The Tree in the Garden

Miri­am Oren; Penin­nah Schram; Alice Whyte, illus.
  • Review
By – September 24, 2012

In The Tree in the Gar­den, Miri­am Oren and Penin­nah Schram have rewrit­ten the sto­ry of the Gar­den of Eden in Gen­e­sis, cast­ing it in a fem­i­nist and polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect mode. The snake is no longer wily and sly, but a wise and benef­i­cent old gen­tle­man. Knowl­edge of good and evil is reduced to knowl­edge of good and bad. God’s warn­ing to Adam that eat­ing the fruit will result in death is soft­ened. It will only result in his hav­ing to leave Eden. Most emphat­i­cal­ly, Eve com­mits no wrong, but on the con­trary, makes a wise and coura­geous choice in eat­ing the fruit. We are advised to be grate­ful to her and fol­low her example. 

Shay­na, the grace­ful grand­daugh­ter (grand­snake?) of Eden’s famous ser­pent, nar­rates the sto­ry. It was Shayna’s grand­fa­ther who was Eve’s wise and kind advi­sor, encour­ag­ing her to con­sid­er eat­ing the fruit of the Tree of Knowl­edge. If you can sus­pend dis­be­lief to accept a Yid­dishe maid­el of a snake named Shay­na telling this sto­ry to rapt lis­ten­ers, this book may please you. On the page, the sto­ry seems loaded with mes­sages, and a cor­rec­tive to the chap­ter in Gen­e­sis. Read aloud by mas­ter sto­ry­teller Penin­nah Schram, one can imag­ine this would make a stim­u­lat­ing D’var Torah or dis­cus­sion opener. 

The book is a slim and attrac­tive­ly designed paper­back, print­ed on high qual­i­ty paper in beau­ti­ful and leg­i­ble type­face. It is illus­trat­ed with light­heart­ed water­col­or paint­ings by Alice Whyte. The airy, casu­al land­scapes sug­gest how Eden might have looked under a lib­er­al God. Trees, foliage and humans seem care­free. Only the snake has a heavy presence. 

Midrash is an inter­est­ing form. When it becomes revi­sion is up for debate. 

This book has the poten­tial to gen­er­ate dis­cus­sion and stim­u­late writ­ing and sto­ry­telling. It is rec­om­mend­ed as an addi­tion to syn­a­gogue libraries, women’s stud­ies col­lec­tions, and Havu­rah sto­ry­telling shelves.

Nao­mi Morse man­aged a pub­lic library children’s room in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land for many years, and then worked as head librar­i­an at the Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School Low­er School in Rockville, Mary­land. She has served on AJL’s Syd­ney Tay­lor Com­mit­tee, and last year (2008) was a mem­ber of ALA’s Calde­cott Com­mit­tee. She is an inde­pen­dent book reviewer.

Discussion Questions