This article examines the cultural meaning and function of intestinal diseases in rabbinic literature, and particularly in the Babylonian Talmud. Intestinal disease is not only mentioned and discussed more than any other illness in the rabbinic corpus, but is also presented as an ailment reserved for especially righteous people and as allowing the one suffering from it a blissful afterlife. The article endeavors to explain how and why intestinal disease serves as such a potent metaphor in rabbinic culture, and identifies three central themes that converge around this disease: the notion of suffering as salvific in nature, the idealization of the clean and “purged” body, and the ethos of the sage as embodied Torah. Intestinal disease, an illness demarcated by foulness and shame, functions both as a figuration of the state of being-in-body, and of the paths through which humans hope to transcend their bodies.


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pp. 273-287
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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