Friday, June 28, 2013

Genealogical thoughts on the weekly Torah portion

In the Jewish tradition, the Torah (aka “The Pentateuch” or “The Five Books of Moses”) is divided into weekly readings. The same passage is read every year at the same time on the Hebrew calendar. Each reading is referred to by the first unique Hebrew word in the passage. This week’s passage, Pinchas, covers Numbers 25:10-30:1, and there are two chapters with obvious genealogical tie-ins. I also feel one of these two chapters is doubly meaningful for this week.
Chapter 26:
1 the Lord said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest,
2 "Take a census of the whole Israelite community from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelites able to bear arms."
This is the second census taken in the Book of Numbers. The first was taken in Chapter One, at the start of the 40 years wandering in the desert. There were 603,550 enumerated. The count in Chapter 26 yields 601,730. A decrease. We are told only three individuals remain from the original census: Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. Naturally, we aren't given a complete transcription of either census (wouldn't that be wonderful?), but a summary, with only a few individuals highlighted. We have to rely on the accuracy of the source for the total figures.

Census records are of great use to genealogists, and where they don't exist, you will hear many complain.
Chapter 27
1 The daughters of Zelophehad…came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said,
3 "Our father died in the wilderness… and he has left no sons.
4 Let not our father's name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father's kinsmen
5 Moses brought their case before the Lord.
6 And the Lord said to Moses,
7 "The plea of Zelophehad's daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father's kinsmen; transfer their father's share to them.
Probate and land records are also very useful for genealogists.

However, perhaps the biggest take-away I get from this passage this week doesn't have anything to do with genealogy. Contrary to some opinion, the law isn't immutable. This biblical passage seems to be telling us: If you feel the law is treating you unfairly, take your case to the proper authorities (be it G-d or the Courts), and explain to them how you are being treated unfairly. If your cause is just (and the time is right) they will listen. The law can change.

Of course, I mentioned back in March, that Politics and Religion can't be separated from genealogy.

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