OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Eve’s Punishment.

OzTorahEve’s Punishment.

Question. Why was Eve punished so harshly?

Answer.    Much of life is unfair. Some might even say this begins to be true right at the beginning of the Bible.

True, God did command Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree, and He spelt out the punishment if they transgressed – death. Yet the first couple were new and inexperienced, and the fact that they gave way to temptation could have been treated leniently. In a sense this is in fact what happened, because instead of suffering death a different punishment was meted out.

Eve’s punishment is especially interesting.

“In pain shall you bear children”,

she was told (Gen. 3:16). This is not death, though tragically death can occur in childbirth, but it still seems harsh that the most creative moment open to a woman should be a moment of pain.

SM Lehrman comments,

“Had Eve yielded on account of the desire to be omniscient, her punishment would not have been so severe. For the sake of wisdom, much is forgiven. What, however, really attracted Eve to break God’s first command was the plain, unvarnished fact that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes. Like many others who have sinned since, the chief cause is physical desire and sensuous motive… How commensurate with her crime was Eve’s punishment. In pain shall her children be born. The aftermath of mere physical, sensuous pleasure, was pain…”

Is Lehrman implying that because marital relations are sensual, there has to be a punishment? And if so, why single out the woman? There may have been views of this kind in earlier generations, and maybe Jewish views too. But is this normative Judaism?

A better answer is suggested by a comparison with Adam’s punishment:

“With the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (Gen. 3:19).

Childbirth is no more sinful than working for a living. The fact is though that neither God nor the heavenly beings reproduce or work. Adam and Eve have to know that being human brings its great joys and rewards, but they do not come easily.

Had they not sinned they might have found their earthly tasks less strenuous. But they gave in to human weakness, and they had to be reminded at the most critical moments of life that humanness brings its responsibilities.


Question. Why do we need the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah when we already have the Ten Commandments?

Answer.    The Seven Noachide Laws came first. Rabbinic discussion even includes the view that six of the seven were given to Adam in the first instance, making this a universal code meant from the moment of Creation for all mankind (Gen. R. 16:6, 24:5).

A great deal of attention is given to whether there are differences in applicability between Jews and gentiles. One opinion is that ancient pre-Sinaitic commandments which are not repeated at Mount Sinai apply only to Jews. Some post-Sinai commandments also devolve only upon Jews, such as, for example, laws that arose out of Israelite history (such as eating matzah on Pesach and blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah) which are not obligatory on gentiles.

It should be noted that the Sinai versions of laws which are repeated in the Revelation are generally much more extensive than the Noachide versions.


Question. What does the Bible mean when it says,

“The spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:2)?

Answer.    Some non-Jewish scholars think that “ru’ach” is Spirit, with a capital S. They believe the text is saying that through the working of the Divine Spirit the emptiness of the world gave way to an ordered creation (e.g. Anthony Phillips, Lower than the Angels: Questions Raised by Genesis 1-11, 1983).

Jewish commentators tend to translate “ru’ach” literally as wind. Ibn Ezra says that by means of the wind, God made the waters dry up and the land appear.

Rashi takes “ru’ach” to mean breath. He says the Throne of Glory was suspended above the waters, held there by the breath of God. This does not indicate that God really has breath; He has no physical characteristics. The word “breath” is metaphorical.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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One comment

  1. When Adam and Eve were put out of the garden, unlike the serpent, who was cursed, they were not cursed. I believe that the original intent of God, to have beings like himself, with which to fellowship intimately, was in no way diminished by their expulsion. As the psalmist writes:

    “What is man, that you should think of him, and the Son of man that you should care for him?
    For a little while, you made him.lower than the angels, and you crowned him with glory and honour.
    You gave him authority over all things. Ps 8:4-6

    We therefore know, that though man is presently not in dominion over the earth, one day he will be, by God’s great grace.

    I therefore see, God’s sentences as a continual reminder to both the man and the woman, that the world, and bodies that they presently inhabit are all temporary.

    Job says “Though worms eat my body, yet in my flesh, I will see God.”

    Isaiah speaks of the “wearing out of the earth, like a garment. It shall be rolled up.”

    He also speaks of the “New heaves and new earth which shall endure.”

    We are therefore, as we are, both male and female, confronted with pain in the centre of our lives, reminded never to live solely for this world alone, but rather to trust that God will redeem all things. This world in its present form will end (Is 34:4, 51:6, 66:22) The fallen sons of Adam will become the redeemed sons of God.
    Is this not what the psalmist speaks of, when the leaders of Israel are referred to as “elohim” sons of God? Ps 82:6

    The thorn will not endure forever, neither will Eve’s pain. Those who put their trust in the LORD’S redemption, will share eternity with him, free of pain forever.

    Do these thoughts resonate with you? I would welcome your response.

    Shalom. C.