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Fathers and Daughters Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Aron

Saturday, December 6, 2014

This morning we have heard Jacob’s failings well enumerated by Alex and Craig I’d like to pick up that topic and add one more, Jacob’s failings as a father. His faults as a father of sons, are well known.  Next week and for the rest of the book of Genesis, we will be reading the story of Joseph, and seeing the profound effects of Jacob’s blind favoritism.

Jacob also had failings as the father of a daughter, Dinah, whose story Alex alluded to in her introduction. As you will see in the TV miniseries this week, “The Red Tent”, Jacob not only failed to protect Dinah from harm, he never consulted with her in terms of her future. His concerns seemed to be much more focused on community relations than on his daughter.

Other Biblical fathers of daughters don’t seem much better. There is Laban, Jacob’s role model, perhaps, who uses his daughters for his own purposes and Jepthah who ends up offering his daughter’s life in payment for a vow. King Saul first uses his daughter to lure David into fighting the Philistines for a bride price of 100 foreskins and then was willing to remove her from her husband, against her will, and return her to David, when that better suited his purpose. Things get a little better in rabbinic law, where though daughters can’t inherit, their needs are protected in certain ways.

In general though, Jewish fathers don’t seem to get the attention that Jewish mother’s get. We don’t have as many stereotypes about Jewish fathers as mothers, nor as many bad jokes.

Whatever is lacking though in popular culture, Jewish history does provide us with some very positive examples of Father Daughter relationships.

The first is Bruriah, the outstanding women scholar of the Talmud. She was the daughter of Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon, one of the ten rabbis martyred by the Romans, whose story is part of the Avodah service on Yom Kippur afternoon. He not only allowed his daughter to learn but encouraged her, even to the extent of allowing her to disagree with him in public on halachic issues. The Talmud tells the story of Bruriah challenging one of her father’s legal decisions and the other rabbis supporting her opinion. That she was a quick learner we know from the story of the day she learned 300 halachot. She was also a woman of great fortitude in the face of difficulties in her own life.

Rashi, the most famous of medieval Biblical commentators, is also well known for having taught his daughters. Having no sons, he shared his study of Talmud with them in ways that were unusual in that time and place. The story of Rashi’s Daughters, has taken on new life in the modern historical novels about them written by Maggie Anton, who coincidentally will be at JCC this Sunday talking about her new series about Rav Hisda’s daughter.

There is one more recent woman to add to this enumeration of daughters who received significant encouragement from their fathers and that is Judith Kaplan Eisenstein- who’s Bat Mitzvah in 1922 was the very first in history. Her father, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, was teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary at the time and having no sons, began to think about his daughter’s coming of age. Judith was very nervous coming up to the bimah in her synagogue, where men and women were still sitting separately. Later on the 70th anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah in 1992 she reminisced about the experience and about the encouragement her father gave her to step out of the limited roles for women at that time. She went on to become a famous musicologist and some of her settings of the prayers are still sung commonly today, like the simple Mah Tovu.

Alex and Craig, it is very special to have you sharing the bimah this morning and I hope that the closeness you have experiences through this process continues throughout your lives. The encouragement of fathers is thought to be a key aspect of women’s success- Alex you are set to go.


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