Adam and Eve

In this unit we will look at how the torah provides two accounts of the creation of Adam and Eve and consider approaches to what we can learn about the Torah’s approach to gender from this.

Resource Ages: 15-18

Source

Bereishit 1:27-28

27. And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

28. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

27. וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱ-לֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

28. ויְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱ-לֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱ-לֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכׇל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • What factors shape our values and beliefs?
  • How is the Torah story my story?
  • How do Jewish texts help me grapple with questions of life, the universe and everything?
  • How is Jewish text a vehicle to help us access connections to God?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What can we learn about the Torah’s approach to gender from the description of the creation of humankind in Bereishit?
  • Do you think men and women are the same?
  • Do men and women need to be the same to be equal?
  • Can we learn anything about alternative gender identities from the story of the creation of humankind?

Background for Teacher

Note to the educator: This unit explores the creation of Adam and Eve and how the Torah approaches gender. While the Torah and other classical Jewish texts saw gender as binary, and this is not necessarily the approach universally accepted by everyone in society...

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Note to the educator: This unit explores the creation of Adam and Eve and how the Torah approaches gender. While the Torah and other classical Jewish texts saw gender as binary, and this is not necessarily the approach universally accepted by everyone in society today, you will also notice that some of the texts presented here allow room for creative readings that are not limited to a binary view of gender.

 

Bereishit 1:26-28 and Bereishit 2:7, 15-23

The texts that follow refer to the two accounts of the creation of Adam and Eve found in chapters 1 and 2 of Bereishit, so they have been provided here for reference.

 

Bereshit Rabbah 8:1

Midrashic approaches to the 2 different biblical versions of the creation of Eve: The creation of humankind is often thought of as synonymous with the simultaneous creation of male and female. However, based on a reading of the verses in the early chapters of Bereshit, other possibilities are suggested. One is that the first human being was actually a hermaphrodite, a combination of both male and female biological sex characteristics in one body. A second is that the first being was actually created as two beings, connected back-to-back, like conjoined twins, and then separated. 

Precedent for alternative gender identities? What is interesting to see is that these two rabbis, Yirmiyah and Shmuel, are not being judgmental about the human being created in the first chapter. It is clear that for practical purposes of the propagation of the species, the human being had to be differentiated into male and female members. But the human being that is not strictly a biological male or strictly a biological female is no less a human being and is no less one of that species created in the image of God.

What is unclear from the text is the possible third position of the “other rabbis.” Were they satisfied with the answer they received from Rabbi Shmuel? Or would they continue thinking that there is indeed a conflict between the two chapters that still seeks a resolution?

 

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Niddah 45b

Talmudic wordplay to teach the difference between men and women: The talmudic context in which this statement is made relates to the age at which vows expressed are to be considered binding. The Talmud states that this age is one year earlier for girls than for boys, and this is because, so suggests the Talmud, women have greater “understanding” than men –the assumption being that they are therefore aware and understand the consequences of their words at an earlier age than males. The Talmud uses the text from Bereshit as the prooftext for this notion.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Bereishit, three verbs of construction are found, baro, yatzor, and asoh. This talmudic passage highlights a fourth such verb used by the verses of Bereshit, בנה (banoh) when describing the creation of Eve in chapter 2, which means “to build.” Finding the usage of this verb to be odd, the Talmud offers a midrashic interpretation that links the verb used by the verse, ויבן (vayiven), not to the root meaning “to build,” but to the root meaning “to understand” – ב.י.ן (b-i-n). This interpretation of the verb yields that God endowed “the side” or “the rib,” meaning the woman, with understanding.

A Talmudic approach to Gender differences: How does the Talmud derive the idea that the woman’s understanding is greater than the man’s? To appreciate this, one must see the entire biblical passage (Bereshit 2:22) as interpreted by the Talmud – 

God endowed the side that God had taken with understanding that exceeds that of the man. 

It is fascinating to see an ancient Jewish text that finds human aspects in which women are superior to men. Another such talmudic statement can be found in Tractate Berakhot 10b where women are found to be more astute about their guests than the men, perhaps an example of the manifestation of their greater understanding. 

While this talmudic passage is surprising, as this ancient text points out how women are superior to men in some qualities, it is also surprising in another facet – ultimately this text argues for inequality between people. This next text offers a different take on the verses.

Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Bereshit 2:21

Ancient precedent for gender equality: The Torah’s description of the creation of woman from the צֵלָע (tzela) of the adam is commonly understood to mean that God took a rib from Adam and used it to create Chavah. Abravanel interprets the verses to teach that although the verse establishes that the woman was intended as an aide to the previously existing adam, that she was fashioned from a rib of that adam is meant to signal her sharing an equal stature and rank with that adam. There is no intent in the verse that she is to be subservient to the adam nor should she be lording it over the adam. Abravanel cites the Talmud about women having greater understanding just before this selection, but he hopes it will not lead to an imbalance of powers between a husband and a wife. According to this understanding, the description of Chavah’s creation is meant to convey an important, perhaps even revolutionary, idea about the position of women in society. Noting that this commentary was written in late 15th-century Spain certainly offers a critical, perhaps unexpected, insight into the Jewish view of women at that time.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities

Show your students the following National Geographic video as a trigger for considering what we can learn about being human from the story of creation and Adam and Eve. Consider discussing the following questions with your class:

    • Why is it important to know about our origins as a species?
    • Where and how can we learn about this?
    • Is the Torah a legitimate source for this? Why? 
    • What do you think the Torah does teach us about the origin of gender and what it means to be male and female?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

The issue of gender today is a complex and emotive issue that is beyond the scope of this unit (although you could use this unit as a launching pad for a more in depth exploration of these issues if you so choose). This unit focuses more on the text of Beresihit as a starting point to understand the Torah’s approach to gender (with the help of Talmudic, midrashic, and medieval texts).

The first source is a midrash with two approaches to the apparently conflicting descriptions of the creation of Adam and Eve (in Beresihit 1 they are created together, and in Beresishit 2 Eve comes from Adam’s rib). The first approach, that of R. Yirmiyah, is that the first human was both both male and female, and the  second, that of R. Shmuel, was that the first human was created as two beings, connected back-to-back, like conjoined twins. Both see chapter 2 as a postscript to the story, where the first human was separated into two, one male and one female. There are many issues that can be discussed and explored from this text, and these questions may prove useful for this:

  • What problem in the Torah text does this midrash help solve?
  • What are the differences between the two approaches?
  • What do you think we can learn about the Torah’s approach to gender from each of the approaches?
  • How do you feel about these approaches to gender?

The next text is a Talmudic source that uses a wordplay to radically reinterpret the episode of the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam. The text taken at face value could be used to argue that women are subservient or secondary to men as they were created from man. The Talmud flips this on its head, and argues that women are superior to men in their intellect. The following questions can be used to explore this further:

  • Apart from obvious physical differences, do you think men and women are exactly the same? If not, how are they different?
  • Do they need to be the same to be equal?
  • Why do you think this talmudic source reinterprets the story of how Eve was created?
  • Do women and men think in exactly the same way?

The final text in this unit goes to length to understand the creation of Eve not to mean that she (and therefore women in general) are subservient to Adam/men. Rather, the Abravanel maintains that the story of the way God created Eve tells us that in the home they are equal to man/their husbands. He focuses on the home, without referring to her role and status outside the home. It has taken many centuries for women to gain equality outside of the home in both secular and Jewish society (and some would argue in some communities Jewish women have yet to achieve full equality). The following questions explore some of these themes:

  • Why do you think the Abravanel feels the need to point out that Eve/women are equal to their husbands in the home?
  • Is this your understanding of the reality in Jewish society?
  • Why does the text stress the home? What about outside of the home?
  • Do you feel women are equal in your Jewish community? Has this changed over the generations? Do you think there is room for more change in this 
  • What realities in society may Abarbanel be addressing/ challenging?
  • Is it surprising to see a 15th century  Jewish commentary expressing this view?
  • How does Abarbanel’s view of women compare with contemporary society’s view of women?

Hold a debate in your class about gender. Some suggested topics could be:

    •  This house believes that gender equality will never be obtained.
    • Should boys and girls learn different things at school?
    • This house believes there are some professions that women are better suited to and some that men are better suited to.
    • This house believes that there have been fewer female world leaders because western society is inherently sexist.
    • Female athletes should be paid the same as their male counterparts.
    • This house believes that men are better decision-makers.
    • This house believes that women are better communicators.
    • This house believes that corporate office culture is sexist and discriminates against women.