Pride and Prejudice and the Laws of Inheritance

It amazes me both how much Torah has shaped Western culture and how much misinterpretation of Torah has shaped Western culture. A recent reading of Jane Austen got me thinking about the fact that even in the last century English women could not inherit land, and the kind of desperation that caused. I don’t know if they trace this back to the Torah, but the usual claims and teaching about women’s rights to property in the Old Testament are generally wrong. Property right in ancient Israel reverted to the male lineage not because women could not own property, but so women and men could always have property. At the same time, household wealth and goods moved generally from mothers to daughters in the form of the dowry and the mohar (a conversation for an entire other post or two). On women inheriting property see Numbers 27 and 36 as well as Joshua 15. The land that was transferred in marriages and through sale reverted by inheritance or on the year of Jubilee so no family through remarriage or indebtedness ever was left landless. Whether this was practiced well is for the reader to decide, but what the LORD prescribed was equitable, generous and empowering to women. You may have criticisms of the Torah land prescription. I would chalk those up to pride or prejudice. I would say, 1500bce Israel was far more equitable than 19th century England.

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