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Imagined Bodies in Rabbinic Literature

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


In her 2005 review article “On Carnal Israel and the Consequences: Talmudic Studies since Foucault”, Charlotte Fonrobert argued that the so-called “corporeal turn” in Jewish studies, and in rabbinics in particular, was still far from reaching its full potential. More than a decade later, a whole host of exciting developments in the humanities have begun to refocus the attention of rabbinic scholars once again to the rabbinic construction of the body. Disability studies, legal theory, history of medicine, and the new wave of gender and sexuality studies offer innovative lenses to consider the rabbinic discursive construction of the body. In this context, the papers in this panel explore different categories of rabbinic bodies across Palestinian and Babylonian rabbinic texts, specifically addressing gendered, beautiful, and disgusting bodies. Sarah Wolf, in her analysis of a sugya in Bavli Ketubot, argues that the Stam constructs a narratively unstable female legal subject, first producing claims about what a female subject might say about her own body and then subverting these supposed claims. Wolf’s paper highlights how even in the most technical discussions, the rabbis are constantly imagining and producing embodied legal subjects. Barry Wimpfheimer’s and Shulamit Shinnar’s paper examine the aesthetic register of rabbinic bodies. Wimpfheimer’s paper explores how rabbinic narrative and legal cases employ different metrics for evaluating the financial value of bodies. On the one hand, he explores the trope of beautiful bodies in rabbinic narrative, where beauty becomes both a metonymy for sexual desirability and a space for the monetization of specific bodies. On the other hand, in the rabbinic treatment of bride prices and the market evaluation of slaves, it is utility that emerges as the key indicator of a body's value. Finally, Shinnar’s paper draws on the burgeoning field of disability studies to examine the process by which disgusting bodies, specially bodies with tsara’at, are stigmatized, becoming spaces where transgressive behavior is transcribed. The sinful, sexually deviant body stricken with tsara‘at becomes a construct against which rabbinic texts define normal, healthy and righteous bodies.

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