Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Eiruvin 18a, b

Eiruvin 18 moves us solidly into Perek II... and for me, it is quite a shift!

The points that stood out for me include a discussion of the Biblical words describing the creation of woman, and how those might influence our Rabbis' (and our) understanding of gender roles.  As well, we are offered words of wisdom on complementing others, based on the story of Noah.

Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar shares his definition of a contested word.  The Gemara moves from that definition to other contributions of Rabbi Yirmeya ben Eleazar, including an argument about Adam and Eve.  He explains that Adam was first created with two (deo) faces, one male and one female.  Using Psalms 139:5 as proof, he notes that "You have formed me from behind and before", and that woman was created from man when G-d took the tzela from him (Genesis 2:22).  Other rabbis suggest that tzela refers to a female face ; that it refers to Adam's tail, or zanav.   Both arguments can use Psalms as proof as the 'face' and the 'tail' might have been taken from 'behind and before'.  The Rabbis discuss what (you have formed me from) "behind" and "before" might mean.

The argument turns back to whether we are looking Eve originates in the back of Adam's face, as a face, or from his 'tail'.  The Rabbis try to understand the two contradictory stories, "Male and female, he created them" and "for in the image of G-d He created him".  G-d's motives are assumed: "At first, the thought entered G-d's mind to create two, and ultimately, only one was actually created" (18A, Koren version).

The rabbis turn to another argument: "... He took one of the sides and He closed up the flesh in its place", and one of at least three rabbis is reported to say that this could have been referring to the 'face' or the 'tail'.  Then they wonder what needed to be built (Genesis 2:22). Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya says the G-d braided or built Eve's hair and then brought her to Adam.  Rav Chisda tells of a baraita teaching that "G-d built Eve like a storehouse: wide on the bottom and narrow on top, to hold produce without collapsing... A woman is wide on the bottom and narrow on top in order to hold the fetus".

A lovely little commentary in 18b tells us that G-d took Eve to Adam, meaning that G-d was Adam's best man.  We should take from this that "a greater man should be a best man for a lesser individual and should not feel that this is beneath his dignity."

The rabbis wonder about who walked in front if Adam's face was on one side of the body and Eve's was on the other.  We are then subject to a list of things about gender politics:
1) a woman should walk behind, even a wife 
2) a man should catch up to a woman on a bridge 
3) a man who walks behind a woman in a river, where she must lift her skirt, has no share in the World-to-Come 
4) A man should not count money in his hand to put into a woman's hand so that he can look at her (from Proverbs 11:21) 
5) "Manoah was an ignoramus, as it is stated: 'And Manoah arose, and went after his wife" (Judges 13:11), although thisis argued by Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak because Samuel's father Elkanawalked after his wife (I Samuel 2:11).  Further, Elisha "arose and followed" a mother (II Kings 4:30).  The rabbis conclude that the verses above mean that these men followed the advice of their wives. But Rav Ashi reminds them that even the basic Bible story tells us that "Rebecca... followed the man" (Genesis 24:61).                                         
6) Better to walk behind a lion than to walk behind a woman 
The rabbis discuss Adam's longevity.  They suggest that following expulsion from the garden, possible punishments included life without Eve and being surrounded by demons (male and female).  How did the deoms come to be?  Through accidental emissions of semen.   In fact, Koren notes the common belief that any amount of semen could result in the creation of creatures that have some resemblance to the person in question.

Finally, Genesis 6:9 teaches us that we should complement a person only when s/he is out of our presence. Away from Noah, G-d describes him as "a righteous man, and perfect in his generations."

So much to chew on...

I find it particularly interesting that we are introduced to the rabbis litany of reasons that men should place themselves 'first'.  Undeniably self-serving. And when these man carry as much influence as they have carried, a system of patriarchy is reflected, established, and systematized.  Two thousand years later, we struggle to argue with the arguments that these rabbis codified in the Talmud.

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