Nechemia Eight: Egalitarianism

The people gather in the public square and Ezra, who is referred to as ‘the scholar’ does a public reading of the Torah. “And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month (Nehemia 8:2).” First, it looks like this is the precursor to our modern Sukkot celebration, which is interesting to read now, during the holiday of Pesach. Both are holidays that celebrate redemption, and honor seasonal change, albeit by bookending the calendar at different times of the year. But what I really like about this verse is that it specifically emphasizes that both men and women gathered to hear the Torah be read publicly. It demonstrates that the narrator of the text thought of women as being as capable as men in terms of understanding the words and meaning of the text, which obviously I agree with. But even today, unfortunately it’s something that needs to be said explicitly in many circles, rather than being an obvious matter. So it’s nice to see this precursor, however brief, for egalitarianism in this most ancient of texts.

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