And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Does the word die in this phrase according to general consensus mean

  1. spiritually
  2. physically
  3. loss of immortality - all of creation are cursed thanks to the fall of men and women
  • 2
    You have 2 separate questions here -- one, whether eating of the fruit (or associated behavior) subjected mankind to a "death penalty" instead of physical immortality, and two, whether all people have some sort of "curse" automatically (and I'm wondering if you are labeling mortality as that curse). Please clarify exactly what you are asking. Thanks.
    – rosends
    Feb 13 '20 at 11:23

A sampling from the commentaries of rishonim.

  • R. Saadia Gaon

    It was the sentencing, but the actual carrying out of the punishment could occur any time.

    אני אומר ביום אכלך הוא יום כפשוטו אלא שהפירוש של מות תמות הוא תהיה חייב מיתה כמו שציינתי בתרגום הפסוק והיות ואין מות תמות אלא הודעת העונש הראוי לו הרשות בידו להפרע ממנו מיד או לאחר זמן או לסלוח לו אם ישוב, שהרי אין זאת גזירה מוחלטת מאת הבורא שאין ממנה מנוס

    No man of thinking ever said that if not for the sin they would have been immortal.

    ואין אף אחד מבעלי העיון האומר שלולא אכל אדם מעץ הדעת לא היה מת באופן טבעי

  • R. Yosef Kara

    It means that they would incur the death penalty, to be applied at some point.

    אלא הכי פשוטו ביום אכלך ממנו אתה חייב מיתה על שעברת מצותי כמו מות יומת המכה רוצח הוא

  • Ibn Ezra

    The decline towards death began.

    ולפי דעתי שמאותו היום תחל למות כי כאשר יגיע האדם אל רוב כחו אז יחל שיחסר ויחלש וימותו אבריו יום יום

  • Bechor Shor

    Loss of imortality.

    כלומר דע כי סופך למות

  • Radak

    Death came earlier than it would have.

    תהיה נגזרת עליך מיתה יותר קרוב ממה שהיה ראוי לך

  • Chizkuni

    Loss of immortality.

    האדם לא נברא על מתכונת שימות אבל כשחטא נקנס למיתה

  • Ramban

    Loss of immortality.

    בעת שתאכל ממנו תהיה בן מות

  • R. Bachye

    Loss of immortality.

    אין הכוונה שימות ביום אכלו אלא שיהיה בן מות כי על דעת רז"ל לולא שחטא לא ימות לעולם אבל יהיה קיים נצחי כמלאכי השרת

  • Riva

    Death within 1,000 years.

    ואו' הר"ר אליקים דמה שכתוב ביום אכלך וכו' ר"ל ביום של הקב"ה שהוא אלף שנה

  • Tur

    Loss of immortality.

    פי' תהיה בן מות אבל אין הכונה שימות מיד אלא שיהיה בן מות

  • Ralbag

    Loss of Divine Providence.

    רוצה לומר תיפסק השגתך

  • Can you cite a source for each view?
    – Jonathan
    Mar 26 '20 at 4:38
  • @Jonathan They're all from their respective Torah commentaries.
    – Alex
    Mar 29 '20 at 20:58
  • I see. Thank you.
    – Jonathan
    Mar 30 '20 at 1:22

The Woman's Curse
3:16 To the woman He said, 'I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy. It will be with anguish that you will give birth to children. Your passion will be to your husband, and he will dominate you.'

Man's Curse
3:17 To Adam He said, 'You listened to your wife, and ate from the tree regarding which I specifically gave you orders, saying, 'Do not eat from it.' The ground will therefore be cursed because of you. You will derive food from it with anguish all the days of your life.
3:18 It will bring forth thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the grass of the field.
3:19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. Finally you will return to the ground, for it was from [the ground] that you were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.'
Kaplan's Translation, Genesis 3

Notice the last curse: "Finally you will return to the ground, …. You are dust, and to dust you shall return". This is clearly describing a physical death.

This is stated as a consequence of their sin, which implies that had they not sinned, they would not return to dust. I.e. they would not have been subject to death, or at least would have had the potential to live forever.

Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were physically changed, as indirectly were all their descendants. People were given a limited physical life span (though still much longer then than now), and as a result each of us will eventually experience a physical death and turn back into dust.

Since we, individually, did not exist then, it is perhaps not appropriate to think of this as a punishment on us for their sin. We are born with a limited life expectancy, so a short life is not something explicitly added to us personally, it is simply how we are created, what we are, and what we know to expect.

And certainly there is no implication, even if we are affected by their punishment, that we share any of the guilt or responsibility for their sin. (E.g. Catholic "original sin".)


"In addition aren't all of creation cursed men and women?"

It can't mean spiritual since that would be similar to Nachmanides' Christian interpretation. Nachmanides seemed to accept the Christian concept of Original Sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden when they eat the forbidden fruit. As a result, they were punished, along with their descendants, even though they did no wrong. This is contrary to Jewish thinking that children are not punished for their parent's misdeeds. According to the Christians, the Original Sin is wiped out by Jesus if the person has faith in him. Judaism also rejects this notion.

  • 1
    -1 for an unsourced "Judaism doesn't believe Christian belief X" to argue with a Rishon. FWIW see the Maimonides' interpretation of a related midrash in Moreh Nevuchim 2:30.
    – Yirmeyahu
    Mar 7 '20 at 2:57
  • @Yirmeyahu It is tragic that many Jews accept Christian and pagan notions. For example, Yosef Mizrachi spoke about original sin. Even Rabbi Hasdai Crescas accepted the notion of original sin. It is tragic since Crescas attempted to refute Christian beliefs, unconsciously accepting basic Christian beliefs as Jewish, including faith in original sin.
    – Jonathan
    Mar 25 '20 at 19:58
  • See previous comment
    – Yirmeyahu
    Mar 25 '20 at 22:27
  • @Yirmeyahu Are you suggesting that Jews have not adopted Christian beliefs, such as, for example, Christian notions such as original sin? I saw Maimonides' interpretation. He seems to say that the "Garden of Eden" story is a parable, and says that Midrash is parables designed to teach about moral behavior.
    – Jonathan
    Mar 26 '20 at 4:35

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