Religion & Beliefs

I Got a Bone to Pick with You!

For the audio version, click here. To subscribe to this podcast, click here. 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 … Read More

By / October 19, 2006

For the audio version, click here. To subscribe to this podcast, click here.

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.