Monday, May 02, 2005

Male / female in אדם הראשון

Hey, friends:

Now that the "hag that never ends" has finally ended, we are now entering "hol, glorious hol".

On 61a, we saw rabbinic discussions of the dual nature of אדם הראשון. Of course, we all know about the יצר הטוב and the יצר הרע. But it is raised in the Bavli here that there was another way in which אדם הראשון was dual: one side of him was male, and one side was female.

ויבן יי אלהים את הצלע: רב ושמואל, חד אמר פרצוף, וחד אמר זנב. בשלמא למאן דאמר פרצוף, היינו דכתיב אחור וקדם צרתני

Adonai Elohim built up the צֵלָע. Rav and Shemuel disagree about the meaning of this word. One says that it means one side/personality/image of Adam, and the other says that it means one rib of Adam. The view that it means one person[ality] of Adam makes sense, because it fits with the verse in Psalm 139, "אחור וקדם צרתני". . . .

I find this passage very interesting, not least because it recounts a myth very similar to one recounted in Plato's Symposium, 189e ff. In this passage, the character Aristophanes explains Eros (love/desire) by telling a tale that originally, people had four arms and two faces, and both male and female genitalia. (Interestingly, Aristophanes uses the word ανδρογυνος, which is the same as the rabbinic word אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס, to refer to these people.) However, these people, who were very strong and mighty, insurrected against Zeus, so Zeus punished them by sending Apollo down to split the people into two halves, with genitalia on the side. Then, people would join to each other side by side, and stay in this position until one partner died, at which point the surviving partner would go find a new partner. People were thus being entirely unproductive in society. So Zeus had compassion on the humans, and switched their genitalia to the front. Now, men could fulfill their desires, and then do something productive. The girlie men would have sex with women, and then, when getting up from sex, produce babies. The macho men would have sex with other men, and then, when getting up all satisfied from sex, would do really productive things, like engage in the political life of the city. (Hey, I'm not saying this— it's Plato. And it's quite likely that Plato is being somewhat tongue-in-cheek in putting these words into the mouth of the character Aristophanes. After all, this character is based on the historical Aristophanes, who thought that politicians were the least productive members of society).

Yet I find this passage interesting also because of what it suggests about the roles of men and women in our religion. If men and women are really two פַּרְצוּפִין of one being, then how can we prevent women from learning Torah? How can men and women truly be בָּשָׂר אֶחָד if women are prevented from connected to the source of the חִיּוּת (chiyus) of our religion, the Torah itself?

Happy sefirath ha`omer,
Mar Gavriel


At Monday, 02 May, 2005, Blogger Bryan said...

Well, since you have begun walking in dangerous territory, I might as well continue you along. There has been much discussion recently about whether to give more credence to Creation story 1 over 2 because Creation story 1 is that men and women are created equal btzelem elokim.

If you go to the Edah journal website, in one of the volumes, I think 3, there is a review of Rabbi Henkin's work, Equality Lost, by Rabbi Dov Linzer.


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