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The Curse of Eve

The Curse of Eve

A Jewish Perspective on Women in Society

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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.

Tova Bernbaum is a freelance writer living in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York.
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Anonymous September 24, 2017

Your saying we should speak up if were being treated less then equal, that this is a curse we should fight. But isn't that what Lilith did? She was cursed for wanting equality. Please expound on that. Reply

Shoshana GA August 21, 2017

One thing is for sure there were no actual fruits involved. The nachash or shinny one as the tree of Good and Evil sold Eve a pack of lies that Adam promptly bought into. Upon seeing this shinny glimmering creature, also called a snake, what did Eve think? I mean all she had to go by is what Adam said. If the adversary fooled 1/3 of the angels, why not Eve? He added to Torah and questioned its validity. Reply

M. Diane August 14, 2017

"I would be lying if I didn't admit that every time I hear that line I want to declare myself a heathen."

What a laugh you gave me. Thank you!

But seriously, it would be great to discuss some of this if there were more than 1,000 characters to respond to your meaty article. I won't attempt it with this limitation.There is too much I would like to share on the topic.

I hope you see there should at least be room for intelligent, thoughtful, respectful people to have differing points of view on the issues you raise in your article and that those not agreeing with each other won't all be suffering some unfortunate mental condition.

If we want people to live lives they want - conforming with Torah- why would we want a couple, who feels wife's submissive attitude in relation to her husband contributes to a lovely marital state, to feel they're viewed as backward?

You mention slavery as if it's always negative. That is another issue worthy of serious, patient, open-minded discussion. Reply

Shoshana GA May 12, 2016

The Curse You correctly state:"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."
I ask: Isnt this what we have been doing all this time, adding and taking from Torah? I mean really, the star, the kippa and the Hillel calendar, what are they if not just that? Reply

Anonymous Philadelphia February 6, 2016

The curse of eve All of the men I've talked with about this have said the same thing. We would be a little angered at ourselves for not protecting our wife from a scoundrel, the snake, and hashem would've known that. Eve like most women no doubt believed in the good of all and the snake being a scoundrel played on that. I've full confidence that hashem meant for us to be more protective of women. I would like to say there is a difference in dominant (protective) behavior and domineering (abusive) behavior. I've made sure my daughters know the difference and that I'm an example to others in this way. Reply

Anonymous London, Ont/Can via chabadwestern.org December 3, 2014

The Curse of Eve I don't think G-d was cursing either Man or Woman but that he was telling them that there situation had changed from being under there loving creator to being under the snakes authority, that they had changed who there god was, that there god was the snake and being under a lower created thing they were in fact under a curse instead of begin under a loving creator and would have a fight on there hands to get there position back to where they were created to be (under there true G-d). Take a look at the world how it is today, very few people know the true (G-d) all nations drift farther and farther away. Only a few believe in the true G-d. Only by reading the Torah do we begin to see where the problem started. And only with the understanding of the Torah do we come closer to the true Creator and begin to get our lives strengthened out. G-d bless Israel for preserving the Torah and translating the Torah so that people would learn the story of how to walk with G-d as Abraham did. Reply

Anonymous Salem October 15, 2014

There was no curse on Eve Go back and read your Torah again: the only curses are on the snake and on the earth. Neither Adam NOR Eve are cursed! There are consequences for their choices, but no curse. Try to help get the truth out there instead of repeating the same old misuses of the text. Reply

little bob bolivar mo. February 27, 2014

turn around not lying down try turning around do not be like Adam and blaming...GOD... Adam said the woman...YOU...gave me she gave it to me.. Eve was deceived Adam ate willing Reply

Michael Greensboro November 16, 2013

Law & Order not equality! I disagree. Our purpose on earth is to establish the Truth; the correct Way. The Law is G-d's will, but it does not necessarily entail "equality." Perhaps in Gan Edan the female could be dominate, but that was a different world. In this world the man is the dominate not because men say so, but rather because G-d Himself has already decreed it. It is not about equality, but rather about what is right vs. what is wrong. Men should themselves not alter what G-d has himself ordained. However, Torah does believe in equality, but it is not the same equality that exist in our society today. Everyone should be equal under the Law King and slave are subject to Torah, but nowhere does Torah say that a slave should become King. Even king David was chastised for adultery. We should not disregard the dismal statistics that single mothers with children are the most prevalent on welfare in the U.S. King over subject; father over son; mother over daughter; yes, even husband over wife. Reply

Anonymous August 12, 2017
in response to Michael :

In your way of thinking you are perpetuating the world of the fallen Adam not the fulfillment of the return to Eden.

In Hashems eyes we are all the same. There's no gender only humanity. Reply

chris australia February 3, 2013

Eve's curse As a woman I am just looking forward to a time when Eve'scurse is lifted...and wondering what that will literally look and feel like!! Reply

Ann Frisco, Tx September 27, 2012

And he shall rule over thee Prior to this subject line, God said "and your desire shall be toward your husband AND he shall rule over thee." In the bibles I looked at, there is only a comma and not a semi colon as in the curse mentioned before. So if we connect these two parts as it seems to be implied that there is a connection, then because my desire is toward my husband he will be able to rule over me. It is of my own doing that he rules me, not his doing. The curse is that my desire is toward my husband rather than putting God as my number one desire. And I do believe that is the main downfall in relationships. Both man and wife need to put God first and each other second. Reply

Bonelle USA September 23, 2012

Woman Thank you so much for your article and all of your comments. I have been pondering and wrestling with myself for the majority of my life with this very topic. I do not believe in playing the blame game. What I do believe is that we were created with a purpose in mind. Our purpose was not to spend the entirety of our lives in Eden but G-d had a much more purposeful and devine reason for creating us. Had we not sinned we would have stayed in paradise with the Lord and while this is the desire for any being, we were not created to stay in paradise. We are here to find our way back to paradise, ie. Home with the Lord. We were created to invite the entire world to commune with the Lord, to introduce all of humanity to Him. Had we stayed in paradise, how would anyone ever know that there was and still is today, a battle to be fought. How would we have created our children? How would we know what it was like to be a Father? We have turned those curses into blessings. No more room Reply

Jerusalem g September 22, 2012

This article was quite depressing, equal pay and torture are both sexism issues?! How about misogyny and human rights. So All of a sudden being modest and not dominate means that we are in a lower social status?! Women are the treasure of the Jewish people, we will bring Moshiach not by arguing, not by fighting, but by lovin ourselves and using the tools and characteristics that make women unique to heal the world and spread more light! Reply

Anonymous Burgaw, North Carolina January 30, 2012

Blaming women It really makes no sense to blame the women of today's world for something that happend thousands of years ago. Reply

Jordyn December 18, 2011

maybe Adam should have had more will power. Why is Eve to blame, in the end it was Adam who decided to eat the fruit. Reply

Metaphysician Brooklyn, New York September 28, 2011

Eve was not Adam's first wife! Lilith was Adam's first wife and she was banished form the garden of Eden because she was a non-conformist. She refused to submit to Adam's will to dominate her sexually. The Bible and many other religious texts were written by misogynist! It is unbelievable how a woman will assume a role in which she is not equal to her male counterpart. Reply

Gretchen Goshen, IN November 15, 2010

Eve's curse I have recently been pondering the curse of Eve given the translation of Eve's desire being for her husband. I am a 28 year old woman who has longed for a romantic relationship with a man my whole life. I have constantly sought affirmation from men and desired their notice and attention. I have recently realized that this has been a damaging way of living my life. I no longer want my desire to be for "my husband" or any man (including a male G-d). I am whole and complete in myself and that is where my connection with G-d is strongest. I still struggle, but I am learning to give myself the attention and notice that I deserve. I am healthier this way. Reply

Anonymous Union, NJ July 12, 2010

So it's Adam's fault? Tova,

Logic would dictate, that had Eve done as Adam said and had just NOT TOUCH the tree there wouldn't have been a chance of her eating from the tree. So please, don't try to blame Adam for not "communicating" properly, when it was her fault for not listening properly.

The story is a lesson for men. Fear G-d and His commandments more than you desire or fear a woman. Put your foot down and so NO, no matter how much they whine. Reply

Amy August 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Adam set the dolly in motion by not relating the command exactly as Hashem stated. Eve was easily duped by the snake because the snake disassembled Adams extra addition to the command.
Adam didn't take responsibility for his pet in the sun he blamed Eve and Eve the snake. Perhaps the real lesson here is taking responsibility for our own actions and all that goes with it.
Our roles are a testament to that in more ways than one. Reply

Anonymous Spring, TX November 24, 2009

equal pay for equal work I suggest you learn about Call Centers - many Fortune 500 companies use them. Not only is there unequal pay upon hiring between men and woman (I have experienced it) ], the population of workers tends to be predominately women. Also, in an effort to further escape paying fairly and avoid giving benefit packages these same companies are/have moved their call centers out of the U.S. to ex. Manila or India. Reply

wendy Geneseo, NY March 16, 2009

In the garden One thing I was shown long ago is, nowhere does it say Eve had to run and get Adam. He was right there. His job was to tend the garden and he should've removed the snake, yet he was just as entranced with sin as Eve.Together they dared disobey Hashem and together they suffer until He returns and all is holy and clean again. Reply

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