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DepositChanging the Subject: Rabbinic Legal Process in the Absence of Justification

This essay explores how changing the subject can function as a valid legal process in classical rabbinic literature. In order to do so, it first establishes standard rabbinic legal procedure, in which the legal reasoning for arguments is debated and either supported or refuted. Next, it discusses cases that do not fit this pattern: namely, those in which a rabbi, faced with a contradictory or complex argument, changes the subject rather than his reasoning or ruling. Through a discussion of such cases, this essay argues that, while not preferable, changing the subject can in fact be a valid rabbinic legal process.

DepositEyeing Idols: Rabbinic Viewing Practices in Late Antiquity

This article introduces a new perspective, the history of vision, into the study of rabbinic literature. Specifically it examines how rabbinic visual regimes dealt with those objects and images that it designated as idols. It argues that rabbis took seeing seriously and that they developed a set of strategies to shape the viewing of problematic visual objects such as idols. These ranged from gaze aversion to looking askance. However, even the refusal to look at idols needs to be understood in light of late antique understandings of intromissive, extramissive and tactile vision, and more narrowly, in terms of the reciprocal dynamics of sacred viewing.

Deposit“Thou Shalt Not Cook a Bird in Its Mother’s Milk?: Theorizing the Evolution of a Rabbinic Regulation”

Utilizing theory developed by scholars of Religious Studies and related disciplines, this essay theorizes the evolution of a specific rabbinic dietary regulation regarding the separation of meat and milk. In particular, this essay applies insights regarding religious rhetoric developed by Bruce Lincoln in order to analyze how ancient rabbis strategically deployed discourse as ideological persuasion in order to conceal, deconstruct, and delegitimate alternative rabbinic viewpoints regarding the permissibility of eating fowl and milk together.

DepositCities of the Sea: In Search of כרכי הים

In this essay, I attempt to inscribe the mysterious location known as “the cities of the sea” (כרכי הים) onto the map of rabbinic scholarship. Classical rabbinic authors look toward this mythic locale for three reasons: (1) to discuss tales of sin (and sometimes salvation); (2) to offer definitions and clarifications of obscure words; and (3) to explain halakhic exceptions. Through an examination of כרכי הים in the classical rabbinic corpus, I argue that “the cities of the sea” should be understood as a locus of rabbinic pedagogy and not necessarily viewed as an actual, mappable location.

MemberJordan Rosenblum

My research focuses on the literature, law, and social history of the rabbinic movement. In particular, I am interested in how rabbinic food regulations enact and maintain distinct identities. I am currently writing a book entitled Rabbinic Drinking: What Beverages Teach Us About Rabbinic Literature (University of California Press; expected in February 2020) and co-editing a volume entitled Feasting and Fasting: The History and Ethics of Jewish Food (New York University Press; forthcoming in December 2019).

DepositReligious Lives of Image-Things, Avodah Zarah, and Rabbis in Late Antique Palestine

Drawing on rabbinic sources redacted in the early third and late fourth/ early fifth centuries, this paper tracks the intertwined lives of divine image-things and rabbis living in late Roman and Byzantine period Palestine. The paper argues that the religious image-things of others (or avodah zarah, in rabbinic terms) pressed in different ways on rabbinic notions of animation, materiality, agency, and representation, as well as on the boundaries between the thing, the human, and the divine. Additionally, the paper argues that while rabbis attempted to neutralize the claims of such image-things, in part by exposing their materiality, their excess nonetheless escaped such rabbinic efforts. Finally, the paper argues that in the fourth century, along with the “material turn” in the Roman world inspired by Christian engagement, we find not only a greater sense of the excess in the things of avodah zarah, but also a concomitant thingification of the rabbinic sage.

DepositThe Legal Language of Everyday Life in Rabbinic Religion

Drawing on Robert Orsi’s view of lived religion, this chapter proposes that the discourse of law served as a vehicle in rabbinic religion to mediate relationships between heaven and earth. It argues that religious-legal practice is most similar, in Late Antiquity, to the practice of divination: an ordinary social institution that shaped human life by staging encounters with the sacred. Religious law too organized human daily activity around the divine will, making sacred presence apparent and felt in the bodies and inner lives of practitioners.

Deposit“Inclined to Decline Reclining?: Women, Corporeality, and Dining Posture in Early Rabbinic Literature”

Imagine it is the year 209 C.E. You are a disciple in a rabbinic circle located in a city in Palestine. Your rabbinic mentor invites you to a banquet that he is hosting in celebration of his son’s wedding. Do you bring your wife? In essence, this is the question that I seek to answer in this essay. Were women present at such commensal encounters? And, if so, were they reclining? In the process of asking this question, we learn about early rabbinic (or tannaitic) concepts of corporality because, as is also the case in ancient discussions of dining posture in the larger Greek and Roman milieu, to talk about women at the table is to talk about the issues associated with female bodies: sex, power, procreation, etc. Throughout, I continually ask the question: with regard to women at the table, were the Tannaim inclined to decline reclining?