Lilith and Feminism

The (Jewish) Feminist Depiction of Lilith

In the 1970s, Jewish feminists began reimagining the story of Lilith as an allegory for Jewish women's story. They built on the medieval traditions about Lilith more than the ancient traditions, extending some of the other modern treatments which largely came from men.

The (Jewish) Feminist Lilith

In "The Coming of Lilith," Judith Plaskow, a Jewish feminist religious scholar, translated the legend of Lilith from the Alphabet of Ben Sira and then rewrote it as an allegory for women who refused to give in to male power, and instead sought independence and autonomy. She begins,

"In the beginning, the Lord God formed Adam and Lilith from the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. Created from the same source, both having been formed from the ground, they were equal in all ways. Adam, being a man, didn't like this situation, and he looked for ways to change it."

In this version, Eve also eventually feels limited in the garden and meets Lilith on the other side of the wall, where they become friends and form a "bond of sisterhood." The retelling ends with this:

"And God and Adam were expectant and feared the day Eve and Lilith returned to the garden, bursting with possibilities, ready to rebuild it together."

Plaskow's 2005 collection of essays was also named The Coming of Lilith.

Many other treatments followed. Two notable versions: Pamela Hadas wrote "The Passion of Lilith," a poetic treatment, in 1980, Michele Butot's poem, "Ode to Lilith," appeared in Canadian Woman Studies (17:1), 1996. It offers the story of Adam's first wife, Lilith, who sprouts wings and flies away when Adam tries to force her, and also calls Lilith the goddess of birth and death.

In 1998, the book Which Lilith? Feminist Writers ReCreate the World's First Woman (compare prices) compiled a number of modern feminist commentaries on Lilith's story. The book attempts to be "contemporary midrash" reimagining Jewish women's lives.

More Feminist Uses of the Name Lilith

  • Lilith Fair: a touring festival of female singer-songwriters
  • Lilith Magazine: a Jewish feminist quarterly magazine
  • Lilith: A Feminist History Journal: an academic journal of women's and feminist history

More Lilith

About Lilith (Overview) | Lilith in Ancient Sources | Lilith in Medieval Sources | Modern Depictions of Lilith | The Feminist Lilith