Nitzavim: Something to Notice

This portion contains oft-quoted verses about Torah’s accessibility:

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:11-14

It also contains verses that are among the most inclusive and/or the most exclusive in the Torah:

You [atem] stand this day, all of you [kulchem], before the LORD your God — you[r]* tribal heads, you[r]* elders and you[r]* officials, all the men of Israel, you[r]* children [tapchem], you[r]* women [n’sheichem], even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer — to enter into the covenant of your God YHVH, which your God YHVH is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those [et-asher] who are standing here with us this day before the LORD your God and with those [et asher] who are not with us here this day.
Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:9-14

The asterisks above indicate a second-person masculine plural “chem,” and n’sheichem is usually translated as “your wives.” This would suggest that only men are being addressed: Although the masculine ending can include mixed gender groups, it seems hardly likely that women were included in a group being addressed about “your wives.”

However, the Plaut/Stein translation in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary drops off the “r” — “you tribal leaders, etc.” — and replaces the more common “your wives” with “you women.” This, the editors explain, is to “convey the understanding that each of these subgroups is part of the larger collective whom Moses addresses in this passage.”

The volume also contains an essay by Dianne Cohler-Esses on this passage and the portion’s “rich, powerful — even revolutionary — concepts that can be used to further the creations of a feminist Judaism.”

Her essay mentions earlier feminist scholars — Phyllis Trible, Tikva Frymer-Kensy, Carol Myers — who discussed biblical male-centeredness but also “highlighted a number of potentially mitigating or even redemptive elements concerning women.” She does not offer citations, however. Nor does she mention Debra Ornstein, who wrote “including the one who is not here” in 1997, or Ellen Frankel, who wrote about the “A Hierarchy of Listeners” in 1996.

A Few Not Cited

Debra Orenstein, on Deuteronomy:

“Including The One Who Is Not Here”

In Exodus, Moses excluded women with the warning that “all” the people “stay away from a woman” in preparation for the Sinai experience (Ex. 19:15). In Deuteronomy, declarations regarding Sinai/Horeb transcend gender, as well as time. The phrase “we who are alive here today” allows for women’s inclusion. Other wording explicity includes all the people — children, wives/women, and strangers in the camp–in a reiteration of the covenant (Deut. 29:9-11). Even if women were excluded at first, they are included at last….

In Deuteronomy more than any other book of the Torah women are potentially and actually part of a national “we” (Deut 16:11, Ex. 34:23). Moreover, to the extent that women are alienated, we fit right in! Everyone is distanced and even alienated from the past– that is the collective, essential problem addressed by Deuteronomy.
— p.280, Lifecycles Volume II

Ellen Frankel on Nitzavim:

A Hierarchy of Listeners

HULDAH THE PREACHER TEACHES: In [Moses’] final discourse before his farewell elegy…women come after the leaders, the men, and the children, but before strangers and menial laborers. They are also not directly addressed; only the Men of Israel are included in the initial “you.” All others are “attached” to the men through the possessive pronoun “your.”

MIRIAM THE PROPHET POINTS OUT: And yet, intentionally or inadvertently, Moses leaves open the possibility that the circle of address will be expanded in the future, for he states that God’s covenant applies not only to the patriarchs and to their male descendants standing “HERE WITH US THIS DAY” but also to those “WHO ARE NOT WITH US TODAY” (29:14). In the Hebrew original, the word et (meaning “to” in this case) is not followed as it usually is by a direct object but instead leaves a suggestive vacancy. We can fill it in with our own names.


See Source Materials for full citations.

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