Men and Women in Judaism:
Understanding Our Purpose; Understanding Our Role
By Mrs. Leah Kohn
Our previous class explored commentaries on the topic of why God created
Eve as a partner for Adam. (Class is available through Project
Genesis "archives"). Our current class looks at Adam and Eve from a
contemporary perspective, in order to determine what their story suggests
about the innate strengths of man and woman, and how they may work
together towards fulfillment in life.
The Adam and Eve text in the Book of Genesis makes clear that, from the
moment of their creation, God intends for man and woman to work together
towards a common spiritual goal. This joint project is manifest even in
their appearance. Torah commentaries state that God brings Adam and Eve
into being as a dualistic entity, part male and part female, physically
united as one created "in His image."
The Godly image Adam and Eve possess makes them unique amongst all other
creatures, and compels them to forge a bond with God, which stands at the
center of their lives on earth. Given that Adam and Eve are prototypes for
men and women of all generations, each of us has the same opportunity as
they did to achieve the personal fulfillment that comes from unlocking
one's potential and connecting to a source of spiritual satisfaction.
This work fosters a sense of internal well being as well as satisfaction
in one's relationships.
The process of connecting internally and externally brings forth a
pleasing sense of "three-part harmony" in life that comes from engaging in
three different types of relationships. These are:
The relationship between individual and self
The relationship between individual and others
The relationship between individual and God
Each of the above interactions has a specific purpose while, at the same
time, all three are inextricably connected. Work takes place in all three
spheres, and every individual makes progress according to his or her
Immersion in such a project gives rise to a sense of meaning and pleasure
in all aspects of life. In addition, the task compels man and woman to
work together as a team, with each member contributing specific skills and
talents towards an overall goal. (Our previous class further elaborates
on this concept).
In terms of the job descriptions for man and woman as members of a team,
God gives "feminine" attributes to Eve and "masculine" attributes to Adam
for use as tools of personal growth and relationship building. These
attributes persist today as a God given road map, directing us towards
personal and spiritual fulfillment. While feminine and masculine job
descriptions in general follow gender distinctions, they are not mutually
exclusive. In the same way that the relationship spheres intersect, so it
is with the contribution of man and woman to their shared goal.
As stated, the very creation of Adam and Eve holds clues about how Jewish
men and women may fulfill their unique potential as individuals and as a
team. The Torah text follows the initial formation of androgynous Adam
and Eve with a description of how God separates them into male and female
entities. Genesis (2:21-22) states:
"So Hashem God cast a deep sleep upon the man and he slept; and He took
one of his sides and he filled in flesh in its place. Then Hashem God
fashioned the side that He had taken from the man into a woman, and He
brought her to the man."
One of the most striking aspects of first woman's appearance - and one of
the most significant hints concerning her role - is the fact that God
chooses Adam's rib as the site of Eve's creation. Commentators add that
Eve comes from the side part of the ribcage hidden under the arm.
Thus, in the same way this part of the body is concealed, yet essential,
Eve comes into the world with an innate connection to things internal and
protected from public scrutiny. In terms of structural importance the rib
is fundamental to health and mobility. Without it the human being is
dramatically impaired. So it is with what the Torah considers the
feminine role in a successful relationship, whereby the woman is a subtle
presence that exerts profound influence on the concentric spheres of
family, community and Jewish people.
The complex, challenging and undeniably inspiring process through which
this takes place will be examined in our next class.