Lost & Found

When Eve Ate the Etrog: A Passage from Tsena-Urena


This strange action is an outgrowth of an early modern Ashkenazic tradition about the pangs of childbirth. The earliest known source for both the tradition and the custom is in the popular Tsena-Urena, the
famous Yiddish biblical commentary by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov, which was especially popular among women, and as some title pages had it, “men who are like women,” in that they read Yiddish instead of Hebrew. The brief passage below includes the text of a Yiddish prayer, or tkhine, that the pregnant woman is instructed to recite based on Bahya ben Asher’s commentary to Genesis 3:6. Strikingly, it also describes the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate as an apple, a medieval Christian notion with no source in rabbinic interpretation.

Rather than being a Yiddish translation of the Pentateuch, as is commonly assumed, Tsena-Urena is a commentary on the Pentateuch, the Haftarot, and the Five Scrolls. First published at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it has appeared in more than two hundred and twenty-five editions and is still in print. Unfortunately, nineteenth-century publishers abbreviated and sometimes censored the text, and more recent publishers have followed in their footsteps. The following passage is among those that were deleted in the later editions.

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About the Author

Morris M. Faierstein is an independent scholar and the author or editor of seven books and more than a hundred scholarly articles and reviews.

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