Hard to believe, but true. One of Jerry Falwell’s minions, writing in a right-wing conservative periodical this summer, warned parents to keep their teen daughters away from Lilith Fair concerts (no relation to us), lest they be influenced by the demonic namesake of the music festival.
While it was appealing to have reporters calling our office to find out about the character Lilith—and I don’t underestimate the publicity value of our being quoted in Ellen Goodman’s syndicated column, in Associated Press dispatches, and so on—being targeted in any way by the right wing is alarming. Especially in the wake of millennial neo-Nazi proclamations, statements that we once might have found risible (like Falwell’s accusation that the toddlers’ TV show teletubbies was a secret commercial for homosexuality) now feel as if they carry the power to incite more than just verbal harm.
What was so threatening to the right wing in the character of Lilith? A mythological creature from the medieval Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith was Adam’s first companion, and his complete equal. While they were sharing the Garden of Eden, Adam declared himself Lilith’s superior: “I shall lie above you. You shall lie beneath me,” he announced one day. Nothing doing, declared Lilith. “We are equals. We come from the same dust,” she reminded him. Adam, though, was relentless in his assertion of male superiority, so Lilith fled the Garden of Eden. Adam pleaded for her return, but Lilith insisted that she would not come back except as Adam’s equal partner. Adam then asked for a more tractable companion and got Eve. She is younger (a trophy wife?), and springs from his side (fulfilling male fantasies of being able to give birth?).
Here’s what happens next, which may explain why Falwell’s periodical was so worried: About a hundred years after the original tale appeared, the figure of Lilith began to get a very bad press. She was caricatured as the embodiment of almost every bad thing you could say about a female: she was frigid, and yet she seduced men who entered dark houses alone. She was sterile, yet she had 100 demon children every day. Lilith’s independence must have been pretty frightening to elicit such paradoxical mythmaking.
Today, when women are accused of being both too assertive and too passive, too independent and too clingy, you know for sure you are in the presence not of the demon Lilith, but of one part of the Lilith legacy—the part in which men constrict the ways a woman may live. The character Lilith took risks for equality; her name elicits panic in people who feel equality subverts their prejudices about who should be in control.
Like its namesake, LILITH Magazine took a risk last year when we decided to publish our report on the sexual misconduct of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, popular, charismatic singer/rabbi. For a small, nonprofit magazine to investigate this subject was an act of high courage, particularly when we were threatened by telephone, fax and e-mail as it became known that Associate Editor Sarah Blustain was working on the story. We monitored our phone calls, we tightened security. As we know from recent history, threats to Jews are no joke, whether from fanatics among our own or from others driven by hatred and fear. Even when some of our colleagues in the Jewish press admitted to us that they had shied away from writing about the late rabbi’s widely acknowledged habit of inappropriate sexual behaviors, LILITH published.
Our vindication has come in many forms, including the thanks of the extraordinary number of women who have come forward with their own experiences since the article appeared. But especially gratifying this summer was the Rockower Award to Sarah Blustain from the American Jewish Press Association; First Prize for Excellence in Magazine Feature Writing for “A Paradoxical Legacy; Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Shadow Side.” To Sarah, and to Laurie Douglas, our art director, awarded First Prize for overall graphic design, and to Flash Rosenberg for a First Prize in illustration, mazal tov! And courage to us all!