Women of Distinction

Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah the Activists – Parshat Pinchas

Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah are commonly referred to as Bnot Tzelafchad, the daughters of Tzelafchad, but these five daughters are women in their own right so we’ll refer to them by their names. Their influence set a precedent for the Jewish laws of inheritance for years to come and their ability to invoke change when necessary is something we “modern” Jews can all learn from – men and women alike.

What did Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah do?

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Pinchas, the Jews are about to cross into Israel and they’re told that land would be awarded by lottery. They’re also told that when a man dies, the land would be transferred to his son, ensuring that the land would remain in the possession of the same tribe. The problem with this is that Tzelafchad did not have any sons (26:33).

So Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah decided to do something about it. They came up with a well crafted argument and brought it to Moshe saying “Why should our father’s name be eliminated because he had no son? Give us a portion, along with his brothers” (27:4).Moshe brought the case to God and it was decided that not only should Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah get Tzelfchad’s land, but that all land owned by a man with no sons should be transferred to his daughters (27:8).

They changed the laws of inheritance in favor of women – sounds like a win! But what happened after this ruling?

In Parshat Masei, a few weeks from now, the relatives of Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah complained that if the women were to marry a man outside the tribe of Menashe, the land would be transferred to another tribe, which defeats the entire purpose of giving Tzelafchad’s daughters the land. So all five women married within their tribe and this halacha to only marry within your tribe was instituted for every woman inheriting land in that generation.

Eventually, on the 15th of Av, also known as Tu Ba’av, members of one tribe were permitted to enter another tribe through intermarriage (Taanit 30b).

This is one of the many reasons we celebrate Tu Ba’av and it’s all due to the activism of three strong women who understood their value and fought for it. At a time when much of the Orthodox world seems to be moving backward, we can all look to Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah for inspiration.

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About the author


Yafit is a high school English teacher, wife, avid Torah reader, globetrotter, animal lover, New Yorker, and writer. She is on a mission to learn about, talk about, and write about every woman in Tanach.

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