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 Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • 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.