DepositPilgrimage Itineraries: Seeing the Past through Rabbinic Eyes

This article makes several claims. It argues that the genre of “pilgrim’s literature” is present in rabbinic sources, and identifies rabbinic pilgrimage itineraries. Secondly, it shows that aside from the expected melancholic post-Temple itinerary, there exist itineraries for Babylon and for biblical conquest that do a very different kind of visual and affective work. Furthermore, like Christian and Greco-Roman pilgrimage writings, these rabbinic itineraries seek to visualize the past (and sometimes the future) in the landscape. The article reads these rabbinic itineraries not as sources through which to reconstruct a history of actual travel, but rather as mediations and techniques in and of themselves, through which the past was made visible. Related to this is how, like many Greco-Roman and Christian writings, these rabbinic sources thematize sight. However – and this is linked again to textuality – these sources almost always call for the performance of vision through liturgical or scriptural acts of recitation.

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.

DepositThe Reproduction of Species: Humans, Animals and Species Nonconformity in Early Rabbinic Science

Tracing an early rabbinic approach to the human, this article analyzes how the Tannaim (early Palestinian Jewish sages) of the Mishnah and Tosefta (redacted ca. early 3rd century CE) set the human side by side with other species, and embedded their account within broader considerations of reproduction, zoology and species crossings. The human here emerges at the intersection of menstrual purity law and Temple sacrificial law in the tractates of Niddah and Bekhorot and is part of a reproductive biology that sought to determine the boundaries and overlaps between species. This rabbinic biology ought to be understood amid ancient conversations about what constitutes a proper member of a species, in terms of reproduction, resemblance and variation. The article shows how, even as it disavows genealogical links between humans and animals (and indeed across other species), rabbinic reproductive biology nonetheless implicates humans among and as animals.

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.