Thursday, October 19, 2006

I got a bone to pick with you!

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah

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Verse per Verse, the weekly Storah Blog by Lauviticus continues: the World's oldest re-run is off to a fresh start this Sabbath with the retelling of creation (or is it Intelligent Design?). One verse and one specific word jump up as troublesome to the modern translator, a bone to be picked: the word ‘tzelah’, rendered in almost all translations as ‘rib’, as in that famous rib, AKA ‘woman’. There are other, accurate, legitimate, equal- opportunity ways of retelling our evolution, and not surprisingly, history has not done much to promote them:

Here's the bone, Genesis chapter 2, verses 20-21, in three different translations:

• And the Lord God made Adam fall into a deep sleep, and he slept; and He took one from his ribs, and closed up the flesh. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.
(The Torah, Plaut Edition)

• And He took one of his ribs, it was the thirteenth rib of the right side, and closed it up with flesh. (Pseudo Jonathan Aramaic translation)

• "...and He took one of his sides and He filled in the flesh in its place."

(Artscroll Torah, The Stone Edition)

With the surprising exception of the Orthodox Stone translation, most English bibles translate tzela as rib. The word tzelah appears several other times in the bible, and always translated as ‘side’ as in ‘a single side of a specific structure’, as in Exodus 26:20 - ‘the second side of the tabernacle’; clearly ‘rib’ is used here and elsewhere as metaphor, so why is the human creation story taken literately???

We are not the only ones to question the difficulty of this biblical creation story and its placement of women as secondary to men.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher living some 2000 years ago already offers the gender neutral solution: "The letter of this statement is plain enough; for it is expressed according to the symbol of the part, a half of the whole, each party, the man and the woman, being as sections of nature co-equal for the production of that genus which is called man." (The Works Of Philo)

It is amazing that 2000 years later, most people still know this word as ‘RIB’ and still consider the feminine inferior to the masculine. Translation makes a difference in our lives, politics, and policy making, and so Lauviticus would like to suggest picking that bone, discarding the rib, and rereading this verse: In the beginning, we were one, but different, and divided we stand…again.


  1. But even if the "tzela" is a side not a rib, the woman is still second in line if we talk about "Adam" as "He," as all of these translations do. Everett Fox translates "Adam" as "human being" (I think, it's not on me) so in this scenario, even if the woman was fashioned from the rib--not the side--of the first androgynous human being, she'd still be first! (not that I don't want things to be equal and everything...:)

  2. I wish we'd know about this translation/take on Adam and Eve before we did our Bereishit comic. But, G@d willing, we'll get another crack at it next year!

    We love you Lauviticus!

  3. This blog is a TERRIFIC idea -- and this post in particular is great. It's great when Lauviticus's voice/opinion comes through -- people will always draw their own meaning from the text (and this is a good thing); but what we don’t get enough of is what YOU, a learned + creative person thinks (or: what you all, learned + creative people think). We can get a learned person in a lot of places, and a creative person in some places, but seldom a quality combination of both in one place.

    Lauviticus knows more than most of the rest of us put together, and puts it all together in such creative, thoughtful, innovative ways. And that empowers people to come up with more thoughtful personal meaning, because then they can mesh their personal experience with some actual learning/text/history/midrash/whatever.