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Book Reviews BOOK REVIEWS 79 Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture, by Daniel Boyarin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 283 pp. $35.00 (c). In this well argued study Boyarin sets out to correct misconceptions about rabbinic attitudes to gender differences, sexual practice, and human sexuality in general. Boyarin's underlying premise is that the rabbinic psyche was not plagued with the "fear of women" and that the rabbinic mind, unlike that of Hellenistic Judaism and Christianity, did not subscribe to the dualist notion of the body-soul dichotomy. The latter fostered the loathing of the body as filthy and as the prison of the pure, heaven-bound soul; it constructed a gender-based theological and cultural hierarchy in which the female, in her sexual and procreative functions, represented the degraded pbysis, while the male stood for the sublime life of the spirit, struggling to free itselffrom the trap of the sexualized body; women represented nature and men culture. Rabbinic Judaism, however, perceived the human soul and body as a unified whole, rather than a polarity, and sexuality as one of the components of being human, not a feature of existence that should be denied and renounced. An illuminating example of the difference between the rabbinic and Hellenistic discourse of the body is the interpretation of the two versions of the creation of man in Genesis 1 and 2. Both readings view the first narrative as describing a primal human who was androgynous. Philo, however, sees the first Adam as an entirely spiritual, non-corporeal being, and the human in the second tale as a male, out of whom a female is constructed. The Rabbis understood the first human to be a bi-sexual, corporeal being, which was then separated into male and female. This difference in interpretation is not only literary, claims Boyarin, but it displays clearly the basic socio-cultural opposition between the Rabbis and their Hellenistic counterparts as well as early Christians. For the latter, the sublime form of life was that of celibacy and physical denial, symbolized in the first human, who was incorporeal and ungendered. For the Rabbis, the ideal was the return to the original state of the first human before the separation, which is accomplished in the fusion of the sexes in the sexual act. 80 SHOFAR Spring 1995 Vol. 13, No.3 Boyarin examines rabbinic texts to highlight the absence of abomination of women and the body, and the general tendency not to demonize the female. He also explores those texts that reflect a proto-feminist voice within rabbinic culture and that register the male discomfort in assigning entirely sexual and procreative roles to women. All this did not result in a non-sexist, egalitarianJewish culture. Boyarin uncovers the ambivalences, in both aggadic and halakhic materials, surrounding the questions of women and the sexual drive and women and the studying of the Torah as examples of the cultural tensions in rabbinic times. Boyarin argues, however, that we have to find the roots of the male-dominant, androcentrist ideology as well as socio-cultural practices of rabbinic Judaism in historical and economic necessities, rather than in theologically mandated or psychically rooted attitudes. Boyarin's mastery of the primary texts and his ability to examine them in their historical background as well as against modern theories and perspectives are impreSSive. He makes a convincing case for attributing equal cultural significance to historical documents and literary texts; he therefore synthesizes halakhic and aggadic texts in his quest to reveal the theological, political, and psycho-social issues embedded in them. His dazzling scholarship notwithstanding, Boyarin does have a tendency to attribute cultural significance to those texts that support his point of view and to dismiss equally powerful but contradictory texts as "exceptions to the cultural pattern," while neglecting to point out the criteria by which he deems some texts essential and others marginal. Why is the Rabbis' damning statement that Satan was created together with Eve not significant? Boyarin's reading of the aggadic material lacks sensitivity to nuances of language and tone. He therefore dismisses as an exception the tale appearing in Genesis Rabbah and in Avot deRabbi Natan, which reduces the charismatic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 79-81
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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