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Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 259 Reviews It is also somewhat disappointing that while Kraemer effectively compares his use of the literary lens with the analyses of Neusner, Halivni, and the Meiri, he does not engage with other scholars who also claim to be using explicitly "literary" lenses. This reader would have appreciated some dialogue with the work of Jonah Fraenkel, Daniel Boyarin, Shulamith Weller, Eli Yassif, Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, or Miriam Peskowitz. On the whole, though this book makes an important argument for seeing the Bavli as literature, and for engaging in the analysis of sugyot from a literary perspective. Aryeh Cohen University ofJudaism Los Angeles, CA 90077 aryeh@uj.edu COVENANT OF BLOOD: CIRCUMCISION AND GENDER IN RABBINIC JUDAISM. By Lawrence A. Hoffman. pp. 256. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Paper, $16.95. Liturgical scholar Lawrence Hoffman has researched the rite of circumcision through its centuries of practice and reached a conclusion that startled him. He fmds that this most central aspect of Judaism, when examined through its liturgy, discloses a growing exclusion of women. So distasteful is this discovery that he relates how, losing the completed manuscript from his hard drive, he shelved the whole project-almost, it seems, in relief. Only later did he resolve to confront the matter. Such revelation softens the uncomfortable conclusion of this well-documented work: that marginalization of women in Judaism, well established by the rabbis, increased during the Middle Ages and persists today, where women are often entirely absent from this covenantal rite of Judaism. That the rite of circumcision carries profound significance constitutes Hoffman's introductory chapter and reason for the exercise. Amid copious examples of extreme behavior in the service of performing circumcisions, he notes that, besides functioning as a mark of Jewish identity, circumcision has, at times, been held to ward off danger, save from damnation, and enable mystical unity with the Creator (p. 11). It stands as the last tradition that Jews will give up for modernity, exemplified by the 1843 Frankfurt Friends of Reform's effort to liberalize pre-emancipation Jewish principles . They received enthusiastic rabbinic approval of their main proposals: Judaism is evolutionary, no messiah will come, and the Talmud has no Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 260 Reviews binding power. But when they declared circumcision null and void. the Rabbis condemned the entire effort. Hoffman traces the change in the rite's meaning from the Bible to the Rabbinic period. The priestly writings of the Bible transform the Israelite custom of circumcision into a sign of the covenant between Israel and God. By their interpretation the priest-writers harness their obsession with patriarchallineage (the source of priestly authority) to circumcision. culminating in a structural equation: men are to women as Israel is to foreigner (p. 47). Rabbinic thinking develops the idea that a son replicates the worldsustaining role of his father. creating a masculine subsystem which sustains the Jewish covenant with God (p. 50). Liturgical evidence indicates that the tannaitic Rabbis believed circumcision blood to guarantee salvation. an expectation eclipsing earlier agricultural and fertility compacts with God. Central to Hoffman's thesis is his realization that as a male rite. in a culture controlled by men. circumcision symbolizes the unfriendliness of that whole culture to women. According to the Rabbis. "circumcision is a covenant presupposed as existing between men and God•...to which women are party only in a secondary way. through their relationship with fathers and then husbands" (p. 26). Hoffman concludes that this view of circumcision 's symbolic meaning has prevailed: the rite stands (today) as the male lifeline for Judaism. "We will grasp the full force of this rite only if we recognize it as a ceremonial celebration of the obligation that binds men to each other in rabbinic culture" (p. 80). Women's peripheral position in Judaism emerges clearly in the rabbinic observation that the blood of circumcision smells sweet to the divine nostrils . while menstrual blood is so foul as to be unbearable to God. Hoffman explores the range of theses regarding the underlying logic of the purity codes from the Bible to Rabbinism. He describes women's status as similar to that of the deaf. the retarded. and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 259-262
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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