Wednesday, 11 Oct 2017

Written by Elliott Karstadt

There is the story of a character, not told very often, and who exists only between the lines. ‘God created the earthling in God’s image’ we are told, ‘male and female God created them.’[1] And yet, we are later told that Adam was put to sleep, and woman was created from him. What happened to the woman that was created with Adam, alongside Adam, the woman who was created in the image of God just like Adam?

Well, her name was Lilith. When she and Adam were created they walked in the garden side by side, hand in hand. They would talk, discuss, debate, sometimes even argue with each other. Both had been created in the image of God, so both were compelled to listen respectfully to the other. They did not have as many domestic necessities as modern couples, but those they did have were shared.

But, one day, their disagreement reached a juncture that could not be resolved by reasoned argument. Having run out of rational points, Adam, who was physically bigger, stood over Lilith and shouted at her. He called her a ‘nasty woman’, and forced her out of the Garden of Eden. When the angels of God tried to bring her back, she refused. Until Adam could accept his error, she said, she was unable to come back and be his partner. She therefore remained at the edges of life as humanity began its journey through history.

God thought: ‘It is not good for Adam to be alone.’[2] So a new woman was created from Adam’s rib – a woman who did what she was told, who did not argue, and who did not demure. She walked behind him and served him. Her name was Eve, because she was the mother of all life.[3] It was a name Adam gave her, unlike the name of Lilith, which had come from her very nature. And from that point, Adam assumed that, since she had come from his rib, she was not like Lilith, and she was not therefore equal to him. Because he no longer had an equal to discuss and debate with, his own mind became dulled and he was no longer as sharp as he once was.

On those occasions when Eve would, in fact, disagree with him, or debate him, or contradict him, Adam’s temper would become short and he would beat her. When she was unwilling to provide him with sexual pleasure, Adam took it anyway. She was made for him, wasn’t she? How could she expect him to forgo a pleasure just because she didn’t want it? Anyway, she was probably just pretending not to want it in order to vex him. And his descendants did the same thing – still do the same thing.

Adam’s treatment of Eve, and the dearth of those who would challenge him on this behaviour, empowered him to oppress others. Those who looked different or thought differently, or were less able in one way or another – all these people became targets of his scorn. Adam came to see not only other people, but the whole of creation, as having been created merely for his benefit. So, it did not matter if whole species were wiped from the face of the earth if it was to his benefit. He polluted land and sky with little thought of the consequences.

And what became of Lilith? Some still think of her as a demon and a menace. Adam’s descendants made up more and more stories about her. For example, it was said that she came to steal children – ‘eat your greens,’ parents would say, ‘or Lilith will come and get you!’ Men were encouraged to get married as soon as they could, lest they sleep alone and Lilith would fall on them during the night. Eve and her descendants didn’t always disagree either. It was often easier simply to agree with Adam, and it was useful, they supposed, to have someone they could blame, and use to scare people.

Yet every now and again we see glimpses of Lilith still at work in the world. It is important to say that Lilith is not perfect – like Adam and Eve she is very much human – imperfect, just trying her best to get by and do what is right. But, we need to bring Lilith back to the centre of how we think about our actions in relation to other people. She represents what philosophers call ‘the Other’ – the human being who (however flawed, however weak, however weary) is our equal and deserving of as much respect and care as we owe ourselves. In this way, Lilith carries with her a great and profound knowledge, of a world free of intolerance, violence, and oppression. It is a world like the one she had known with Adam in the very beginning.


Student rabbi Elliott Karstadt



[1] Gen. 1.27.

[2] Gen. 2.18.

[3] Gen. 3.20.

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.