Notes from Limmud 2008
The True Villain in the Garden of Eden
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. (Knowledge of feminist theory is not my forte either!) Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]
From the feminist perspective, there is a problem with the Creation narrative.
Genesis 2:18-19 בראשית ב יח-יט The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make for him a help suitable for him. Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was it's name. וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה־לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ׃ וַיִּצֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָאֲדָמָה כָּל־חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וַיָּבֵא אֶל־הָאָדָם לִרְאוֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא־לוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא־לוֹ הָאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה הוּא שְׁמוֹ׃
So the first candidates for Adam's companion are the animals! And then the woman is created as an afterthought, and out of man's flesh.
But the real problem lies of course in the story of the Garden of Eden:
Genesis 3:16 בראשית ג טז To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. אֶל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב תֵּלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּךְ׃
Clear male dominance here!
Eco-feminism seeks to locate a true villain in our thought which misleads us into the traditional reading. John Locke visualised human society being composed of independent human beings who have their own needs and are brought together by the need to be able to live together: the social contract. The individual comes first, though. This lead to documents in western civilisation enshrining human rights.
Physics echoed this: the universe was viewed being made of atoms, brought together by external forces into molecules, holding them together but allowing them to interact with each other.
Certain anomalies emerged, though: in physics it became clear there are entities that don't only function as particles; they can also be waves. And space, time and matter were discovered not to be absolute, but to be relative.
Likewise, in philosophy. Consider four people in the bow of a ship. They see a child drowning in the stormy sea. They don't know how to swim, and they all have families. There's no rope to throw to the child, and even if they hold one one to the other, there's no way to reach the child. The law of self-preservation says not to do anything. No court of law would consider them culpable for not jumping in. But if one person did jump in, not only would they not be considered insane, they would be admired, and inspired. That's the anomaly: the person is not acting as an individual.
Freud understood that a child is a screaming ego. You have to fulfil its needs. But Freud did not understand that the child can be supplied with everything but will not survive unless you pick it up.
The psychologist Carol Gilligan in the 80s started research at Harvard on a well-known problem in psychology. (See her book In A Different Voice.) It's well known adolescent women go through a period of psychic stress between the ages of 12 and 15, putting them at risk of anorexia, suicide, etc. It was traditionally assumed that this was due to the hormonal stress of going through adoscelence. The anomaly is that boys also go through such a period—but during the ages of three to five. Young boys stutter, they throw themselves out of windows (the Superman complex), they hurt themselves. This is clearly not hormonal, so perhaps it isn't for women either.
Gilligan interviewed lots of women, and further used the diaries of Anne Frank: "Mummy makes me so angry. She wants me to dress a certain way, and she gets angry when I sit on Daddy's lap."
Gilligan's premise was simple: What happens to girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen that also happens to boys between the ages of three and five? The answer: Boys of that age are told, by society if not their parents, not to cling, to stand on their own feet, to sleep in their own beds, etc. Girls still get to do this until they are twelve to fifteen. They are told, effectively, to separate theirselves.
For those extra years, girls continue to think of themselves not as individuals but connected to their parents. Gilligan's theory, termed the mutualistic model, says that essentially there's no difference between men and women; only the age of separation. Until twelve to fifteen, women understand the world as one of relationship, out of which the self emerges at the time of adolescence. Consider the contrast to Locke's view.
And what a drastic difference in how we consider life. Specifying one's ideal mate is not about ticking off a list of desired characteristics, but finding someone that you work perfectly with.
Arthur Schopenhauer on the Boat:
How is it that a human being can so participate in the danger of another that, forgetting his self-protection, he moves spontaneously to the other's rescue? How come, when the first law of nature is self-preservation, that is dispelled?
[The answer is] A metaphysical impulse that is deeper than the experience of separateness. You realise that you and the other are ONE.
"In the model of Locke, we conquer Everest. In this model, we befriend it."
Religious experience is an attitude of oneness not only to oneself, not only with one's fellow man, but with all life and, beyond that, with the universe.
Now the challenge is in front of us, can we re-read Genesis 2 and 3 through the spectacles of eco-feminism?
Genesis 2:4-2:8 בראשית ב ד-ב ח When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no shrub of the field was yet on earth, and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ בְּהִבָּרְאָם בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת ה׳ אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם׃ וְכֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ וְכָל־עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת־הָאֲדָמָה׃
What we're told here is what there isn't—of this organic paradigm, there are things missing, and because everything is relationship, it isn't going to work.
But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן־הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת־כָּל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה׃ וַיִּיצֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה׃ וַיִּטַּע ה׳ אֱלֹהִים גַּן־בְּעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם אֶת־הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר יָצָר׃
The water is not provided from up above, but out of the earth, out of the system. And man is formed both from earth and from G-d, because he has to be part of the whole in order for it to work.
Genesis 2:15 בראשית ב טו-ב טו The LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to till it and to tend to it. וַיִּקַּח ה׳ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן־עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ׃
This was not a paradise for man to enjoy; man had to work to maintain the garden, because he needs to be part of the system for it to work.
Genesis 2:18ff בראשית ב יח-ב יח The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה־לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ׃
כְּנֶגְדּוֹ ("suitable for him", but literally, "against him") is problematic, but it is also used for balancing scales; it can mean equality. Consider also. It's as a balance to him.
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name. וַיִּצֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָאֲדָמָה כָּל־חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וַיָּבֵא אֶל־הָאָדָם לִרְאוֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא־לוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא־לוֹ הָאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה הוּא שְׁמוֹ׃
Buber said one can have an I-thou relationship between human beings, with nature, and with art. Adam is forming a relationship with nature, not seeking for a mate!
The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam/the man, and he slept. He took one of his sides, and closed up the flesh beneath it. וַיַּפֵּל ה׳ אֱלֹהִים תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל־הָאָדָם וַיִּישָׁן וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר תַּחְתֶּנָּה׃
The "rib" is actually better translated as a "side". Why was Eve taken out of him? Because everything is taken out of something. The water came out of the earth, the shrubs can out of the earth. Hence Eve can be seen as the pinnacle of creation rather than an afterthought.
(Audience reaction: It's nice that the first woman came from man, as for the rest of eternity, man would always come from woman.)
The man said, This one at least is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה־זֹּאת׃ עַל־כֵּן יַעֲזָב־אִישׁ אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד׃
Paul Tillich wrote that in primitive societies there was truly no sense of death, because fear of death comes out of self-consciousness; but if self is not the organising principle, death to a great sense dissipates. Now consider Gen. 3, which tells us about the birth of death.
Genesis 3:6-19 בראשית ג The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise. She took of its fruit and ate, and gave also to the man with her; and he ate. Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה־הוּא לָעֵינַיִם וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּתֵּן גַּם־לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ וַיֹּאכַל׃ וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּדְעוּ כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת׃
What was the Tree of Knowledge? Knowledge of what? Self-consciousness. With this, one becomes capable of being shamed, because one can see oneself through the eyes of others.
They heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. The LORD God called unto Adam, saying to him, Where are you? He said, I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself. He said, Who told you you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree I commanded you not to eat of? וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת־קוֹל ה׳ אֱלֹהִים מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ מִפְּנֵי ה׳ אֱלֹהִים בְּתוֹךְ עֵץ הַגָּן׃ וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל־הָאָדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַיֶּכָּה׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת־קֹלְךָ שָׁמַעְתִּי בַּגָּן וָאִירָא כִּי־עֵירֹם אָנֹכִי וָאֵחָבֵא׃ וַיֹּאמֶר מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ כִּי עֵירֹם אָתָּה הֲמִן־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לְבִלְתִּי אֲכָל־מִמֶּנּוּ אָכָלְתָּ׃
We're about to confront the villain here:
The man said, The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate. וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי הִוא נָתְנָה־לִּי מִן־הָעֵץ וָאֹכֵל׃
The sin here is that man separates himself from the woman. It's this which constitutes the fall. Adam understands it as self-preservation, but at that moment the world changes.
The LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that you have done? The woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I ate. וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה מַה־זֹּאת עָשִׂית וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי וָאֹכֵל׃
We had unity between man and the animals beforehand, but now it's all gone. Consider how it might have gone different if the man had said, "We ate of it."
If that is the case, and the sin was in separation, what G-d now says is not a curse, but a description of what humanity already did to itself:
To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. אֶל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב תֵּלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּךְ׃
Natural forces will no longer feel natural. Other animals give birth without seeming to suffer so much pain. You have now separated yourselves from nature.
(Indeed, one of the techniques claimed for a painless childbirth is to go with the natural process.)
And to Adam He said, Because you listened to the voice of your wife, and ate of the tree, of which I commanded you saying not to eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return unto the ground; for out of it were you taken: for you are dust, and unto dust shall you return. וּלְאָדָם אָמַר כִּי־שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַתֹּאכַל מִן־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃ וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת־עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה׃ בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ כִּי־עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל־עָפָר תָּשׁוּב׃
(Beforehand it was earth from which Adam was taken; now it's dust.)
Christianity saw these passages as a curse, as normative: this is the way the world is and will be. But in Judaism there were traditions which saw it as descriptive:
There are three times where the word used for "desire" or "lust" is used. Genesis is one, in G-d's speech to Eve above; another is in the Song of Songs, which is to an extent a recreation of the Garden of Eden: everything is lush, humans and animals get along, etc.
Song of Solomon 7:11 שיר השירים ז יא-ז יא I am my beloved's and his desire is for me. אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ׃
The whole world is not worth as much as the day when the Song of Songs was given.
This is not coincidence: When you have a word which is as rare as this, it shows that Song of Songs is acting as a commentary upon Gen. 2-3. In Gen. 3 it was the woman who had desire for the man; here it's the man who has desire for the woman.