The story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2–3 is not really a story about sin and punishment. If we read the story from a perspective that cherishes human culture and that values moral agency over submission, the story relates humanity's first step toward knowledge. But with knowledge comes loss of innocence, and without innocence there is no bliss of paradise.
We all undergo this primordial experience when we leave the bliss of infancy and begin our first steps toward individual existence. Whole cultures relive this experience as they discover that “the emperor has no clothes” or that a tulip is, after all, just a flower. They now are wiser, but they have lost the trust that let them imagine great value and beauty. As individuals and as societies, every advance in knowledge or maturity entails a loss of the innocent pleasures we enjoyed before. Women, of course, share in the common experiences of all humankind, but women also may experience a form of knowledge and loss peculiar to women of our culture. At some point, many of us begin to sense that our experiences as women do not quite harmonize with our religious traditions. Sometimes our experiences complement what we are being taught, and sometimes they absolutely contradict it. In either event, our experiences never have been incorporated into the teachings of our tradition.
With that first glimpse, our eyes were opened, and we saw that we were naked, for the tradition never provided clothes for us. For many of us, this destroyed forever our trust in the absolute wholeness and goodness of our religious traditions. This is the first moment of feminist consciousness. It is the end of our innocence, and we have left the Garden of Eden forever. We no longer can accept Scripture naively, uncritically, and submissively.
For some, this excursion into the real world has been a profoundly alienating experience; many women in our time have left Judaism (as