Childbirth and the Creation of Eve; also, Eve Was No “Helpmate”
According to Leviticus chapter 12, if a woman gives birth to a male baby, she remains in a state of ritual impurity (tum’ah) for seven days. But if she gives birth to female baby, the period of impurity is doubled—fourteen days. Needless to say, this distinction has always been somewhat puzzling to interpreters. Is it meant to suggest something about females vis-à-vis males in general—and if so, what?
The ancient book of Jubilees (written by an unknown Jewish author sometime around 200 BCE) provides a unique answer, now largely forgotten. It connects this law to what might seem to be an entirely unrelated matter, the creation of Adam and Eve in this week’s Torah reading.
As is well known, the opening chapters of Genesis contain what looks like a contradiction. Chapter 1 ends with an account of the creation of the first human beings: God creates mankind on the sixth day, “in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). But chapter 2 begins with what looks like a different story: first God creates a man, Adam, out of the dust of the earth. Then, seeing that Adam is alone, God creates the animals and birds, but among them “no fitting helpmate was found for Adam.” Finally, He anesthetizes Adam and removes something from his body—one of his ribs or some part of his “side”—and turns it into Eve, Adam’s fitting mate.
Was chapter 2 meant to be some kind of flashback, filling in the details of chapter 1 (but even so, they don’t really match)? Or, is it recounting something that happened subsequent to chapter 1?
Jubilees’ answer is as follows: Yes indeed, God created Adam on the sixth day of creation, just as chapter 1 says, “in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” In fact, there is a reason for the text’s first saying that God created “him” and then saying that He created “them.” According to Jubilees, when God created Adam on the sixth day of the first week of creation, He made him with a special little something inside his body, a kind of mini-female. So quite literally, God created him, Adam, but in so doing, He also created them, the latter referring to Adam and this little homunculus (homuncula?) inside him.
Then came the world’s second week, which is narrated in chapter 2 of Genesis. Having created Adam (this part is a flashback), God brings the animals and birds to him to name, but in the process—according to Jubilees—it becomes apparent that, while they all seem to have mates, Adam is still alone. Seeing this, God casts a deep sleep on Adam and removes the little pouch containing Eve: she is then turned into a full-sized human being, the perfect mate for Adam. All this happens, according to Jubilees, on the sixth day of the second week.
What does this have to do with the law of impurity after childbirth in Leviticus 12? Simple: Adam was created at the end of the first week, and Eve was created at the end of the second. In commemoration of this fact, Leviticus 12 stipulates that the newborn’s mother will be impure for one week if she gives birth to a little Adam, but two weeks if she gives birth to a little Eve.
In this way, the author of Jubilees not only explains the law in Leviticus 12, but he uses this puzzling law to support his own scenario for what happened in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis. Surely this writer was not only one of our earliest, but also one of our most ingenious commentators.
One last note: I try not to miss an opportunity to mention that the Torah never actually refers to Eve as a “helpmate” or “help” to Adam. The phrase ‘ezer kenegdo in Gen 2:20 doesn’t mean that at all. The first word ‘ezer has a ready cognate in Arabic, ‘adhra, which means “virgin” or “young woman.” Fatima is thus sometimes referred to by Muslims as al-‘adhra, and the same word is used by Arabic-speaking Christians to refer to the Virgin Mary. As for kenegdo (often omitted by translators), it means “corresponding to him.” This is exactly what Adam needed, a young female corresponding to him, and that’s what he got. So thank you, ladies, for all those centuries of help, but it was really all a mistranslation.