Not Safe for Mother’s Day

Are arakhin misogynistic? Leviticus 27, which we’ll read this coming Shabbat, sets valuations by gender and age (vv. 3-7).

The valuation you are to assign to a man between the ages of twenty and sixty years is to be fifty shekels of silver, with the sanctuary shekel being the standard; if a woman, thirty shekels. If it is a child five to twenty years old, assign a valuation of twenty shekels for a boy and ten for a girl; if a baby one month to five years of age, five shekels for a boy and three for a girl; if a person past sixty, fifteen shekels for a man and ten for a woman.

This is not one’s theoretical worth on the slave market (damim), which of course varies by training, intelligence and aptitude. Hezekiah (Talmud Arakhin 19a) famously states that “An old man in the house is a plague; an old woman in the house is a treasure” to explain why the relative gap narrows after age 60. (Rashi explicitly says that the former is “only a burden,” while the latter “can work hard and labor in her old age.”)

Yet the “plague” is still worth more (15 shekel) than the “treasure” (10). By stunning coincidence, the maximum valuation of a woman, 30 shekel, is the fine you pay if your ox gores a slave, male or female (Exodus 21:32). Yet the valuation of a male slave (or random non-Jew) is still more than that of a freeborn Jewish woman–50!

What makes this even more perplexing is that this is in the context of the Tabernacle, to which the money is given. The Torah explicitly states that both men and women took an active part in putting the Tabernacle together.

 Both men and women came, as many as had willing hearts; they brought nose-rings, earrings, signet-rings, belts, all kinds of gold jewelry… All the women who were skilled at spinning got to work and brought what they had spun, the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the fine linen. Likewise the women whose heart stirred them to use their skill spun the goat’s hair… Thus every man and woman of the people of Israel whose heart impelled him to contribute to any of the work Lord had ordered through Moshe brought it to Lord as a voluntary offering.

So why does the “valuation of souls/ lives” (Lev. 27:2) make such a distinction and value judgement?

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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