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ON STOVES, SEX, AND SLAVE-GIRLS: RABBINIC ORTHODOXY AND THE DEFINITION OF JEWISH IDENTITY· Daniel Boyarin University o/California, Berkeley In an enormously influential paper, "The Significance of Yavneh," historian Shaye Cohen produced a virtual revolution in the depiction of rabbinic Judaism, arguing that at Yavneh there was "created a society based on the doctrine that conflicting disputants may each be advancing the words of the living God."l Indeed, more than once, directly contradictory interpretations are validated by a heavenly voice intoning: "these and these are the words of the living God." The opinion of every member of the House of Study is equally valid. Statements such as this have been taken up in much contemporary writing on rabbinic Judaism as encoding either radical undecidability in the theoretical sense or radical pluralism in the social sense. No one, it is suggested, can exercise control over interpretation according to the rabbinic system of midrash, for the Rabbis allegedly understood that no textual interpretation is ever defmitive, even that of the Author himself. Somewhat less lyrically, but equally idealizing, we sometimes find this structure described as one of a radical democratization of interpretation within the rabbinic polity.2 The first Mishna of the tenth chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin reads: "All Israel have a place in the next world, and these are they who have no place in the next world: One who denies that the resurrection of the dead is a dogma of the Torah; one who denies that the [oral] Torah is from heaven, and [Jewish] Epicureans." This passage, which has been nominated the "Pharisaic Credo" by Louis Finkelstein,3 seems to be promulgating, perhaps for the first time in a Judaism, a "rule of faith" for who is "orthodox," or even genuinely Israel, and who is not. Resurrection and the revealed Oral Torah are precisely the • I am providing the text here just as it was delivered orally at the University of Wisconsin on March 28, 1999, with only minimal and vital annotation added. A much fuDer version of the argument has appeared in Exemplaria, 12.1 (Spring, 2000). 1 S. J. D. Cohen, "The Significance of Yavneh: Pharisees, Rabbis, and the End of Jewish Sectarianism," HUCA 55 (1984) 51. 2 M. Halbenal, People ofthe Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 7. 3 L. Finkelstein, Introduction to Tractates Fathers and The Fathers of Rabbi Nathan, (Hcb.: New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1950), pp. 212-238. Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 170 Boyarin: Stoves, Sex, Slave-Girls major doctrinal points at issue between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Epicureans are included here in my view, because they also deny a life after death. It seems, therefore, doubly difficult to posit "the emergence of the ideology of pluralism to replace the monism which previously characterized the temple and the sects."4 Pace Cohen, the most straightforward interpretation of the Mishnaic passage seems to be that the three who are denied a place in the next world are indeed not Israel. Otherwise the text logically contradicts itself. It hardly bears out, therefore, Cohen's claim that "This is not the work of a sect triumphant but of a grand coalition."5 All Israel indeed, but an "orthodox" Israel which denies the very name Israel to Sadducees. Another important text in the Mishna will support this conjecture: The daughters of the Sadducees, as long as they are accustomed to follow the ways of their fathers, have the same status [in matters of menstrual purity] as Samaritan women. When they have separated themselves [from the ways of their fathers] and follow the ways of Israel, they have the same status as Israel. Rabbi Yosi says: "They always have the same status as Israel unless they separate themselves to follow the ways of their fathers." [Nid. 4:2]6 Following methodological canons established by my teacher Saul Lieberman,7 I would argue that this text has to be historicized vis-a-vis the time of its production, that is, the late second century. Whether or not the text means to refer to Sadducees contemporary with Rabbi Yosi and the Mishna, in any case the contrast between them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 169-188
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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