Friday, August 04, 2006

I Hate Sarah McLachlan

Well, no, not really. I don't actually hate (and after Tish‘a B’av, no less!) Sarah McLachlan, the singer-songwriter-musician who released such songs as "Building a Mystery", "Sweet Surrender" and "Adia" — I'm just a little annoyed with her.

Why do I have this abiding hatred of annoyance with Sarah McLachlan?

Two words:
Lilith Fair.

There is a modern myth meandering amidst the memeverse which goes something like this:
Once upon a time, God created humanity — male and female, in the image of God — out of the earth. The man was named Adam (אָדָם); the woman, Lilith (לִילִית). They were equally-made, but Adam claimed superiority and the right to have intercourse with him on top. Lilith, asserting her equality — after all, they were both made by God, in God's image, out of the earth — refused. God came in on Adam's side. Lilith upped and left, and so Eve (חַוָּה) was created out of Adam's rib so that she would accept her inferior place and not get so uppity.

"Here, declare the feminists matronizingly," writes Prof. Eliezer Segal in his article Looking for Lilith, "we have a clear statement of the Rabbinic Attitude Towards Women!"

The only problem with this is, as Prof. Segal points out (READ THE ARTICLE), is that the clearest source we have for this story is a mysterious work called the Alphabet of Ben-Sira. Now, whatever the Alphabet may be — anti-Jewish or anti-Rabbinic satire, Jewish scholarly or folkloric parody — it is not a serious text of Midrash.

And yet, due to various factors, the story of Lilith-Adam's-First-Wife has become enshrined in popular culture, and Lilith herself — who in mainstream Jewish sources is nothing but a baby-killing demon/שד and in Kabbalistic sources is the female aspect of the Evil "Other Side" — has become a feminist icon. Very much thanks to Sarah McLachlan, who named her women-power musical festival after her.

There is, however, such a thing as the figure of First Eve, only* found in a single reference quoted in Bereishit Raba 22 and Yalqut Shim‘oni:
And then Qayin said to Hevel his brother; and it was when they were in the field...

What were they arguing about?

They said: "Let's split up the world!"
One took the real estate,
one took the movable objects.
This one said, "The ground on which you are standing is mine,"
and that one said, "What you're wearing is mine."
This one said, "Take it off!"
and that one said, "Fly!"
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.

Ribbí Yehoshua‘ of Sakhnin, in the name of Ribbí Leivi, said:
...This one said, "The Temple will be built on my territory,"
and that one said, "The Temple will be built on my territory,"
since it is said:
and it was when they were in the field
field means nothing other than the Temple:
...Tziyon will be plowed as a field.
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.

Yehuda bar Ami said:
They were arguing about First Hhava (חוה ראשונה).

Ribbí Aivu said:
But First Hhava had already returned to her dust!

So then what were they arguing about?

R' Huna said:
An extra girl-twin was born with Hevel —
This one said, "I will take [=marry] her, since i'm the eldest,"
and that one said, "I will take her, since she was born with me."
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.
Interestingly enough, it seems that R' Avraham ben Mei’ir Ibn-‘Ezra knew of the Alphabet story, since he dismisses it as drash (i.e., not the straightforward meaning of the verse) in his commentary to Bereishit/Genesis 2:23.

Let me just say, Lilith Magazine shoulda known better.

And one last point — Hhava wasn't created from Adam's rib, but from his side — hence the common interpretation that Human was created hermaphroditic before being split into Man and Woman. See the use of the term צֵלָע by the Mishkan.

Oh wait, another Building A Mystery!

According to an interesting Tanakh Geneology website I just found, the Torah commentaries of Tosafot and Roqeiahh make reference to a shady figure known as Arnůs or Agdimůs, the son of Adam and First Hhava. What's up with that?

* And here's another one...
Aside from Bereishit Raba and Yalqut Shim‘oni, there are two other references to a חוה ראשונה First Hhava (according to Bar Ilan's ShU"T Project program). One, in Markevet haMishna leR' Y. Al’Ashqar on Avot 5:14, seems to only be using the expression as the parallel to the term אדם הראשון, First Man/Adam, and doesn't distinguish between First and Second Eve; you can tell because it talks about חוה ראשונה and the sin of the fruit, when according to the Two Eves theorists only Second Hhava had anything to do with the fruit.

And then there's Zohar Hhadash 1 Bereishit 28b:

זוהר חדש כרך א (תורה) פרשת בראשית דף כח עמוד ב

א"ר יצחק אמר רב אדם וזווגו עמו נבראו ביחד הה"ד זכר ונקבה בראם ונטלה מגביו והכינה והביאה אל האדם הה"ד ויקח אחת מצלעותיו. ר' יהושע אמר חוה הראשונה היתה ולקחה ממנו והיא נזקי דברייתא הה"ד ויקח אחת מצלעותיו זו היא הראשונה שנלקחה ממנו על שהיא רוח מזקת ויסגור בשר תחתנה שהקים אחרת במקומה. רבא אמר זו היתה בשר והאחרת לא היתה בשר ומאי הוות א"ר יצחק זוהמא דארעא ושמריה.

R' Yitzhhaq said Rav said, Adam and his partner were created together, this is what it means when it says "God created them male and female"; and he took her from his back, and prepared her, and brought her to the man, this is what it means when it says "and he took one of his sides".
R' Yehoshua‘ said, she was First Hhava, and he [=God] took her from him; and she (was?) נזקי דברייתא (damages of outside? the harmful thing mentioned in a Braita?), this is what it means when it says "he took one of his sides" — that is the first one who was taken from him because she was רוח מזקת (a damaging spirit?), "and he closed the flesh underneath it/her", since he [=God] set up another one instead of her.
Rava said, that one was flesh and the other wasn't flesh.
So what was she?
R' Yitzhhaq said, זוהמא דארעא וזמריה (disgusting dirt and....?)


Blogger Neil Harris said...

I had a similar converstion with my wife. Sarah obviously has an adgenda. Great post.

8/04/2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger Irviner Chasid said...

Nice find.

I havn't heard about lilith fair since highschool and remember thinking similar things back then but had no knowledge of the facts.

8/04/2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous sister leah said...

So Steg, how do you feel about women's empowerment in general?

8/04/2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

I had run into the modern reinterpretation of Lillith before... I don't know why, but I always found such gender-ideological reinterpretations disturbing. Much like the neutering of nouns in the English translations of Tanach.

If they really do wish to read other meanings into Adam and Eve, why not Earth and Air? Or by extension, solidity tied to the ground and imagination taking flight?

The possibilities are endless And do not require rewriting.

8/04/2006 6:22 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

שבוע טוב / גוט וואָך מירושלים

It's not that i think Sarah McLachlan has an anti-Jewish agenda of spreading this story, i just blame her for its present popularity.

I'm not sure, but that may have ben the first time i was exposed to the Lilith story.

I am generally for women's empowerment, when it can be done halakhicly. The Talmud and its commentators talk about how the act of semikha on a sacrifice was obligatory for men bringing animal sacrifices, but not for women — but women (according to the opinion we hold by, and associate with women's ability in general to do mitzvot they're not obligated in) were allowed to do semikha also, if they wanted, "in order to make them feel good." In other words if there's nothing forbidding it, and it'll make them feel good, go for it!

Hmmm... neutering of nouns in English translations. Are you talking about words that aren't gendered in English, like you'd like to see "the table, he was..."? Or the degendering of pronouns, specificly? I wonder what a translation would look like that specificly genderized or degenderized pronouns in English based on the halakhic understanding of the pronoun's breadth?

8/05/2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I can't but keep noting two routines again:

1. Reform fundamentalism ignores the traditional understanding, imagines another one, and tries to fight this loudly and in high dudgeon.

2. Reform and kabbalistic streams meet under the counter, circumventing authentic Judaism.

8/05/2006 5:59 PM  
Blogger Irviner Chasid said...

>2. Reform and kabbalistic streams meet under the counter, circumventing authentic Judaism.

Please don't confuse Kabbalistic streams with New Age Spiritualism/Reform Judaism whom use whatever Jewish one liners they can find to support their "spiritual Journey"

Chabad, Brestlov etc. are techincally "Kabbalistic streams"

8/06/2006 4:14 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Lipman can speak for himself, but i'm pretty sure he was including Chabad, Breslov, etc., under Kabbalistic streams.

8/06/2006 4:21 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

And here I was thinking I should change my name to Lilith...I guess you would not be so in favor of that idea. Maybe I'll just steal Tenuviel for myself :-p

8/06/2006 1:03 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Just remember, it's spelled Tinúviel in English (well, Sindarin technically) and תְּנוּבִיאֵל in Hebrew.

8/06/2006 1:06 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Why not call yourself Nitah? Looks like one o' those made-up Israeli names.

Was the Lilith character of Cheers and later Frasier anti-Semitic? (Sounds like a typical troll attack, where the "harmless" questioner leans back and watches how the others maul each other.)

8/07/2006 3:37 AM  
Blogger Simon Holloway said...

I don't have a copy of the Zohar on hand (more's the pity!), so can you tell me what the last word is of the section that you quoted? You wrote ושמריה in your reproduction of the Hebrew but וזמריה in your English exposition.

Also, the reference to her being נזקי דברייתה might have something to do with the manner in which she was removed (causing harm to his exterior?) seeing as it is used as a means of commenting upon her extraction. Alternatively, it might also be an allusion to her offspring which were damagers of the created beings...?

8/11/2006 12:37 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Hmm... maybe. I remember feeling offended when i found out that she's Jewish.


Sorry, it should be שמריה. The long quote i cut-n-paste'd from the Bar Ilan, so it's more accurate.

8/12/2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Neil Harris said...

I don't think she's got an anti-Jewish agenda, just pro-fem.

8/14/2006 10:43 AM  
Blogger Tzvee said...

sarah m (the visit) and enya are on my nano along with my retro mix of sixties favorites. r u saying i should delete her? i could not do that!

8/16/2006 11:46 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


you don't have to delete her, just... uhm... send her a strongly-worded email or something :-)

8/17/2006 6:36 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Neil Gaiman did the Lilith legend in his Sandman comics. But he had a woman between Lilith and Eve. She wasn't given a name in Gaiman's version, but she was created from bone to muscle to skin while Adam was awake, and he was so grossed out by the icky innards that he wouldn't have anything to do with her.

Is it possible that this is the explanation of Havah Rishona?

8/21/2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I feel like i've heard that "icky biology Hhava Rishona" story someplace before, in a Jewish context. I wonder which is original?

8/21/2006 10:04 PM  
Blogger Jacob Da Jew said...

Cool.Nice takedown.

1/16/2007 8:59 PM  
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