Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the Beginning ... of Patriarchy (version 1)

I had to write a short d'var Torah on Genesis this week for a class, and I also have to give a d'var Torah at the teen minyan I'm leading in Westchester on Saturday. The two are pretty similar, but I'm sharing both. This one is a little more adult and academic. 

Maybe Eve wasn’t really framed. All my life I held to this bumper sticker feminist summation of Genesis, using modern understandings of feminism and misunderstanding of patriarchy to look back onto our narrative. I believed Eve was framed, set up for the Fall, tricked by the serpent and given up by Adam and blamed by misogyny for all the world’s sins.
            But the use of the word “frame” implies there was indeed a crime for her to be blamed for. Certainly eating of the forbidden fruit was transgressing, but was it criminal? Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in her book, The Murmuring Deep, talks about the eating of the fruit as the beginning of a humanity that is recognizable to us (though, she argues, the first true humans are Adam and Eve’s children, born of woman instead of God). Rather than categorize the expulsion from Eden as a Fall, she points out that it is really an outward motion, a birth into a new life. One that is harder, for sure, but also fuller and larger. Does this sound like crime and punishment or merely action and consequence?
            Zornberg does not directly address the question of criminality, framed or otherwise, or
“fault” per se. She seems to be more interested in dissecting the texts and deciphering the psychology of the characters. But she does touch on subjects within the narrative that, to me, begs for new feminist inquiry, something deeper than “Eve was Framed.” Zornberg does not directly “blame” Eve, but she does say, “Eve stands, then, at the hub of the narrative of seduction; she is both object and subject of this treacherous activity. She has gone down in cultural memory as both feeble and slyly powerful; incapable of resisting seduction, she is nevertheless irresistibly seductive. The weak link between the serpent and Adam, she has borne the brunt of responsibility for events read, quite simply, as a Fall.” Zornberg also later points out that the serpent’s awareness of Eve’s weakness and strength in the arts of seduction was what so easily allowed him to manipulate her and Adam to transgress, validitating the lasting view of Eve, “and through her, of all women,” as “sinister and serpentine.”
            This is the beginning of patriarchy and modern day rape culture. We do not merely look back at a text that clearly contains the agency of three people and choose to blame one of them because of our current view of women, or even because of some oppressive Medieval view of women that has stuck. This is the text that has informed and continues to inform our view on women. This is the crux of our patriarchal double standards and “she was asking for it” attitude. From the beginning of time we have read and believed that a woman is simultaneously too weak to resist a male’s instruction or her own base instincts and is too seductive to expect a man to resist. It is her own fault she allows herself to be manipulated, but it’s also her fault that Adam allows himself to be manipulated by her. She finds herself unable to say no, but to say yes leads her into trouble and a birth to victim blaming.

            Although we may be fighting thousands upon thousands of years of this mentality, I think we are up to the challenge. It is past time to change our attitude toward women, our view of autonomy for men and women, our victim blaming. We can take it upon ourselves to recognize that every person is unique and equally susceptible to seduction, equally able to be seductive. We can take a modern feminist awareness and project back onto our text and say, “There are three equal actors in this narrative, each with their own valid agency, and a resulting chain of events. There is no crime and punishment, and no one person to blame. Eve is not the cause of Original Sin and Eve was not framed.”  

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