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Kenneth Cohen

Responsa

The incident of the daughters of Tzlofchat, is very interesting on many levels. The first point of note is that these five sisters had a great love of Israel. Some say that the women, in general, loved the land more than the men. They did not believe the evil report of the spies, as the men did.

Another point of interest is that the laws of inheritance were clarified after the protest of the daughters of Tzlofchat. They saw the land being divided among the men, and they felt short changed, as there were no male heirs in their family. Following their questioning of Moshe, Hashem laid out the order of inheritance if there is no son or daughter. This is the basis for all of the questions raised in יש נוחלין, a chapter in Baba Batra.

It is also interesting to note that this incident became the example of how later responsa would work. In this case, a problem was raised that had not been addressed previously in the text. And because of the direct line to G-d, they were given an answer by the Al-mighty Himself.

Throughout history, many questions arose that were not addressed specifically in the Torah. The Rabbis were granted the authority to use their knowledge of Torah to answer all types of questions.

For example, when the synagogue became the focal point of Jewish life, it brought with it many precedent setting cases. Was a criminal allowed to receive honors during prayers? What about individuals whose credentials validating their Jewishness was in question. Should prayers be said for the welfare of their country of residence? The new reality, posed new questions.

In modern times, leading rabbi’s had to deal with questions of science and technology. Could artificial insemination be permitted according to Halacha? When the internet was discovered, the question arose as to whether we were allowed to delete an e-mail that contained G-d’s holy Name. Weren’t we commanded not to erase the Name?

The daughters of Tzlofchat and their query, began this process that allows us to rely on the wisdom of our Torah scholars. This is why we emphasize that both the Written Law and Oral Law were given by G-d on Sinai. We must respect and follow both teachings equally, and this is what makes Torah study so fascinating.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at www.cafehebrew.com