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    Were Adam & Eve Jewish? – Ask the Rabbi

    Adam & Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Foster Bible Pictures, 1860)

    When I was a professional youth worker I went up and down the British Isles organising Jewish programs. I gave talks to youth clubs in countless places and also frequently addressed adult groups and even senior citizens’ clubs.

    At one such club in the East End of London, appropriately named the Zekeinim Club, I gave occasional talks on Sunday afternoons.

    On one occasion, regardless of the official title of my address, one of the Yiddish-speaking audience asked me in question time, “Adam and Eve – they was Jewish, yes?”

    I probably disappointed the questioner by having to say “No”. Religion had not yet come into being. Nor were there any religious commandments, though of course the beginning of B’reshit told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.

    When the structure of Divine commandments was complete, this became mitzvah number 1 and it still is, but at that point it could not be said to be addressed to the Jewish people because there was no Jewish people.

    Yet there is actually a point in the question I was asked. It is not so much that Adam and Eve were Jewish, but that Judaism interprets their career in a distinctive way.

    Where Christianity builds a whole superstructure on their sin and, at least in circles that still teach this theology, propounded a doctrine of original sin whereby Adam and Eve’s descendants are deemed eternally tainted unless they rise above the taint by means of belief.

    What Judaism did was to stick more closely to the text. It noted that God told the first couple that if they disobeyed Him they would surely die (Gen. 2:17); the effect of their sin was that death was brought into the world.

    It is true that there are views here and there in rabbinic sources that speak of a load of guilt sitting on Adam and Eve’s descendants, but such views are not standard or normative.

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