucks. I just like Tzipporah.

Jaz: Yeah. She's good. Do you feel like there's any other way —

Lulav: I don't there is a way to read this as not genocide.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: I don't think there is a way to read this as anything short of intentionally wiping out an entire people but keeping the ones that you can impregnate.

Jaz: What do you do with a story of genocide in the Torah?

Lulav: I mean, there are many reasons that I am anti-Zionist, and I think this is one of them. Like, the Torah tells a story of us being promised a land but it is being promised a land founded on the oppression and slaughter of other people and I don't think that is ultimately what the world that is coming looks like.

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: I don't think that there is a promised land in the world that is coming. It's something that you have to make yourself through good action with your neighbors and caring about people even if they're different from you.

Jaz: So your argument would be, we look at this story in the Torah and we see it in all its horror —

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And we say, "This is a warning sign. This is the people we could be and which we must not be.:

Lulav: We say "never again". Yeah.

Jaz: Huh. Thank you for that interpretation.

Lulav: Yeah. Do you have anything you wanted to say on like, anything redeeming? (laughs)

Jaz: Look, I'm agreed that this is a story of genocide and that's a horrible thing. I am hesitant to offer a reading that seems like it could make light of that.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Because I don't want to make light of that.

Lulav: I trust that you are not doing so.

Jaz: I wonder sometimes if we can find value in things by reading them differently. I think that there is value often in reading things that is different than the plain meaning of the text, (Lulav chuckles) and that there's a long line of doing so. I will argue with anybody that the rabbis have a long tradition reading into the text that you would not consider the pshat, the what's-just-there. So I wonder also if there's value in looking at it as a metaphor, rather than as actually killing people.

Lulav: Okay, what's the metaphor here? I'll bite.

Jaz: So, when we had the one about destroying Amalek, which is the last time I believe, that we saw something about "destroy it absolutely," Anat offered us an interpretation that said, "you must destroy Amalek within yourself" and we talked, I believe, then, about the contradiction between being commanded to wipe out the name of Amalek and being commanded to remember it, which meant that it is impossible to wipe out the name.

Lulav: Right.

Jaz: I do think that there is beautiful things in the metaphor of a promised land, of working towards a land — but more accurately, maybe, a world — flowing with milk and honey.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: I think that that can be a really powerful metaphor of making it to freedom — and I know that it has been for groups throughout history.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: There's beautiful songs about that that came out of enslaved people in the US.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And so, I think if there could be a conception of "you have to work to make that promised land fit for people to live in.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: "And that will be painful along the way, because there are lots of bad aspects of ourselves and our society that would need to radically change in a burn-it-to-the-ground type of way —

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: "Not in a 'we are literally going to kill people' type of way, but things are going to have to radically change and the institutions that existed are no longer going to exist."

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: I think you could look at it like that.

Lulav: Thanks for that reading.

24:37

Jaz: So then, take an inventory. See all of the things that's there. Have some spreadsheets. (Lulav chuckles) Then divide stuff up. They want to divide it between the people who did the work — they say "combatants" — and the rest of the community,

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Cool only if you don't understand it as literal stolen things. In that case it's just really gross and everybody's implicated. 

Lulav: Yeah. Which, I mean, that's a great reading. (laughs) 

Jaz: That one too! Everybody is responsible. Everybody benefited from it. Okay but then they get a bunch of sheep and cattle, donkeys — also, there are all of these human people who are here?

Lulav: Yeah, four kinds of mammals! Um, this sucks. (Jaz laughs) These captives are being given to the Levites, so the one comment I had on this is, “Love to have our moral exemplars explicitly tended by hundreds of slaves.” 

Jaz: Oh yeah, sure. 

Lulav: They get like 400 slaves out of this — just shy. 

Jaz: Where are you getting 400? 

Lulav: Okay so, this gets divided into two halves, half of which goes to the warriors and half of which goes to just, everybody. One item in 500 of persons, oxens, asses and sheep, are given from the warriors’ share, and one in 50 are given from the people's share. So since there were a total of 16,000 humans to be divided up amongst the warriors, the Levites got 32. And then from the same share for the people, of 16,000, they got 320. So that's 352 slaves who are specifically supposed to tend to the people who tend to the duties of the mishkan. 

Jaz: I'm having trouble following that math, but just to name the numbers in case somebody else wants to look at it also, we start with, of the people that they have left alive, who are all young women — 

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Thirty-two thousand of them, and then they get divided up. 

Lulav: Which means in the pshat, they killed thousands of people 

Jaz: Yes. 

Lulav: Like 100,000 people. 

Jaz: Yes. 

Lulav: So that's great. Um, yeah. That's really all I have here. Like, not only are we taking slaves, we're also having them serve the people who are supposed to be moral exemplars. 

Jaz: Mmm. Yeah. 

Lulav: And like, (sharply) I just don't get how — I mean, I guess the people here were never slaves because everyone who was a slave has died, but — 

Jaz: Their grandparents were pretty recently though! 

Lulav: Yeah. I just am so pissed about the pshat having the children of enslaved people enslaving people. 

Jaz: Yeah. Yeah. I wonder if the analogy here is like the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who entered the coutnry as refugess who are now quite willing to turn away people who came as refugees from countries where there are genocides. 

Lulav: Yeah. Or even more expliclty, committing genocide themselves, in terms of rounding people up into camps or cutting off resources to indigenous people. 

Jaz: Right. 

Lulav: Yeah, some of our cousins are involved in that work. So that's great. 

Jaz: Yeah. On the one hand, our tradition holds this freedom narrative of the exodus, of everyone having to get free, and then, what happens once you're beyond that? Do you hold onto that or do you turn into this? 

Lulav: Yeah. And I think you were talking in the Pesach episode, or maybe that was a listener submission —  you don't just celebrate freedom from slavery, you actively recommit to free the world from slavery. This is a heavy paraphrase of whoever said it, but I found that insightful.   

Jaz: Yeah. Yeah, and then the Reubenites and the Gadites have a lot of cattle. Like, maybe it's all stuff that they just stole, (Lulav chuckles) but it seems like maybe they just had a lot of cattle. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: When people were like, oh no, there is no meat, this is maybe the — well, you did have meat; you just didn't want to use it. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Anyway, they note that there's a particular place where they would like to stay and just like, raise their cattle, that has them not going into the land. 

Lulav: Mm hmm 

Jaz: And they just want to stay there and farm! They come and present their argument and Moshe's not happy about it, but they say, "Look, it would be good for us to just stay here."

Lulav: As a lesbian, I can say that many other lesbians have that as a big mood. 

Jaz: (laughs) Not you though. 

Lulav: Yeah. I don't know. I like cities. I would enjoy the manual labor of small-scale farming, but also, not going outside is a good thing for me. 

Jaz: Uh huh. I know a shocking number of people who say they’d like to live on a queer commune, but who I really… like, farming is hard work. 

Lulav: Yeah. You gotta try shtetling before you make a shtetl. 

Jaz: Uh huh. At least try some communal living first, like — (Lulav laughs) yeah. But my brother did get off a call the other day with some friends being like, “what if we just moved and started a farm together?” Our family's response was just, “oh, Lewis has done some work on a farm! You should talk to him about it!” (Laughs) "You know, our bio dad did that." (Lulav chuckles) Farming is great, much better than war. (Lulav laughs) But the Reubenites and the Gadites do not entirely get out of war. They have to fight with the rest of the Israelites and Moshe, like, makes a deal where they can stay there without going into the land and set up their community as long as they send some of their people to be soldiers. 

Lulav: Yeah, and not just soldiers but shock troops, like, the people who go in first and die in huge numbers to provide a tactical advantage. 

Jaz: (dryly) Cool. (Lulav chuckles) Great. Thank you for looking that up because I'm not sure I fully knew what shock troops were. 

Lulav: Oh yeah, I didn't actually look that up. That is just my understanding from military strategy games over the years. 

Jaz: Okay. sure. And then there is, once again, not G-d speaking directly, but Moshe quoting G-d — who we don't hear (Lulav laughs) — about how this is betrayal. They're not supposed to do this! They're supposed to go into the land! But they don't. And then they go in as shock troops and — 

Lulav: And it all works out! 

Jaz: Yeah, kind of, right? Like, that's the idea, is then they capture some places and then they get to go back and live on their farms and the other Israelites go back and live on those places they captured. 

Lulav: Yeah. The best I can reckon is you don't get to quit a communal project as soon as your demands are met, but if you want to quit you gotta step up first? 

Jaz: Okay. 

Lulav: Is that like a decent lesson from this? Do you have any other reading that you want to... 

Jaz: I like that. 

Lulav: And then the second question is wait, when did Menasse enter this conversation? (Jaz laughs) Like, it goes through the entire thing — the Gadites and Reubenites are doing this, and they're the ones replying "okay we’ll do it," and then the next line is that Moshe assigns to the Gadites, the Reubenites, and half-tribe of Menasse (Jaz chuckles) these lands. 

Jaz: Yeah. Okay, so I just read a book about unions. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: It's called The Collective Bargain, I think by Jane McAlevey, and one of the things she talks about is that sometimes, when you strike, one, the more people who strike, the better, but two, strikes are good for everybody, even the people who don't strike. 

Lulav: Mm hmm 

Jaz: Like, if the teachers in a school strike, they can and should also get benefits for the cafeteria workers who didn't strike but can also gain. 

Lulav: Yeah! 

Jaz: And that is my vibe of what's happening here. The Menasseites also don't want to do this, but they didn't join the strike because they're a little tribe. They're only a half group, but once you've won the victory, you're like, “oh by the way, we're not going in without the Menasseites either,” and Moshe's like, “ugh, fine, I already conceded that you can collectively bargain, I guess you can throw this into the deal.” 

Lulav: Good. My thing is just like, these are the lesbians who in 2021 are like, “yeah, I can totally go live on a farm” (Jaz laughs) despite not having had previous experience. If you have farming experience and are a lesbian and are starting a farming commune with all of your gay friends, more power to you. I hope it works out. 

Jaz: I really need to be clear that farming experience is crucial and a part of it, and also communication skills with other humans — 

Lulav: Oh G-d, yes. 

Jaz: — is also a really clear part of it, and that would be the part that scares me more than the “learning how to farm,” would be “can these people like, talk to each other?” 

Lulav: Yeah. Also Jaz, did you say that you like, read a book that you hadn't mentioned before? 

Jaz: Y- Yes? 

Lulav: You read books and I love that about you. 

Jaz: (laughs) Wha— 

Lulav: It's very rare, these days. (distantly, as if twisting away from the mic) When's the last time I read — 

Jaz: That I read books? 

Lulav: No, not that you read books! You do that frequently. It's very rare that people in general, of our age bracket, read books. 

Jaz: You sound like an old person. 

Lulav: Like, I love reading and I don't read books. 

Jaz: Okay. 

Lulav: In the last year, I think I mostly read fanfiction, some Torah, (Jaz chuckles) and then… maybe a sci-fi book at some point that I can't remember. 

34:29 

Jaz: Huh! 

Lulav: That's like the three tiers, in order from most words to fewest words 

Jaz: Okay. Would you like a list of things I read? 

Lulav: Yes please. 

Jaz: Okay, so I do Talmud study every day. I only read a little bit of Talmud, but I do do it every day, which is why it's at the top of my list. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: And I study that with DiCo. I read Torah and do that with you. I read a regular list of things — I did the union book because it was prompted by a book club of my college friends. 

Lulav: (Chuckles) Cool! 

Jaz: Yeah. I didn't make it to the actual book club meeting, but I did read the book, and I'm currently reading a nonfiction about the Talmud… yeah, I read nonfiction about a bunch of things that are of interest to me, and fiction about a smaller set of things that are of interest to me (Lulav chuckles) so I read some fantasy and young adult and and stuff like that. 

Lulav: And like, things about gay knitters. (laughs) 

Jaz: Yeah. I'm sorry, I said fantasy, That should, by any reasonable definition, include the gay knitters. 

Lulav: I mean, gay knitters are not a fantasy, except in the sense that they're fantastic. (change of tone) Hey. (both laugh) 

Jaz: Okay. 

Lulav: Can we get back into the parsha? 

Jaz: We have so much more to do. 

Lulav: So there's a whole travelogue here.

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Is there any part of that that you want to drill down on? 

Jaz: No, except that it's here. It exists. 

Lulav: And it starts from Egypt. 

Jaz: They're about to exit the wilderness and we're about to — we're in Masei, by the way, in the new thing. 

Lulav: Ohhh. 

Jaz: We're about to exit the wilderness, and this is a chronicle of their whole time in the wilderness. It's their whole time Bamidbar. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: And so, right before we exit, we get, we started from Mitzrayim, now we're in Bamidbar and before we enter the next place, we have a sort of full list of all of the places that they've been. 

Lulav: Yeah. So the question that I have here is, “how did this take 40 years?” One of the legs of this journey lasted three days!

Jaz: Yes. I mean, (Lulav laughs) we don't get times for most of them. We have this very repetitive formula that is, in English, “they set out from X and they encamped at Y.” And in Hebrew, it's "vayisu me X, vayahanu be Y." (Lulav chuckles) And they just have this whole set of, "they left from here and they went to here." We just have that over and over again and there's not, like, timestamps to it in any way for the most part, except at the beginning, so we don't know where the time came from, exactly, (Lulav chuckles) but I think we're supposed to believe it shouldn't have taken that long. They're not that far apart, like, also, if you look at a map. They explicitly took so long because G-d wanted them to be in the wilderness for that long.  

Lulav: Yeah. Okay yeah, that was my thing for 33. 

Jaz: Okay, well, so still in 33, but like, at 33:50 

Lulav: Ooh.

Jaz: G-d speaks to Moshe and says, when you cross the Jordan river, when you enter, you're going to destroy idols, you're going to divide up the land, you'll live according to which ancestral house you're a part of — 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

(a pregnant pause)

Jaz: And then… (sigh) 

Lulav: Fifty-five, if you will. 

Jaz: "But if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those who you allow to remain will be stings in your sides and thorns in your sides and they shall harass you in the land in which you live; so that I will do to you what I plan to do to them." 

Lulav: (sarcastically) This has, like, no bearing on anything going on in the Jewish world these days, does it? (Jaz sighs) Certainly no one is inspired by this message? 

Jaz: (slowly) So, this is kind of a brutal line. The only thing that it makes me think of — you were going to say something about it. 

Lulav: No, other than that a significant portion of the government of the state of Israel seems to be really into, “if you don't dispossess the people who are in the land you've been promised, they're just going to be a thorn in your side.” 

Jaz: So, one of the things that it makes me think of — 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: — as I was puzzling over it, is this idea that G-d is not exactly, entirely, saying, "I am on your side and this is what you should do." (Lulav chuckles) G-d is saying something slightly more ambiguous. 

Lulav: Mm. 

Jaz: In that G-d's allegiances can flip based on human action. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: And there is an “if.” This isn't a command, this particular statement. 

Lulav: (chuckles) Yeah. 

Jaz: It's an “if,” and I — if we believe that G-d's allegiances can shift, and that we know that G-d chose the Israelite people but could choose somebody else, I wonder if there is room to say "the people would be stings and thorns, like, as well they should, and I would be on their side."

39:22  

Lulav: Mm. Yeah. One of the names of G-d that we may draw from this is “Supporter of the Underdogs”?

Jaz: Mm. 

Lulav: Like, it's basically saying if you become the colonial power, I will support anyone you haven't completely wiped out. Those will be my people. 

Jaz: Mm. I think that there can be something beautiful in the idea that we are a group with significance and also that that significance is dependent on action and can be lost. 

Lulav: Right. 

Jaz: Okay. And then, people get different land boundaries. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: It's like they're dividing up a map. 

Lulav: Anything you want to talk about here? 

Jaz: No, not until sanctuary cities. 

Lulav: Okay. So, start us off in 35? 

Jaz: So when we're figuring out what to do with the land, G-d notes there will be certain towns that are set aside for the Levites and also cities of refuge, and there should be more towns also. So 48 towns in total where if someone has broken a serious law — in this case they are noting someone's killed someone — this is a city of refuge where someone who has unintentionally killed another person can flee to while they await trial. 

Lulav: Yeah. So this is answered like 10 lines later, but my first response upon reading 35:6 was, “cities of what now, to where from?” Like, they come out of nowhere saying, “oh, of course there are these six cities of refuge for manslayers to flee to.” But it does make more sense as they elaborate on what exactly that means. 

Jaz: Right. Yeah. It applies to citizens and non-citizens alike, who live there — 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: And they note what constitutes murder; it includes striking somebody with a heavy iron object or a wooden object — 

Lulav: Or a stone object! 

Jaz: Uh huh, or if you push them in hate or hurled something, but if it was unintentional, really not seeking to harm them, a court decides. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: But that person can't go outside of the city of refuge while the court is deciding. Otherwise, like, it has it as "a blood avenger," someone who wants to avenge the killing, could come upon the killer and do so. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: And they would be within their rights to do so. 

Lulav: Not only “wants to” but “is charged with doing so.” 

Jaz: Right. 

Lulav: “If someone strikes a person with his hand in enmity and death resulted, the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death upon encounter.” So it's just like a next of kin, basically. 

Jaz: Right. 

Lulav: A thing that I want to drill down on is 35:23. There is an em-dash-ical clause here: "— though he was not an enemy of his and did not seek his harm —" which is an exception to declaring something manslaughter rather than murder. So this clause seems to indicate that if you hated someone and accidentally killed them, that's properly murder. Even if it's an accident, the idea that somebody who murdered someone on purpose could be like, “ah, nah, it was just manslaughter,” is unacceptable to the people codifying these rules. 

Jaz: That's a good catch. There is also rules that are sort of about due process. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: That are about, you need witnesses. You can't put somebody to death on the word of just a single person. You need multiple witnesses. Putting somebody to death is really serious. But on the flip side, you can't let somebody get out of it lightly. 

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: But you can't convict them lightly. And you can't kill them on the land because you're rendering the land impure. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: It's very Cain and Abel-esque. (Lulav chuckles) Do you have any more comments about this before we move on to the bit about property rights? 

Lulav: Yeah, I think pointing out that the law codes here explicitly say not to have somebody bear false witness and just like, believe that from one person, is a good insight. Just as they don’t want a murderer to claim manslaughter if it's somebody that they hated, they don't want somebody to say that somebody's doing something just to get them killed. 

Jaz: Yeah. Which is really important. We know the ways in which our justice system, such as it is, does not treat human life with sufficient respect and weight and dignity. 

Lulav: Yeah. And ways in which that justice system — heh, ""justice"" — is weaponized to imprison or kill people on pretext. 

Jaz: Right. 

Lulav: So having as little of that as possible is great. The unfortunate thing is you can also have two people falsifying accounts. 

Jaz: It's true, yeah. 

Lulav: But…  

Jaz: I mean, the Talmud will reckon with more of this later, too — 

Lulav: Oh cool. 

Jaz: — in terms of when can you actually implement capital punishment, and it is extraordinarily difficult. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: So! So so so. The next bit is about the daughters of Zelophehad again. 

Lulav: I think this is a much less cool bit than the last one about Zelophehad's daughters. 

Jaz: Uh huh. This is like, a, we take it back a little bit. (Lulav laughs) Not all the way, but a little bit, "hey, we're trying to give them property rights, but that will complicate our system! What do we do now?" 

Lulav: Mmhm.

Jaz: And the answer they decided on was: limit some of them again. 

Lulav: And I don't think this is incongruous with that first decision, because the first decision was like, “well, we can't have women running things, but we also can't have these women just dying instead of making babies, so I guess they've gotta have property that is heritable.” And then this decision is, “well, we definitely can't have women running things so they don't pass that down.” 

Jaz: I mean, so, that's not entirely — the deal that they make here is for women who inherit property, their property does go to their children, but they're worried if the women inherit property and marry outside the tribe, it's not that their children won't inherit their property. Their children will inherit their property. 

Lulav: It's that it's a patrilineal descent for the ancestral houses? 

Jaz: Right. So their children would be of the house of whoever their husband is. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: And so, if they marry somebody from a rival house, then that rival house has gotten more land, and now that they've divided up all the land, they want it to stay in its original groupings. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: So you sort of have two options there — you have more than two, (Lulav chuckles) but your options there could be, well, if they're inheriting things from their mom, they go from their mom's house, but that's complicated too because if they're also inheriting things from their father, then you just have the problem in reverse. 

Lulav: Mm. Yeah. 

Jaz: Which is that now the father has given land to a rival house. Or you could do some kind of complicated splitting of it or whatever, or that the children don't inherit both things, but instead the thing they decide is, "we're going to sidestep all of that, and if women are inheriting property, they have to marry within their own house." 

Lulav: And (sigh) specifically, these five daughters marry their first cousins. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Like not even just, y'know, someone in the clan?

Jaz: Although it seems like they did not have to do that, specifically. (Lulav laughs) Seems like that was maybe a choice on their part. 

Lulav: Yeah. They were doing so well. 

Jaz: (Laughs) Listen, there are thousands of people in each of these groups, like, as we saw just recently, so they did go for the, “marrying their first cousins out of many thousands of other people.” 

Lulav: (sigh) Yeah. Unless this is "uncle" in the, like, general sense. 

Jaz: Sure. 

Lulav: Like, an old man in your family who is not necessarily your father's brother. 

Jaz: Sure. I'm down with that reading too. Lulav, I think we're done. 

Lulav: Chazak, chazak, venitchek! 

47:44  

Jaz: (laughing) Great. Yeah, that's the end of Bamidbar. Are you ready for Rating G-d's Writing, the segment in which we pick two scales and rate the parsha based on them? 

Lulav: Heck yeah. Do you have a scale first? 

Jaz: Sure. Out of six sanctuary cities, how many sanctuary cities would you rate this parsha? 

Lulav: Man, this is difficult because I hate it. Twelve sanctuary cities. 

Jaz: What did you say? 

Lulav: Twelve out of six sanctuary cities. 

Jaz: Okay…  

Lulav: For manslayers to run to, because the whole system is guilty and when you are part of a system that in the pshat is founded on genocide, you need to be extra careful about what passes for justice. 

Jaz: Mm. 

Lulav: And so there should be even more than six cities for people who are accused of a crime to run to. 

Jaz: Hmm. 

Lulav: Jaz, we made it through the wilderness. We finally made it throu-ough. So out of the three minutes and 50 seconds run time for Madonna's “Like a Virgin” — 

Jaz: Oh my G-d. 

Lulav: How many seconds (laughing) would you rate this parsha? 

Jaz: Um... I would rate it maybe like 10 seconds. 

Lulav: Okay. (Laughs) 

Jaz: Because that particular song and title and whole thing (Lulav snorts) reminds me that they slaughtered everybody except the virgins. 

Lulav: Oh yeah, good on me for choosing that. High five. (High five sound) But also, oh man. 

Jaz: Um, so, you have just enough of it to be haunting and to have it get stuck in your head, but… yeah, I mean, look: all Torah, I sort of maintain, has things that you can work with; I'm not over here being like, we should get rid of any of it. That's not the point that I'm trying to make — 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: But this one's pretty brutal. 

Lulav: And uh, it is my impression that it gets more brutal from here? 

Jaz: We'll get to it. 

Lulav: (morosely) Yeah. We do, after all, live in a material world. (Jaz laughs) I'm sorry, I don't even like Madonna that much?! Jaz, can you take us to the close? 

Jaz: Thanks for listening to Kosher Queers! If you like what you’ve heard this week, you can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/kosherqueers, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at kosherqueers@gmail.com, and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. Our sound production this week is done by my lovely co-host, Lulav Arnow. 

Lulav: (singing to the tune of Madonna's "Like A Virgin") Hey! (singing) I read this parsha for the very first time!

Jaz: Oh G-d.

Lulav: Our transcript team of Jaz, Reuben, DiCo, and Khesed brings you full transcripts of every episode. You can find a link to those in the episode descriptions on Buzzsprout.

Jaz: I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Ohlone people. 

Lulav: I’m Lulav Arnow and you can find me @spacetrucksix on Twitter, or yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg.

Jaz: And, actually, before we get to our last closing thing, I'm thinking about our land acknowledgement more — 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: As we're on a parsha that deals with people taking land, and when I say, like, we gotta reconcile with the horrors of things that are within our traditions, we gotta reconcile with the horrors that have been perpetrated on Native Americans here, too. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Anyway, not to leave you on that note, but. 

Lulav: (Cheerily) I mean, leaving it on that note, have a lovely queer Jewish day! (laughs)

[Brivele outro music]

Jaz: This week's gender is burning it. all. down. 

Lulav: This week's pronouns are bur and burn.