Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rashi's "feminist" commentary

Maggie Anton, the author of Rashi's Daughters, blogged in November on Rashi's commentary for the first half of Genesis 3:16. she writes,
    Finally we come to Gen 3:16, where Adam and Eve [and the snake] are punished. It seems to me that Rashi must have received input from his daughters when explaining Eve's penalty. He states that "multiplying her toil/sorrow" of childbearing refers to the burdens and worries that a mother, more so than the father, is subject to when raising children; her "pain in pregnancy" means the discomfort that pregnant women often experiences; while "anguish in childbearing" describes the painful birth pangs themselves.

    So while it may go too far to describe Rashi's commentaries on Genesis as "feminist," for a man of the 11th Century, he appears to hold a more sympathetic view of women than other medieval theologians. Did his daughters influence him in this? I certainly hope so.


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for reposting this, Sue. Anton's post right before this one is helpful/ interesting too:

"In the first three chapters, Rashi had plenty of opportunity to share his thoughts on the creation of humankind, the formation of man and woman, how they came to eat from the tree of knowledge, and the punishment they received for doing so. This is where other Bible commentaries, both Jewish and Christian, show their misogynist leanings. Typically they state that women should be subordinate to men because Eve was taken from Adam's rib and, even worse, that women are cursed to this day because they brought sin into the world when Eve made Adam eat a fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge.

Rashi shows no such prejudice against women. In Gen 1:27-28, he explains that God first created one being, Adam, with both male and female faces, and then divided them into man and woman, the details of this to be found later. When God commands Adam to 'be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it,' Rashi points out that this could also be read as 'subdue her,' and thus the mitzvah of procreation is given only to man and not to woman. Rashi says nothing more about this, but he surely knew that Talmud uses the interpretation of this verse to allow women to practice contraception, which prevented countless women from dying in childbirth."

Tim Bulkeley said...

Thanks for another stimulus to read Rashi more. BTW why do you assume the influence was from his daughters rather than his wife? Or indeed his mother?

Kay said...

Thanks for posting this - I read the entire entry on her blog. Lot's of food for thought. Made me ponder what possible link there could be between rabbinical commentary and 1Tim. 2:15. (?)

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I guess you have to read the book.