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Review of Law and Narrative in the Bible and in Neighboring Ancient Cultures

April 29th, 2013

Review of Klaus-Peter Adam, Friedrich Avemarie and Nili Wazana, eds., Law and Narrative in the Bible and in Neighboring Ancient Cultures (Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 54). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012. 414 pages. By Shalom Holtz sholtz@yu.edu The volume under review brings together eighteen articles, all but one of which originate at a conference held in Marburg in September, 2009.  As the title indicates, most of the articles pertain to biblical literature (Jewish and Christian): six articles treat the Hebrew Bible, three address the Apocrypha, and four focus on Luke-Acts.  The remaining five articles address extra-biblical Jewish or non-Jewish sources: two articles on classical Greco-Roman literature, and one each on Neo-Babylonian legal documents, the Babatha archive from the Judean desert, and rabbinic legal narratives.  Overall, then, the volume offers a culturally and historically broad inquiry into various questions pertaining to the main topic of "law and narrative." One can characterize this volume's overarching theoretical agenda as an investigation of the implications of the "and" that joins "law" and "narrative" in the title.  In one way or another, all of the essays in the book address this subject. Many take up the question based on texts that are best classified as "narratives." The editors remark in their preface: [R]eferences to legal norms in literary texts are most tangible when in the background of a narrative an institutional legal system is operative by which the demeanour and concerns of the acting persons are directly shaped. (p. vi) From this perspective, the "and" juxtaposes two separate entities; "law"-- legal norms known from stories themselves or otherwise-- stands in the background of the "narrative." Western literature provides numerous examples of this kind of relationship, in which fictional narratives are anchored in legal situations and institutions.   A number of contributions in this volume expose some of the earliest examples of rooting narrative in law.  Rachel Magdalene shows how the Book of Job uses trial law to create a fictional, yet plausible, legal narrative.  Similarly, Beate Ego explores the Book of Tobit in light of laws in the Torah and other Jewish practices, and Cana Werman reads two episodes in the Book of Jubilees in light of developments in rabbinic halakha. If, as in the examples just enumerated, the law informs the narrative explicitly, at times, pursuing a narrative's background in the law exposes a more dynamic relationship hiding behind the "and" in "law and narrative." Nili Wazana reads the narratives of the impalement of the Canaanite kings (Joshua 8:29, 10:16-27) together with Deuteronomy's legislation on the treatment of the impaled corpse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), but notes that the narratives make no explicit connection to the law.  According to her, law and narrative both react against a third element (again unnamed in the Bible):  unabashedly violent Assyrian warfare practice and propaganda.  Instead of a law-based narrative, or a narrative in service of a law, Wazana argues that each genre, independently, makes a similar ethical statement about the humane treatment of the dead. The "and" between "law" and "narrative" need not, however, privilege narrative and relegate law to serving as background.  Instead, narratives can serve legal and broader moral-ethical purposes by shaping their audiences' attitudes.  Douglas Hume applies ideas from Adam Zachary Newton's Narrative Ethics to probe exactly how the descriptions of the early Christian community in Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35 served (and may still serve) as examples for believing readers.  Non-Christians might balk at Hume's quest for "how contemporary readers may see their moral imaginations evoked and shaped by these passages" (p. 329; see pp. 342-345). Nevertheless, Hume's historical insights and close readings, which occupy most of his article, merit the attention of anyone interested in understanding early Christianity and its literature. Klaus-Peter Adam takes a comparable approach to the Hebrew story of David and Saul in 1 Samuel 26.  According to him, the very purpose of this narrative is, in fact, to teach the law.  Thus, Adam reads the story of David and Saul as a "didactic case narrative," comparable to later rabbinic haggada, designed to promote "discursive public dispute settlement when private enmity could potentially have resulted in homicide" (p. 118).  Adam's argument stands on firmest ground when he invokes inner-biblical evidence to buttress his legal readings (see pp. 112-116).  Less convincing (although not critical to his overall point) is the suggestion, based on superficial comparisons with the ancient Greek drama Rhesus and with the Iliad, that "the authors of Samuel were familiar with some form of the Greek [espionage] plot" which they adapted to compose the biblical story (pp. 109-110). By interpreting law as narratives' goal, studies like those of Hume and Adam reverse the usual implications of the "and" between law and narrative.  However, any assertion of a narrative's purpose, be that purpose legal or otherwise, requires an argument to support it.  This volume demonstrates the very need for and value of argument because it includes two articles with nearly conflicting views of the same text: the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15.  Eyal Regev interprets the decree as legislation of sorts, whose four main requirements (renouncing idolatry, fornication, eating strangled animals and eating blood) break open a legal path towards widespread conversion of pagan Gentiles by conferring legal status upon practices already customary among early "God fearers." Friedrich Avemarie, in contrast, argues that, from the narrative's perspective, "the focus of Luke's interest in the decree lies neither in the moral betterment of Gentile converts nor, for that matter, on the traditional observances of Jewish Christians" (p. 389). Accordingly, the decree (if one can even call it that) is more a literary device than legislation. If, indeed, law can be narrative's purpose, then one must also ask, more broadly: Can narrative inform our understanding of law? Historians of ancient law regularly grapple with this problem when, because of an absence of legislation, they must rely on non-legislative sources to reconstruct legal institutions.  Joachim Hengstl's contribution to the volume is a fine theoretical investigation of the subject as it pertains to the Torah, where law and narrative are thoroughly intertwined.  The questions Hengstl raises, especially those regarding the origins and purpose of this inter-generic combination, are as relevant to the Talmudic and later Rabbinic legal corpora as they are to the Torah.  Therefore, Hengstl's article is a "must read" for anyone studying Jewish law. For most of the articles in this volume, "narrative" exists in a text, which can be compared to more overt "law" or from which one can derive "law."  Two articles, however, consider the reverse scenario, when one can read "law" but must imagine the "narrative."  Cornelia Wunsch provides an expert account of how one can tease legal narrative out of Neo-Babylonian court records.   Wunsch's approach to the Neo-Babylonian texts resembles Tal Ilan's review of the Babatha archive, specifically Babatha's litigation against her late husband's family who refused to meet the terms of her marriage contract. Ilan seeks the reason for the family's refusal to pay, and finds it in "the killer-wife topos" (p. 266). The idea that Babatha's husband's family thought of her as a killer wife may be fanciful and, in the end, impossible to prove from the texts themselves.  Nevertheless, Ilan's article is valuable for its survey of the killer-wife against "the sort of social-cultural atmosphere . . . and the sort of beliefs, superstitious or otherwise" contemporary with the Babatha archive (p. 265). Scholars working on any of the particular bodies of literature that the volume addresses will obviously begin by turning to the contributions in their area of specialty. To judge from the articles in this reviewer's area, specialists will find useful, current studies that advance the field in interesting ways.  To derive the most benefit from the volume, however, specialists must overcome the temptation to remain within the "comfort zone" of their research area.  Doing so will provide them with meaningful cross-cultural and cross-historical perspectives on the relationships between law and narrative.  

New book on _Feminism, Law, and Religion_

April 23rd, 2013

Feminism, Law, and Religion, edited by Marie A. Failinger, Elizabeth R. Schiltz and Susan J. Stabile, is forthcoming in July from Ashgate Press. From the publisher's blurb:
With contributions from some of the most prominent voices writing on gender, law and religion today, this book illuminates some of the conflicts at the intersection of feminism, theology and law. It examines a range of themes from the viewpoint of identifiable traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, from a theoretical and practical perspective. Among the themes discussed are the cross-over between religious and secular values and assumptions in the search for a just jurisprudence for women, the application of theological insights from religious traditions to legal issues at the core of feminist work, feminist legal readings of scriptural texts on women’s rights and the place that religious law has assigned to women in ecclesiastic life.Feminists of faith face challenges from many sides: patriarchal remnants in their own tradition, dismissal of their faith commitments by secular feminists and balancing the conflicting loyalties of their lives. The book will be essential reading for legal and religious academics and students working in the area of gender and law or law and religion.
Table of contents is as follows:
 Religious and Secular Encounters: A contemporary Catholic theory of complementarity, Elizabeth R. Schiltz; Deconstructing equality in religion, Cheryl B. Preston; The catholic Church and women: the divergence between what is said and what is heard, Susan J. Stabile; What is the matter with Antigone?, Emily Hartigan; Privatizing diversity: a cautionary tale from religious arbitration in family law, Ayelet Shachar; From third wave to third generation: feminism, faith, and human rights, M. Christian Green; A meditation on mahr, modernity and Muslim marriage contract law, Asifa Quraishi-Landes; Co-creating the family: a Lutheran view of marriage and divorce law, Marie A. Failinger; With compassion and lovingkindness: one feminist Buddhist’s exploration of feminist domestic violence advocacy, Deborah J. Cantrell; ‘Men are the protectors of women’ negotiating marriage, feminism and (Islamic) law in American Muslim efforts against domestic violence, Juliane Hammer; Why women are re-interpreting the Qu’ran and re-thinking the Hadith: a transformative scholarship-activism, Nimat Hafez Barazangi; Modesty disrobed: gendered modesty rules under the monotheistic religions, Frances Raday; Jewish law: the case of wife-beating, Naomi Graetz; Competing approaches to rape in Islamic law, Hina Azam; Catholic women and equality: women in the code of Canon Law, Sara Butler; Daughters of the Buddha: the Sakyadhita movement, Buddhist law and the position of Buddhist nuns, Rebecca Redwood French; Chinese women lawyers and judges as priests, Mary Szto.
 

Review of Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

April 22nd, 2013

Review of Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts, edited by John Renard. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 262 pages. $29.95 By Alexandria Frisch af925@nyu.edu The recent documentary, “The Gatekeepers,” highlights the dangers of scriptural interpretation that legitimizes violence. Segments of the film focus on Gush Emunim, a group of Israeli settlers who carried out terrorist acts in the 1980s. Upon hearing the destruction caused by car bombs, one of the group’s founders, Rabbi Haim Drukman, is reported to have exclaimed, “Thus may all Israel’s enemies perish!”—an allusion to the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:31). Thus, a poetic declaration of tribal victory from 3,000 years ago has been reread to justify a modern act of terrorism. It is incidents such as this (indeed, Gush Emunim is referenced on p. 46) that have inspired the collection of articles in Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts. The scholars who have contributed to this volume have undertaken to “explore the connection, both actual and perceived, between sacred sources and the justification of violent acts” (2). The book is divided into eight chapters, each focused on a different religious tradition: Jewish, Christian (Christianity is treated twice in relation to the Old and New Testaments), Islamic, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Sikh. The introduction provides a succinct overview of each faith and its main texts, making the book a good introduction to both world religions and scriptural interpretation. Rather than treat each of these chapters (and, thus, traditions) separately, I would like to put them into conversation with one another by grouping them based on the reading strategies that they highlight. As stated in the introduction, each scholar pays attention to “the virtually universal phenomenon of variant methods of interpreting sacred texts that sanction, mandate, or explicitly rule out violent means” (2). It is around these three interpretive modes—sanctioning, mandating, and ruling out—that I wish to cluster the various religious traditions. In “Violence in the New Testament and the History of Interpretation,” Leo Lefebure focuses on New Testament descriptions of violence, which mostly depict intra-Jewish conflicts such as those between Jesus and the Pharisees. Lefebure then shows how, in the hands of later Church Fathers, these accounts were taken out of their original, historical contexts and made universally applicable, so that “later generations of Christians often saw virtually all Jews throughout the ages as rejecting God and God’s messengers” (87). Therefore, violence against Jews was often sanctioned, perhaps most prominently in the Crusades. Michael Sells points to a similar phenomenon in “Finhās of Medina: Islam, ‘The Jews,’ and the Construction of Militancy.” For instance, the Quran cites disputes between Mohammed and a Jew, Finhās, and his companions who blasphemed God and as a result are cursed. Yet, Sells underscores how, similar to early Christian polemicists (whom he cites on p. 104), various modern, Islamic interpreters have universalized these particular references, so that Finhās’ curse means that all Jews are accursed. It is this exegetical maneuver that has served as the basis for sanctioning violence against Jews (and Israel). Sells concludes with a warning that is also applicable to Lefebure’s essay: by ignoring the original “frame of reference” (p. 126) of group names, interpreters of religious texts can create “pastiches of terror, by dismembering the sacred texts of their own tradition or of the traditions of others, then stitching together selected pieces, without the historical, rhetorical, and theological tissues of the original” (p. 127). The two essays that focus on the mandating of violence include Reuven Firestone’s “A Brief History of War in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Interpretive Tradition” and Bernhard Asen’s “Annihilate Amalek! Christian Perspectives on 1 Samuel 15.” Not coincidentally, both focus on passages in the Hebrew Bible in which war is divinely commanded. For example, in 1 Sam 15:3, the prophet Samuel instructs Saul to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites. When Saul fails to do so, he is punished. In response to “texts of terror” such as this (p. 56), Asen advocates a perspective similar to Sells’, namely, modern readers must keep in mind the past, historical context of these passages and “cease looking for Amalekites” (p. 70) in the world around them. Firestone similarly softens the mandated violence of the Bible. He identifies a teleological assumption inherent in the biblical text—if Israel obeyed God they would be victorious in wars, but, if they disobeyed, then they would suffer defeat—and then demonstrates how early rabbis used this assumption to exegetically do away with divine war. After a series of military losses at the hands of the Romans, the rabbis came to the conclusion that these defeats were a sign of Jewish disobedience and, more particularly, an indication that their leaders had lost the ability to discern God’s commands. Divinely mandated war was no longer an option until 1967, when the seemingly miraculous victory of the Six-Day War led some Jews to revive the notion that God supported war. For these Jews, therefore, holy war was once again possible and even mandated. Thus, we can see in the case of the rabbis that scripturally mandated warfare did not always necessitate actual warfare. This is true of Zoroastrianism as presented in the article by Jamsheed Choksy, “Justifiable Force and Holy War in Zoroastrianism.” With a dualistic concept of evil, followers of this faith are commanded to use physical force to combat evil in the world. Yet, at the same time, evil is also understood spiritually and can be battled through good deeds. A similar tension exists in the Sikh faith, though, it is not based on dualism, but rather competing textual traditions. In “Words as Weapons: Theory and Practice of a Righteous War (Dharam Yudh) in Sikh Texts,” Pashuara Sing explores the differences between gurus who commanded retaliation against those that persecuted them and gurus who focused on internal spiritual struggles. The concept of spiritual warfare is echoed in the remaining essays that focus on the ruling out of violence. Todd Lawson’s “The Baha’i Tradition: The Return of Joseph and The Peaceable Imagination” emphasizes how non-violence is an inherent part of the Baha’i revelation, which is largely a reinterpretation of Islam. This revelation has abolished the violent aspect of jihad and replaced it with a concept of jihad as an inner struggle to attain good. Similarly, Laurie Patton, in “The Failure of Allegory: Notes on Textual Violence and the Bhagavad Gita,” draws attention to the ways in which accounts of warfare in a Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, are reread allegorically as spiritual quests to achieve harmony. Despite its non-violent outcome, Patton criticizes allegorical readings for reducing a text’s plurality of meaning to a signal meaning. In turn, she offers an alternative reading practice based on Indian poetics that preserves plural meanings. It is suggestions like Patton’s that ultimately most differentiate the chapters from one another. Some of the scholars—Patton, Asen, Sells—offer new interpretive strategies that they hope will better serve the texts and the people reading them. In this they follow the corrective set out by the editor John Renard, who, in his introduction, argues that when viewing another religious tradition “it is never fair to assume that another tradition condones [violence],” nor is it fair to “interpret their scripture as only the extremists among them would” (p. 26). In contrast, the chapters by Firestone, Lefebure, Lawson, Choksy, and Singh read as surveys of past and current interpretive modes without suggestions for new exegetical strategies. These two approaches do make the overall objective of this book somewhat unclear. Ultimately though, for any reader—those who want an academic study of religions and those who want forward-looking answers to interpretive dilemmas—this book serves to demonstrate the profound link between religious violence and religious interpretation.

Eisen, “R. Abraham Isaac Kook on War in Jewish Law”

April 9th, 2013

Robert Eisen has just published "R. Abraham Isaac Kook on War in Jewish Law" in Modern Judaism 33:1 (2013). Eisen's article is the most recent contribution to the study of R. Kook's legal philosophy, a line of inquiry that includes Arye Edrei, "From Orthodoxy to Religious Zionism: Rabbi Kook and the Sabbatical Year Polemic," Dine Israel 26-27 (2009-10).

Symposium on Talmud and Philosophy

April 5th, 2013

From the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center:
The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism invites you to take part in an online symposium about Yitzhak Melamed's paper, "Salomon Maimon and the Failure of Modern Jewish Philosophy", which will take place April 7-13. The symposium will be led by Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University), Michah Gottlieb (New York University), and Abraham Socher (Oberlin College). Melamed's paper advances a provocative thesis both about Modern Jewish Philosophy and about the relationship between Jewish Philosophy on the one hand, and Tanakh and Talmud on the other.  Please join us for what promises be a lively conversation!  The symposium will take place at the APJ's blog, here: http://www.theapj.com/blog/.

Ruane, _Sacrifice and Gender in Biblical Law_

April 5th, 2013

Nicole J. Ruane's Sacrifice and Gender in Biblical Law  is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. From the blurb:
This book examines the Hebrew Bible's numerous laws about sacrificial procedure to understand the significance of gender in sacrificial rituals and the reasons that gender distinctions are so vital in these acts. Gender selection of both victims and participants is an intrinsic aspect of the nature and purpose of each rite, affecting its form and function, as well as its legitimacy. Sacrifice and Gender in Biblical Law considers the laws of the firstborn, the rite of the red cow, laws of slaughter, rituals of purification, and other offerings. It shows that these laws regulate material wealth and contribute to the construction of social roles.
(HT: Center for Law and Religion Forum)  

Review of Rosen-Zvi, _Demonic Desires: ‘Yetzer Hara’ and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity_

April 4th, 2013

Review of Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: 'Yetzer Hara' and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. 264 pages. $69.95 By Jason Rubenstein jasonbassirubenstein@gmail.com

Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s Demonic Desires: 'Yetzer Hara' and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity is an intervention in an over-psychologized, over-sexualized (read: over-Freudian) scholarly consensus on the rabbinic yetzer hara, the rabbinic “evil inclination.” Rosen-Zvi’s book is admirable for the clarity with which it stratifies rabbinic texts and the fullness of its contextualization of them, and is limited in perhaps overstating the role of the yetzer to the rabbis of the Talmud and midrashim.

Rosen-Zvi handles rabbinic texts with strength and skill. In Chapter One, he contributes to the growing body of studies that divide Tannaitic literature between the schools of Rabbis Akiva and Yishma’el , showing how the two schools conceive of the yetzer differently. The anthropology of a single, evil yetzer is a product of the school of Rabbi Yishma’el; the school of Rabbi Akiva, in contrast, sees the yetzer as merely the anxious voice of self-preservation that cautions against undertaking risky or costly mitzvot. In both Babylonia and Palestine, the Amora’im by and large adopt Rabbi Yishma’el’s approach, which is taken yet further by “the Stam.” (Rosen-Zvi sidesteps, though doesn’t ignore, questions of the dating and unity of “The Stam”).

The payoff for Rosen-Zvi’s careful stratification of rabbinic texts is nowhere more apparent than in Chapter 6, where he deftly demonstrates that the yetzer hara becomes sexualized only fairly late in its rabbinic career. The first step of this process is not about the yetzer at all: the Bavli sees the world through through more sexually colored lenses (parallel Sasanian literature in which sexuality is of central religious value is cited here to good effect) than other corpora of Rabbinic literature; this is apparent through comparison of Palestinian and Babylonian treatment of similar aggadic and halakhic themes. Against this sexualized backdrop, the anonymous editorial layers of the Bavli link the yetzer to these developments, producing the well-known passages that are mistakenly taken as representative of rabbinic yetzer discourse more broadly.

Throughout, Rabbinic texts are read in the context of a varied and vibrant religious context beginning in the Pseudepigrapha, moving through Qumran, and into Patristic writings and Christian scholars of Sasanian Persia. Rosen-Zvi wants these texts - and particularly their discourse of the battle against demons - to be the discourse in which the rabbinic formulation of the yetzer and the techniques to be used against it are primarily understood; Hellenistic psychology is moved to the background (though not ignored entirely).

Consider one example of the similarities between demonic literature and rabbinic yetzer texts, as opposed to the contrasts that appear when rabbinic and Hellenistic texts are compared. As part of a long discussion of the yetzer in Breishit Rabba, a two-stage process is described in which a person first begins to act immodestly, and is then seized by the yetzer: “[When the yetzer] sees a man rub his eyes, fix his hair, hang upon his heels [signs of immodesty], [the yetzer] says: this one is mine” (BR 22:6). This same moral dissolution, initiated by a person and accelerated by the yetzer, is described by Origen in somewhat less narrative form: “[D]esires [are] given to us naturally for our use. But when we indulge these to excess and offer no resistance to the first movements towards intemperance, then the hostile powers [seize] the opportunity of this first offence...” (39).

In contrast to that similarity, Rosen-Zvi elegantly contrasts Rabbi Shimon’s lament, “Woe unto me from my creator and woe unto me from my yetzer” (b. Ber. 61a) with a Hellenistic counterpart. It is worth quoting the passage in full,

Such a depiction cannot but remind us of the role of the logos in the Platonic tripartite soul. However, unlike the famous picture of the winged chariot in the Phaedrus, in which the higher part of the soul has to control the other two parts - the good and the bad horses - Rabbi Simon’s “charioteer” is not one part of the soul, but the whole person, “me.” This poor person does not lead any horse, but is doomed to endlessly maneuver between two mighty forces: God and the yetzer. (130)

    Rosen-Zvi goes on to to develop the most fundamental and far-reaching implications of his study:

The division between self and yetzer is one of the most stable phenomena in the rabbinic discussions of the yetzer, regardless of their specific themes. Throughout this study, I have insisted that this separation is not just a figure of speech but a firm anthropological model, which functions as one of the foundations of rabbinic ethics. For the rabbis, the true “self” is essentially good in nature, and therefore can and should strive to be a worshiper of God. (ibid)

Inasmuch as Rosen-Zvi’s assessment of rabbinic anthropology is correct, his applications and inferences are illuminating and insightful. And in them he offers us nothing less than an alternate account of the structure of the self, an account that is valuable for just the same reasons it has been heretofore overlooked: it is not identical with contemporary psychological inheritors of the Platonic divided soul, be they Freudian or Jamesian.

That said, the thesis that “the division between self and yetzer is... one of the foundations of rabbinic ethics” may overreach in both its breadth and depth.

First, in terms of breadth: Rosen-Zvi’s certainty that his conception of yetzer is foundational to rabbinic ethics leads him to make the puzzling assertion that in certain layers of rabbinic texts the yetzer “accounts (alone!) for human sinfulness” (128 - emphasis in original).

But Rosen-Zvi’s picture of the positively-inclined self in battle with its purely destructive yetzer is simply not the anthropology assumed by a set of rabbinic texts in which the bent stock of humanity - sometimes superable and sometimes not - is the source of human sinfulness. Consider the Amoraic passage of Genesis Rabba 8:5, in which the angels of truth and peace object to the creation of humanity due to what they allege to be the wholly deceitful and contentious nature of the human being. These angels make reference neither to the yetzer nor to “a true self that is essentially good in nature.” Here, rather than a localized, internalized demon separate from a “good self,” we are confronted by total, overarching, and likely insuperable defects in human nature. This is but one passage among many in the unceasingly diverse rabbinic debate on the sources of human evil, each component of which deserves the careful attention Rosen-Zvi lavishes on the yetzer hara.

And in terms of depth: while it may be that the anthropology of the yetzer is foundational to rabbinic ethics, it may well be the opposite. By that I mean that the yetzer as conceived by the rabbis may itself be a product of their prior ethical commitment to live according to the Torah’s edicts.

This possibility is most sharply suggested by one of the closing passages of the contemporary philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s “The Reasons of Love”. Here Frankfurt offers a phenomenological account of “wholeheartedness” in which an agent, beset by conflicting desires, unites her will around one plan of action, identifying herself with its achievement. In considering this passage, imagine a rabbinic subject who has resolved to pursue a life of Torah, and to oppose any and all internal forces that would have him do otherwise:

When this happens, the tendency that the person has become resolved to oppose - by having made a decision, or in some other way - is in a sense extruded and rendered external to him. It is separated from his will and thereby becomes alien to it. Once that has been accomplished, the conflict within him is no longer a conflict in which this now alienated tendency is opposed merely by some contrary inclination. it is opposed by the person, in his attempt - as an agent who has become volitionally unified - to withstand its assault upon him. If the alienated tendency proves nonetheless to be too powerful, what it overcomes is not, then, just an opposing inclination. It overcomes the person himself. It is he himself that is defeated, and not merely one of the several tendencies operating within him. (90)

Rosen-Zvi’s yetzer is the “alienated tendency... opposed by the person”, itself created by the self’s identification with Torah. While Origen’s demons parallel certain traits of the  yetzer, Frankfurt does much more, deriving the “most stable” features of this “foundational” concept through a phenomenology of ethics - in turn, giving us nothing less than an ethical genealogy of rabbinic anthropology. That an experience of the self would derive from prior, shared ethical commitments - and that these commitments may have been experienced as such by the rabbis - raises the exciting possibility of exploring what might otherwise be taken to be bedrock among the rabbis (and early Christians), including (but by no means limited to) the yetzer hara. Demonic Desires deserves a great deal of credit for raising these exciting possibilities, though it stops short of aiding us in fleshing it out past the stage of speculation.

At their heart, these complaints are a request that Rosen-Zvi extend this study, developing a multi-faceted approach to the sources of evil, in which the yetzer hara would be one element in a matrix of varied rabbinic theories and anthropologies - and those theories studied with an ever broader set of theoretical frameworks than Rosen-Zvi has applied thus far. Those studies would do well to be modeled on this one; and researchers in the fields of classical conceptions of the self will do themselves and the field a service by drawing on and emulating Demonic Desires.