A womens perspective on Bereshit

This is an exceptional item that is deserving of a repost.  I hope JewglePerth readers enjoy it and can appreciate the sentiment expressed.

THE CURSE OF EVE

TOVA BERNBAUM (Chabad.org)

Fighting for equality can be a depressing sport at times. No matter how many women advance to positions of power, and in spite of all those progressive action flicks out to prove that scantily-clad blondes can karate chop and headbutt just as well as the men, there is still a grave imbalance in this world. This is the 21st century – we have instantaneous communication, XM radio, and G-d’s gift to the cinephile, the DVD – yet women in this country are paid less than men for doing the same job, while women in other countries are currently being beaten, tortured, and imprisoned unjustly, all with the sanction of their governments and communities.

Of course, just as my DVD player sometimes freezes up and crashes, the promises of social progress don’t always pan out in reality. When I consider the injustices women have suffered throughout history and the battles still being fought today in regions such as Africa and the Middle East, I feel like there must be something about sexism that defies logical explanation. Technology and modernism advertise the promise of enlightenment, yet gender discrimination lingers on, as if the quality of unfairness is so ingrained in humankind that its elimination seems all but impossible.

It’s a defeatist thought, I realize, but not entirely unfounded. There is a primordial aspect to the struggle for equality, as we will read in this week’s Torah reading of Bereishit (Genesis 1-6). It’s been almost 6,000 years since Adam and Eve defied G-d and ate from the Tree of Knowledge on what was their first day in existence, yet their story still has an uncanny influence on gender politics. The image of woman as evil temptress persists to this day, and not just in the religious sphere. Eve is an oft-employed motif in art, literature and music. Though in modern times, she is portrayed less as the negative feminine influence and more like a symbol of the bridge between innocence and experience, her story still remains lodged in society’s subconscious. Every time a woman is faulted for leading a man to evil thoughts or behavior, we are harking back to the era of Eden. The offensive notion that a woman can provoke rape or molestation by the way she looks is also a byproduct of this mentality. Strangely enough, this thought pattern exists in non-Biblical societies as well. The laws in many Muslim countries which require women to cover up from head to toe are clearly based on a fear of women’s influence.

Interestingly, this portrayal of Eve as an icon of feminine deceit is featured more in Christian liturgy than in Jewish works, which may be linked to Judaism’s divergent interpretation of the Original Sin. According to the Torah, the story of Adam and Eve is far more complex than a simple “she led him to sin” tale. Our sages explain that G-d commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and to relay the message to his wife. However, rather than entrusting Eve with G-d’s exact commandment, Adam informed her that they were forbidden to touch the tree. He intended the addition as a safeguard, but the misinformation made Eve vulnerable to the trickery of the snake, who enticed her into sin by first proving that nothing bad will happen if she merely touches the tree. Thus, the birth of sin was not just the story of a seductive woman luring man into evil; it’s also the world’s first male-female miscommunication, laying the ground work for many, many more to come. (This mistake was later rectified when, prior to the giving of the Torah, G-d commanded Moses to teach the laws to the women first.)

But even if you reconcile the issue by placing equal blame, there is still the matter of the curses. Adam and Eve both received punishments for their transgression, affecting all men and women of future generations, but Eve’s curses included the added shame of subordination. G-d said “And he shall dominate you,” and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that every time I hear that line I want to declare myself a heathen. But even more troubling than the curse itself is the way I’ve seen it used to justify maintaining the status quo of male dominance. Mostly, I hear the argument from men, but some women are affected by this mentality, too. They contend that sexism is woven into the fabric of creation, as if existence itself would somehow unravel if we were to end gender inequality.

Not only are these women suffering from a kind of slave mentality, they are also overlooking a simple truth: a curse is not a positive or desirable condition. In fact, describing something as a “curse” means just the opposite — that this is not the way things ought to be. Nor does the fact that G-d is the author of a curse imply that G-d wants us to accept it as a fact of life — at least not in the Jewish tradition, it doesn’t. The Jewish people, for example, were punished to wander throughout history as strangers in a strange land, but we certainly didn’t expel ourselves from various countries just to fulfill this punishment. In fact, we believe that G-d wants us to do everything in our power to get out of exile.

Yes, G-d relegated Eve to a lesser social status and said that she’ll endure painful childbirth, but that does not imply a divine commandment to accept less pay for the same work, or refuse epidurals. G-d said that this is a curse — something negative, reflecting the negative change that occurred in creation with the first sin. In other words, something to change.

Fighting inequality, arguing your point, revolting against the old guard — this is the stuff Judaism is made of. G-d doesn’t want a nation who will take its curses lying down. If He did, He wouldn’t have chosen the Jews.