Q. Why was Eve punished so harshly?A. 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 spelled 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.