The Construction, Composition and Idealization of the Female Body in Rabbinic Literature and Parallel Iranian Texts: Three Excursuses
- Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
- Indiana University Press
- Number 23, Spring-Fall 5772-3/2012
- pp. 60-86
- Additional Information
Body studies have been a focus in Jewish Studies at least since the publication of Daniel Boyarin’s Carnal Israel (1993), while the Babylonian Talmud’s Iranian context has been a preoccupation of talmudists as a result of Yaakov Elman’s massive decade-long project on this subject. In this article, I use parallels from Zoroastrian literature to shed light on three developments found in rabbinic attitudes toward the female body: the androgynous formation of the first human couple; the etiology of menstruation; and the rabbinic discourse about the ideal contours of the female body. First, in light of the Zoroastrian myth of the first human couple and its Indo-European parallels, I suggest that Genesis rabbah’s androgynous reading of Genesis 1–2 should not be interpreted as a direct subversion of the Middle Platonic adaptation of the classical Greek androgyne myth (as Boyarin suggested), but rather as participating in the production of a widely diffused gender myth in late antiquity. Second, I demonstrate that the view which sees menstruation as a punishment for Eve’s sin is a wholly Babylonian rabbinic invention, and it parallels a Zoroastrian etiology that ties menstruation to primal, demonic evil. Finally, I show how the Babylonian Talmud adapts material from the Tosefta to create an extended discussion regarding the aesthetics of the female breast that parallels developments in Zoroastrian literature from the Avesta to its Sasanian Middle Persian adaptation.