Gay Genesis

For those who think the story of Adam and Eve is all about “boy meets girl,” think again.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg says otherwise. “If you read it carefully, it’s a much wilder and more interesting text than that,” he said.

A senior teaching fellow at the New York-based CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Greenberg has worked over the last 10 years on his new book, “Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition.”

Part personal memoir, part scholarly work, the book offers new analyses of Judaism’s sacred texts — which, Greenberg asserts, really have little to say about homosexuality, leaving much to interpretation.

Greenberg will be speaking Sunday, May 9, with Assemblyman Mark Leno at Grace Cathedral, discussing gay marriage from the religious, social and cultural perspectives. On Tuesday, May 11, he will be appearing at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, became somewhat of a spokesperson as well as an advocate for inclusiveness by appearing in the award-winning documentary “Trembling Before G-d.”

Raised in Ohio in a Conservative Jewish family, Greenberg, 47, came to Orthodoxy on his own. He first was introduced to it by studying with an Orthodox rabbi as a teenager, and was immediately taken with Torah study.

In listening to him parse a verse of sacred text, it is evident why Greenberg became a rabbi. He can rattle off the examples from his book easily.

One especially juicy commentary he offers is of the creation story, which most see as the traditional “boy meets girl” story. Hardly, he says.

Quoting a midrash of Rashi, the renowned medieval commentator, he offers the following interpretation:

When God creates Adam, there is no gender yet, so Adam is androgynous. It’s only later in the second chapter that Adam discovers he’s lonely.

God does not create Eve immediately, but first creates all the animals, and brings them to Adam to name, as well as find a partner.

According to this interpretation, Adam considers camels and rhinoceros as potential partners — and even has sex with them — before settling on Eve.

“The funny thing is that Adam and Eve will end this story as boy meets girl, because that’s how these stories always end, but who gets to decide what’s good? God can decide that the sea and sky are good after creating them, but only Adam can decide how to solve partnership with intimacy.”

He continued, “The text actually is more wonderful and opening and wild than most organized religions have preserved it; the original texts are open to lots of possible interpretations.”

When Greenberg goes on the road to talk about the two defining, yet disparate parts of his identity, he knows his audience will usually be more receptive to one than the other.

Speaking by telephone from Sarasota, Fla., where he was promoting his book, Greenberg said, “Here in Florida, the Bible is right, and gayness is on trial.”

But Greenberg knows that when he arrives in San Francisco next week, it is one of the few places in the country where the opposite is true.

“In San Francisco,” he said, “it’s harder to be an out religiously faithful person than it is to be gay.”

While those in the Bay Area might find it strange, he said, “I found Orthodoxy as a countercultural choice.”

“Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” by Rabbi Steven Greenberg (304 pages, University of Wisconsin Press, $35).

Rabbi Steven Greenberg will join Assemblyman Mark Leno 9:30 a.m. May 9 at Gresham Hall, Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., S.F. Information: (415) 749-6360 or [email protected]. He will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, at the JCCSF, 3200 California St. $5-$10. Information: (415) 512-6279 or [email protected].

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."