Ten Curses of Eve (updated)

There are many, many arguments made by various Orthodox Jews against feminism and equality for women. Trust me, I've heard them all. Or at least as many as I can stomach without puking. Some of them are based on "“And he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16), which is part of the curse that Eve got after she ate from the Tree of Knowledge. This article by Professor Berel Dov Lerner points out, as others have, that this is a curse, like the curse of painful childbirth and having to eek out food from the earth. Like these other two curses, this curse can be overturned through various forms of human ingenuity. The article also presents sources that have Eve receiving ten curses, some of which may also be overturned. Prof. Lerner also debunks the myth of the "traditional view of esteemed womanhood," or whatever you want to call that "but women are homemakers which Judaism views as the most important task of all!" apologetics. He draws on some fairly disturbing (from a modern point of view) sources, but the way he weaves them together, and his analysis of them, is fascinating.

(Sorry for the long silence. I have my usual batch of posts waiting to be posted, but this one--originally written on from May 3--is the only "quickie." The rest are sort of serious and require more editing and thought and such, and I'm also trying to get more sleep than I've been getting. So more longish absences may be expected in the future as well.)


David said...

That's an interesting and powerful article. I had been blissfully unaware of the level of misogyny expressed by the midieval Rabbis.

One approach Prof. Lerner did not consider to understanding "shelo asani ishah" is the one espoused by Rabbi Freundel:

basically, the three "shelo" berakhot date to the early Christian period, where it was common for messianist Jews to be still part of the Jewish community. They would lead services, and slip things in which would direct prayer toward Jesus (in a similar way to how messianist Lubuvitchers subtly modify the davvening to reflect their belief in the Rebbe zt"l). At that time, the "v'lamalshinim" berakhah was added, and so were the "shelo"s.

Saint Paul, in Galacians 3:28, says There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus.

The parallelism is not accidental - we are thanking God for having differences between people, while the Christians are specifically rejecting those differences. R. Freundel's argument boils down to those three negative berakhot being inserted as a polemic against early Christianity (and given that they are uncharacteristic in being negative rather than positive berakhot, that does single them out a bit).

B.S. Jacobson, the great liturgical scholar, argues that all three berakhot can be replaced with a single "sheasani yehudi/yehudah" formulation, which is what I do.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


There's an attested variant she‘asani Yisra’eil in many old Ashkenazic siddurs.

alg's dad said...

I think you mean "sheasani yehudi/yehudit."

The idea that being a homemaker is the ideal for a Jewish woman is contradicted not just by "Eshet Chayil," but by the large number of Jewish women who worked outside the home in earlier generations. Take your great-great-great-grandmothers, in 19th century Russia. One of them managed a factory that made cotton batting, one of them had an import-export business selling eggs to Austria and importing oranges, and one of them sold eggs and dairy goods locally. And you had a great-great-grandmother who was a Hebrew teacher in Russia, and a great-great-great-great-grandmother who had a bakery. All of these women were very Orthodox.

David said...

whoops! see what happens when I post before coffee :)

Berel Dov Lerner said...

I am glad to see that people are reading my article on the Ten Curses of Eve. I would like to emphasize a couple of points:
1)The main thrust of the article is *not* to show that the Rabbis thought of women as being intrinsically inferior to men,but rather that they thought that the *role* given to women by traditional Jewish society (whatever that is!) was objectively inferior to the role given to men.(This may be extended to certain physiological aspects of woman's role - the Rabbis said that it was unfortunate to be a woman because women have to put up with childbirth, nursing, loss of fertility at menopause, etc. - they saw these as bodily "inconveniences" which need not affect a person's inherent worth)
2) In another article I have published on my blog ("A philosophical fragment on the benediction 'shelo assani isha'"), I try to argue that "shelo assani" can be read as implicitly *denying* the existence of an essential, metaphysical difference between men and women:

smoo said...

I have a very different way of approaching the "curses" of Eve and I am curious to see what implications it presents for the ideas mentioned in the article.

For a reference to full elaboration please see http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/search?q=eden+revisited

In short, Eden represents the childhood home and with the coming of maturity and knowledge, Adam and Eve learn the facts of life. He will have to work hard, she will have difficult childbirth, a desire for her husband and be ruled by her emotions ( see http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2013/10/ruled-by-passion.html ).

Note the radically different understanding of 'he shall rule over you'. My post shows how the he shall rule is modifying the preceding word in the sentence ('your DESIRE').

So the Torah isn't subjecting woman to man's dominion but rather is elaborating on the fact that emotions have a strong hold upon women. Anyone deny that?