All About Eve

Once in a while, current events line up perfectly with the week’s Torah portion. So even though sometimes it feels like we’re approaching the end of civilized life, we actually find some parallels in the story of creation, which we read this week in Parshat Breisheet, comprised of the very first chapters of the Torah.

A traditional reading of this familiar story has Adam and Eve living a nice peaceful life in the Garden of Eden. Everything is provided; they don’t have to worry about finding food, picking out what to wear, or dealing with aches and pains as they get out of bed every morning. Sweet. Just one litttttllllle rule that anyone could handle: Out of the entire garden, please just stay away from that tree. Oh, the volumes that could be written on why that one forbidden tree was conveniently placed right there. (Adam’s lawyer was the first to use the “fruit of the poisonous tree” defense. The judge overruled the objection.)

We know what happens next. Eve is tricked by the serpent into eating the fruit. Having enjoyed the taste, she figures she might as well get Adam to start eating more healthy foods—and offers it to him. He takes a bite, realizes what he and Eve are not wearing, and the rest is history. God tells them, “You had one job…” and kicks them out of their cushy living arrangements.

Ok, so who’s to blame? Who messed up? Was this truly an accident with profound consequences, or was there something more going on?

Eve usually gets the blame. After all, she was the one who fell for the old serpent-in-the-garden trick, took the first bite, and then to make matters worse, involved innocent Adam in the action. Christians traditionally consider this the “original sin,” and while both Adam and Eve were culpable, Eve was the one who initiated it. Adam is almost painted as a victim of her actions.

Maybe God is really the character who is at fault. He put the tree there in the first place and then created the serpent to entice Eve. Certainly none of this had to happen at all had God just provided a safe environment for the only two humans in the world.

Adam, however, is the weakest character of all. He shows no initiative, demonstrates no responsibility, and is completely passive throughout the whole narrative.

“Here,” Eve says, “eat this fruit.” “Sure. Hmmm, that’s good.”

Later when God challenges Adam, God asks, “Did you eat that fruit I told you not to?”

Classic response: “The woman that you put here with me—she gave it to me.” Adam would have made an outstanding Supreme Court nominee.

Punishments are then handed out. The serpent is sentenced to crawl and scare women from then on. Women will need epidurals during childbirth. And the most telling and profound consequence for Adam: he will have to till the ground himself and work for a living.

And here’s where I see Eve as the true mastermind of this story. In many ways, she was humanity’s first feminist. She wasn’t interested in being with a guy who lived a lazy lifestyle and had everything provided for him by Dad. So with deliberate intention and full acceptance of the consequences, she gave Adam a bite of the fruit, basically telling him—It’s time for us to move out of your parents’ house so we can support ourselves. We have to make our own way in the world, and it will involve a lot of hard work. I’m ready.

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about entitlement and privilege, particularly among males. Eve was the very first person to challenge that status quo—it’s time she gets the proper credit.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

1 comment on “All About Eve

  1. Tali Isaacs Axelrod

    I LOVE this feminist take on the Adam and Eve story – it’s wonderfully inspiring during these dark times.


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