Avraham Burg

Adam's Rib

By Edgar M. Bronfman

  • Print
  • Share Share
courtesy of edgar m. Bronfman
Edgar M. Bronfman

One of the great joys of my life is in the study of Jewish texts. Every time I read one, even if the story is familiar to me, I am grateful to be part of a religion that rewards questioning and debate and has such a rich literature that you can mine its depths again and again and still be rewarded with gems of knowledge.

I consider myself to be both a feminist and a proud liberal Jew, and read Jewish texts as such. I am not beholden to a Jewish tradition based on divine law and belief, but rather see Judaism as a golden heritage of rigorous inquiry, wisdom and discussion of the human condition which offers me profound wisdom and guidance in how I live my life. That discussion progresses and adapts, and while there has been much progress with women in Judaism in recent years, there is still far to go. Much of this can be attributed to where our story begins, in the first book of the Torah.

When you read the text carefully you will see that there are two stories of how men and women came to be. The first says that God created them equally: “God created man in his own image….male and female he created them.” (1:27 Genesis) and then follows with a woman being created from a man’s rib: “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” (2:23 Genesis)

These competing images of the origin of women in the most defining of our Jewish texts, the Torah, has profound impact on our Jewish practice. Although the two stories exist side by side, we emphasize the one which says women were created from man’s rib rather than the one that says men and women were created equally. Why do we do that and what are its implications?

Rabbis, scholars and Jews throughout history have tried to offer interpretations as to why these two stories exist side by side. Some explain the incongruity through the figure of Lillith, a legend of Adam’s first wife who becomes a demon who was feared during medieval times and protected against with amulets, and then because a Jewish feminist icon in the 20th century. Others, like me, think the difference can be attributed to different authorship of the stories that make up the Hebrew Bible.

When I read the story of woman’s creation from Adam’s rib, I clearly see an author who is trying to set up men as being superior to women, and it’s the beginning of a long history in Judaism that has favored patriarchy and inequality with women. Thankfully, in the 21st century we have become more enlightened and have brought women to the forefront of leadership roles in the Jewish community. I think this is one of the best things to ever happen to the Jewish people. When women are involved in leadership roles, better decisions get made. It reinvigorates the community and has opened new pathways for us to understand Jewish tradition.

Today, in Reform Judaism more women are entering rabbinical school than men. There is some panic about this in certain circles, saying it will alienate men from roles in the community, but I think that’s nonsense. When I hear those complaints, I think this is men complaining that they’re no longer entitled to leadership positions and now have to compete with women who might be, and often are, smarter and sharper than them. I find these women move Judaism forward, and wish they were in all the denominations of Judaism, not just the liberal ones.

I wonder about women in Orthodox Judaism often, and while I know there is a spectrum of options for women in religious circles, I am perplexed as to how some women can accept having unequal treatment. The separation of men, women and families during services might create sacred space for some, and I respect that, but I cannot abide because it is unequal.

It relates back to the narratives of women as equally created, or as an appendage made from a rib: if both men and women are seated on the same level, even if they are separated, and given access to the Torah I can respect that. What I cannot abide is the mechizah as a metaphor for Adam’s rib: seated off to the side or in the balcony, there only to compliment the men not to participate themselves. My ambition for Orthodox women is to realize their own power and assert themselves in their community.

When women lead us it is often a better world. They are our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters: our equals in every way and sometimes, I say humbly as a man, our betters. I want sons to see their mothers read Torah. I want daughters to have their fathers bless them on the bimah. If we shift the emphasis from the story of Adam’s rib to the one of co-creation, our Jewish practice will follow.

Edgar M. Bronfman is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and a former president of the World Jewish Congress. He is the author, with Beth Zasloff, of “Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: adam's rib, Torah Tent, Genesis, Edgar M. Bronfman, Avraham Burg, jewish texts

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.