…and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…

This week’s Torah portion is B’reysheet. I was studying it last Spring with a young man who was preparing for a Fall bar mitzvah (this week, naturally) and he asked me, “What about trees without seeds?”

Genesis 1:11 describes God creating seed-bearing greenery and fruit trees with seeds. I thought, “All trees have seeds, how else do they reproduce?” There are mushrooms and ferns, which create spores through asexual reproduction, but who ever heard of trees without seeds?

That was the week I was discussing with one of my colleagues how to modify the Jewish wedding ritual for two gay men. Could we or could we not invoke the Garden of Eden in their ceremony? My colleague thought it wasn’t appropriate, since the Garden of Eden story is entirely heterosexual. I argued that as gay and lesbian people, we have to read ourselves into our foundation stories when we aren’t otherwise visible.

Then that very week I happened to see an article about the “fingered citron,” an ancient More pictures of Fingered citronsvariety of citrus fruit that looks sort of like an awkward bunch of bananas. According to the article, it has no seeds. I was awestruck. A tree without seeds! (Jewish note: yes, it’s closely related to the etrog.)

I ended up Googling “Parthenocarpy” and discovered that there are familiar citrus fruits without seeds that I just hadn’t been thinking about: Jaffa and other navel oranges, clementines, mandarin oranges. It turns out that citrus has the ability to produce seedless fruits when the flowers are not pollinated, though generally the trees will bear better when pollinated. Who knew? Seedless watermelons and bananas have been bred to grow without seeds; pineapples and some cucumbers naturally grow seedless if they’re not pollinated.

Genesis draws such a simple outline of the world: Light and dark, up and down, wet and dry, and the appropriate denizens of each domain. Plants bear seed, fish swim in the water, birds fly in the sky, and humans pair up male and female. That’s the story.

But not all trees have fruits with seeds in them. And remember the fish that can walk from pond to pond? Emus, ostriches, and penguins are flightless birds. None of these exceptions are mentioned in Genesis.

And similarly when men fall in love with men or women fall in love with women. We, too, are part of God’s created order — not mentioned in Genesis, but present in the Garden nonetheless.