“Adam was first created with two faces, one male and the other female.”
After days of dry analysis about crossbeams and upright boards constructed around wells, we are presented with a creation tale that I never heard before. We are told that Adam might have born with a male and female face or a tail depending on which version of the creation tale you believe in today’s reading – neither of which corresponds with what I learned in Hebrew School. And it is suggested in today’s reading that Adam fathered destructive angels who roamed the earth in retribution for his original sin.
This Tractate of the Talmud makes odd extensions from one topic to another. Today the extension is from upright boards around a well to inferior figs that are exempt from tithing to trees that yield two harvests of fruit each year to the story of the first man and woman on earth. The version of the creation story that I learned in Hebrew School was that Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. It suggested everlasting subservience to man. The chapter in the traditional story doomed Adam and his newly formed wife to mortality when Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The trajectory of the story hinged on Eve’s tempting offering of the fruit to Adam from the tree of knowledge which held embedded within it a message that knowledge and learning could not be entrusted with women. Even as a young girl in Hebrew School I never believed the story in the way it was written. There was no tempting serpent or tree of knowledge or glistening apple. There was a story crafted by far-off men from long ago who crafted it in order to justify the patriarchy that kept women in a submissive state.
Today Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar present us with another version of the story. He tells us that Adam was born with two faces, one male and one female. We are told that this thesis is supported by the following line: “And the tzela, which the Lord, God, had taken from the man, He made a woman, and brought her unto the man.” But the interpretation becomes even more thought-provoking when Rav and Shmuel argue over its meaning, with one saying that the word “tzela” means female face and the other saying it means tail. We are left with an analysis that Eve was either formed through the tearing away of one of Adam’s two faces or the splitting off from his tail.
We are told the reference to a tail comes from a homiletic interpretation that refers to the evil inclinations of man. Neither interpretation is more sensitive to the message it gives women than the version I learned in Hebrew School. The Rabbis do not settle on a final version of the creation tale, but all agree that women are destined to spending their lives walking behind men. Both versions of the tale – whether Eve is created from Adam’s extra face or tail – relegate her to a trailing status. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak tells us that: “A man should not walk behind a woman on a path, even if she is his wife. If she happens upon him on a bridge, he should walk quickly in order to catch up to her and consequently move her to his side, so that she will not walk before him. And anyone who walks behind a woman in a river, where she has to lift up her skirt in order to cross, has no share in the World-to-Come.”
In one somewhat positive note in today’s reading we are told that Elkana, the father of the prophet Samuel, “walked after his wife.” It is asked if he did so because he was an “ignorant person” and we are told that in actuality, he never walked behind his wife, but rather, he followed her advice. It’s something, right? We have one prominent man in the Talmud who may have rushed past his wife on a bridge, but at least he respected her enough to find some wisdom in her words. We are left with these words from Rabbi Yoḥanan: “It is preferable to walk behind a lion, and not behind a woman.”
Reading the text today of Adam and Eve, and regardless of whatever version one prefers to accept or reject out of hand, it struck me how much of western culture is built upon the belief that women are inferior. And much of this belief can be traced back to Genesis. Young girls who are taught in Hebrew School the story of creation internalize from an early age that they are destined to walk behind men. And even if they do not believe that Eve was really created from Adam, the meaning of the creation story is not lost on young female minds.
I know I will receive feedback that I need to understand social norms at the time the Talmud was passed down and the psyches of the Rabbis. But that is the point – it is the tradition that has been passed down to us that we need to openly question if we are going to continue to evolve as a society. And can I just say it? The story today about two faces and slicing away Eve from Adam’s tail are pure baloney, and I am not talking about a kosher deli slice of meat.