Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Descendants of Lilith

I've found the majority of my classes to be thought-provoking lately, but SOC 258: Women in Jewish Culture is especially wonderful in that it simultaneously makes me want to yell in frustration (especially regarding the passages which suggest subordination of women (coughTheGenesisAppleStorycough)) and also to laugh so hard that I cry. In our most recent class period the professor began exclaiming a bit about Leah hiring Jacob for mandrakes in a Genesis (chapter 30, verses 14-18) story. I can't exactly express exactly why (unfortunately this feels like a "you had to be there" type of story) it was so funny, but I nearly could not contain myself. Examining the Bible from a feminist perspective and with a bit of humor is the silliest/best way to spend my Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

In addition to the discussion of mandrakes on Thursday, we also talked about the second creation story - that which references Lilith. Yes! There are two! The first:
"So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

And then the second:
"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (Genesis 2:21-22).

As one could imagine, the idea of woman being created from man could be used to suggest subordination; aka, women as being created in a less-than-equal-manner. However, as my professor suggested, Adam, whose name comes from the Hebrew word adamah, ground, is more or less made from dirt. Tsk tsk, because if the woman had been made from dirt, likely the Biblical interpretation would have covered concepts such as women, overall, as dirty.

At this point in time, I'm making a disgruntled face, because women as dirty is certainly expressed in other ways, such as the inability for women and men to touch during & following menstrual cycles (until the women have been cleaned at the mikveh, the ritual bath) and giving birth (impure for longer if you give birth to a female!). But the disgruntled expression won't remain on my face for long, because I've already previously expressed many feelings regarding women as subordinate in Jewish culture; I'll move right along.

Anyway. To explain places where the Bible may be (for lack of a better word) lacking, folks will write Midrash to try to fill in the gaps/explain why things appear the way that they do. Ben Sira wrote a Midrash examining the creation story passages, particularly regarding the first. It is suggested that God messes up the first time when he creates man and woman as equal, so he banishes the first woman (!), Lilith, who reacts less than favorably by patriarchal standards. Following her banishment, he tries again (thus, the second creation story of Eve being made from Adam's rib). But! Going back to Ben Sira's Midrash, Lilith must be punished. Her punishment? That one hundred of her descendants will die each day.

It's an interesting story, and although generally known and embraced (despite the connotation of Lilith as a demon) within the feminist Jewish community (there is a magazine catered towards Jewish women called Lilith Magazine) there is surprisingly little Midrash regarding anything further; mainly, the descendants of Lilith. Who are the descendants of Lilith? Could it be surmised that one hundred of the people who die daily are, in fact, the children of Lilith (this being said from someone who doesn't interpret the Bible as truth, so my suggestions are more of a somewhat silly supposition of metaphor, or something)?

I wonder if I could work in something regarding the descendants of Lilith into my capstone/independent study for my Jewish Studies concentration, especially considering the main topic of study for the paper is death. Once again, I'll stress how neat it feels when my classes overlap a bit.

A brief google search of "the descendants of Lilith" revealed that someone else has already taken my idea for that phrase to be utilized as a totally awesome band name. Bummer.

Today, for SOC 258, I'm planning to begin looking through a book called Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook in order to find a research topic; the proposal isn't due until March 1st, but I don't really want to read about research methods for PSYC 201 right now (I'm sorry, Lab in Social Psyc, but you're just not nearly as interesting as feminism or death).


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