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Schwartz, “Performing Jewish Sexuality: Mikvah Spaces in Orthodox Jewish Publics”

July 31st, 2013

Palgrave Macmillan will publish Performing Religion in Public, edited by Joshua Edelman, Claire Chambers, and Simon du Toit, in September. Here's the publisher's blurb:
From a South African Passion Play to Turkish Sufi tourism, from contemporary street preaching in America to public Hindu rites in India, from cloistered prayer in 17th century France to the queer politics of ‘the closet’ today, Performing Religion in Public brings together an international array of voices that grapple with the important role of religious performance in our secular public lives. Because traditional notions of the public sphere have emphasized rational discourse in a secular setting, religion has often been excluded. But religious life is not impersonal argument; rather, it is passionately performed, crossing boundaries between public and private, the personal and the political, and claiming a significant role in modern democracies, from everyday cultural interactions to political advocacy. By focusing on the performative nature of both religion and publics, this timely volume offers a fresh and fruitful re-conception of the relationship between religion and the public sphere.
(HT: Center for Law and Religion Forum) The volume includes an article by Shira Schwartz on "Performing Jewish Sexuality: Mikvah Spaces in Orthodox Jewish Publics." The rest of the table of contents is as follows:
PART I: PUBLICS AND THE NON-DEMOCRATIC STATE 1. The Market for Argument; Simon W. du Toit 2. Public Acts of Private Devotion: From Silent Prayer to Ceremonies in France's Early Seminaries; Joy Palacios 3. The Durban Passion Play: Religious Performance, Power and Difference; Michael Lambert and Tamantha Hammerschlag Discussion PART II: VISCERAL PUBLICS 4. Church on/as Stage: Stewart Hedlam's Rhetorical Theology; Tom Grimwood and Peter Yeandle 5. The Intolerable, Intimate Public of Contemporary American Street Preaching; Joshua Edelman 6. Faith, Fright, and Excessive Feeling; Kris Messer Discussion PART III: PUBLICS AND COMMODIFICATION 7. Congregations, Audiences, Actors: Religious Performance and the Individual in Nineteenth-Century Nottingham; Jo Robinson and Lucie Sutherland 8. Sufi Ceremonies in Private and Public; Esra Çizmeci 9. From Religion to Culture: The Performative Puja and Spectacular Religion in India; Saayan Chattopadhyay Discussion PART IV: EPHEMERAL PUBLICS 10. Coming Out of the (Confessional) Closet: Christian Performatives, Queer Performativities; Stephen D. Seely 11. Performing Jewish Sexuality: Mikvah Spaces in Orthodox Jewish Publics; Shira Schwartz 12. Busking and the Performance of Generosity: A Political Economy of the Spiritual Gift; Claire Maria Chambers

Legal pluralism in Jewish law

July 30th, 2013

NYU Press has just published Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850, edited by Richard J. Ross and Lauren Benton. The table of contents can be accessed here. Of particular note is the contribution of Karen Barkey, "Aspects of Legal Pluralism in the Ottoman Empire," which deals with the complex interrelations between Islamic, Jewish, and Christian courts under the Ottoman Empire. A recent treatment of legal pluralism among Muslims, Christians, and Jews under early Islam is Uriel Simonsohn, A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam (U of P Press, 2011), reviewed by Marc Herman on the CJL blog here. Legal pluralism as it pertains to Jewish law continues to be an important subject in both the American and Israeli contexts; for the former, see Suzanne Last Stone, “The Intervention of American Law in Jewish Divorce: A Pluralist Analysis,” Israel Law Review 34 (2000), and for the latter, see Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, “Rethinking Legal Pluralism in Israel: The Interaction Between the High Court of Justice and Rabbinical Courts,” Tel-Aviv University Law Review 20 (1997) (Hebrew). Suzanne Last Stone has also dealt with the subject in Jewish law more generally, particularly in her “Sinaitic and Noahide Law: Legal Pluralism in Jewish Law,” Cardozo Law Review 12 (1991). It should be noted that Robert Cover's article, "Nomos and Narrative," which has been used productively in numerous areas in Jewish studies, is devoted primarily to the subject of legal pluralism. The closely related subject of interpretive pluralism--the question of whether interpretation yields one correct answer--has been of particular interest to scholars of rabbinic literature, where Hanina Ben-Menahem's “Is There Always One Uniquely Correct Answer to a Legal Question in the Talmud?” Jewish Law Annual 6 (1987), is the seminal treatment. Ben-Menahem's article paved the way for Richard Hidary's comprehensive treatment in his Dispute for the Sake of Heaven: Legal Pluralism in the Talmud. Hidary's book should be read along with an important series of exchanges that he had with Christine Hayes in the pages of Dine Israel; see Hayes's "Legal Truth, Right Answers and Best Answers: Dworkin and the Rabbis," Dine Israel 25 (2008) and Hidary, "Right Answers Revisited: Monism and Pluralism in the Talmud," Dine Israel 26-27 (2009-2010), accompanied by Hayes's rejoinder in the same volume. While Ben-Menahem, Hidary, and Hayes largely confine their analysis to legal texts in rabbinic literature, scholars have also mined aggadic statements for their contribution to the subject of pluralism. Steven Fraade has collected the relevant texts in his "Rabbinic Polysemy and Pluralism Revisited: Between Praxis and Thematization," AJS Review 31 (2007).

Call for papers: “Judaism, Law, and Literature”

July 28th, 2013

The Jewish Law Association has circulated a call for papers for the 2014 international conference on the subject of "Judaism, Law, and Literature." Here's the call:
The next international meeting of the Jewish Law Association will take place in Antwerp, Belgium, on 21-24 July 2014, hosted by the university's Institute for Jewish Studies, directed by Professor Vivian Liska. The conference will give preference to papers on the theme "Judaism, Law, and Literature," viewed broadly as including papers on any period (law and literature in the Bible, rabbinic literature, and modern secular literature), and as encompassing both law in literature and law as literature, from both applied and theoretical/methodological perspectives. Comparative perspectives will also be welcome. Proposals of papers should be sent to the Chair of the Conference Organising Committee, Professor Bernard Jackson, at by December 31st 2013. They should contain a title and abstract. Further details on the Association's web site:

Dedek, “Duties of Love and Self-Perfection: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theory of Contract

July 23rd, 2013

Helge Dedek  has posted Duties of Love and Self-Perfection: Moses Mendelssohn's Theory of Contract on SSRN. Here 's the abstract:
In his Doctrine of Right, Immanuel Kant calls Moses Mendelssohn, the towering figure of the German and the Jewish Enlightenment, a ‘Rechtsforscher’ – a legal scholar. Yet not only Kant, but numerous scholars of natural law in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, refer to and reflect on the juridical aspects of Mendelssohn’s work, in particular his thoughts on the law of contract. In this paper, I hope to shed some light on this hitherto rather unexplored facet of Mendelssohn’s oeuvre. Mendelssohn develops his theory of contract from the starting point of the officium amoris: the unenforceable ‘duty of love’ to exercise beneficence. Mendelssohn’s theory knows nothing yet of the modern contrast between altruism, distributive justice, and ‘freedom of contract'. By exploring Mendelssohn’s theory, we will, thus, be able to catch a glimpse of the birth pangs of the modern Western discourse on the ‘freedom of contract', which formed the backdrop, as well as the jumping-off point, of the development of a ‘liberal’ will theory of contract. Since this ‘liberal’ model is still the paradigm of how contract is mostly perceived today, Mendelssohn’s theory also exemplifies the possibility of an alternative to our own conceptualizations of contract that inescapably shape the way we think.

Postema, “Custom, Normative Practice, and the Law”

July 21st, 2013

Gerald J. Postema  has posted Custom, Normative Practice, and the Law on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Legally binding custom is conventionally analyzed in terms of two independent elements: regularities of behavior (usus) and convictions of actors engaging in the behavior that it is legally required (opinio juris). This additive conception of custom is deeply flawed. This essay argues that we must abandon the additive conception and replace it with an account of custom that understands legally relevant customs as norms that arise from discursive normative practices embedded in rich contexts of social interaction characterized by intermeshing anticipations and interconnected conduct. The hallmark of legally binding customs, it is argued, is not the addition of belief or conviction to behavioral regularities, but rather the integration of meaningful conduct into a web of legally recognized reasons and arguments.

Green, “Should Law Improve Morality?”

July 19th, 2013

Leslie Green has posted "Should Law Improve Morality?" on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Legal theorists have long debated whether law should enforce social morality. This paper explores a different problem: should law (try to) improve social morality? I argue that it should. First, against conceptual and empirical doubts, I argue that it is possible for law to improve morality. Second, against certain moral objections, I argue that it is often proper for law to try to improve it. Third, I offer an example: law should try to improve our social morality of sex, by trying to re-shape what we regard as valid consent to sexual activity. Along the way, the ideas of H. L. A. Hart and Patrick Devlin are examined, as are the empirical and policy claims of Paul Robinson and his collaborators. A revised version of the paper is to appear in Criminal Law and Philosophy.

Review of Kanarfogel, _The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz_

July 18th, 2013

Review of Ephraim Kanarfogel, The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012. 600 pp. $59.95. By Ethan Zadoff Since the early days of Wissenschaft des Judentums the characteristics and trends of the medieval Jewish intellectual world in Ashkenaz have endured as centerpieces of historical, lexicographical, and social and cultural inquiry. The exploration of this deeply rooted landscape has, and continues to receive, significant consideration from scholars examining the plethora of texts produced by Jews living in Northern France, Germany, Italy, and England, often for diverse interpretive goals. Of the contemporary scholars engaged in understating the various facets of the intellectual world of medieval Ashkenaz, Ephraim Kanarfogel has been one of the most prolific, investigating various facets of this rich history, from the legal contours of the Hasidei Ashkenaz to the mystical tendencies of 12th and 13th century Halakhists. Kanarfogel’s recently published book, The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz, paints a broad picture of the variegated intellectual landscape of medieval Ashkenaz and is crafted, at least partially, from a number of the theses developed in his previously published work. In brief, Kanarfogel argues that the interests of Ashkenazik rabbinic figures were much broader than Talmudic studies. While Ashkenazik scholars may have started their intellectual endeavors in engaging and studying the Talmud, they used this basis as the way to conceive and understand the contours of what Kanarfogel refers to often as “the multiple truths of the Torah.”[1] Ashkenazik rabbinic figures exhibited multiple layers and levels of scholarship beyond that of the Talmud and Halakha, while advocating for wide ranging definitions of truth. In this context, an extensive variety of questions and different forms of textual and conceptual methods were undertaken by the Tosafists in order to navigate the meaning of truth. Kanarfogel begins the book with a discussion of the commonalities and differences in methodology, institutional structure, and substantive law of the Tosafist centers of Northern France and Germany. To illustrate points of divergence Kanarfogel draws attention to the prevalent role that leading rabbinic figures played in the local courts in Germany, compared to the paucity of activity (as suggested by the surviving evidence) for the leading rabbinic figures of Northern France, particularly in the latter half of the twelfth and first part of the thirteenth centuries. But despite the manifestation of a number of differences between the two intellectual centers, the commonalities that existed within and between Northern France and Germany, as well as the high degree of contact between them, meant that many rulings and practices did not adhere to a pattern of differentiation but brought the two closer together. Kanarfogel ends the chapter by offering a consideration of Christian scholastic influence on Tosafist dialectic. Chapters two, three and four focus on various aspects of biblical interpretation.  Chapter two attempts to lay out the interpretive contours for three late twelfth century French Tosafists who were also students of Rabbenu Tam, R. Yosef Bekhor Shor of Orleans, R, Jacob of Orleans, and R. Yom Tov of Joigny. Kanarfogel shows how all three favored biblical interpretations that followed Rashi rather than their more immediate predecessor, Rashbam. In chapter three, Kanarfogel discusses two Ashkenazik rabbinic figures with German roots, R. Judah the Pious and R. Isiah de Trani who also composed Torah commentaries within similar dimensions, and then compares the approaches of these five exegetes with the more Talmudically inclined comments offered by other Tosafists of the period. Chapter four identifies additional Tosafists and rabbinic figures in the first half of the thirteenth century, such as R. Moses of Coucy, R. Yehiel of Paris and the brothers of Evreux, who pursued both peshat and drash in their biblical interpretations. For Kanarfogel, these Tosafist exegetes and their mostly peshat approach represent a sizeable portion of the Tosafist Torah commentaries that began to appear in the middle decades of the thirteenth century and continued into the early fourteenth century. In chapter five, Kanarfogel focuses on the composition of piyyut by Tosafists in both Germany and France. He argues against the regnant historiography that views the development of piyyut in the post- first crusade political and intellectual context as a stagnant enterprise, which was not maintained as a focus of Tosafist activity or creativity. Instead, Kanarfogel argues that it is possible to identify defined areas of interest and patterns of Tosafist piyyut composition. Commemorative kinot and selihot were always produced, but Tosafists composed piyyutim for other occasions, including liturgical occasions, that can be defined as new and innovative. In chapter six, Kanarfogel continues a number of lines of argumentation that he developed in previous work, suggesting that there was a knowledge and awareness of magic and mysticism expressed by both Northern French and German Tosafists, but these perspectives were strengthened during the early thirteenth century in Germany, particularly by those associated with the Hasidei Ashkenaz. Kanarfogel pays particular attention to the authority of the German Tosafists and rabbinic scholars in the thirteenth century in this context and suggests a high degree of influence on both Northern French and Spanish scholars. Finally, in chapter seven, Kanarfogel questions whether the Talmudic-centric focus of the Tosafists masks notions of theological development amongst Northern French and German scholars. Given the various avenues of intellectual acumen analyzed, he concludes that both Northern French and German Tosafists expressed a range of views on a host of various theological questions, including the issues associated with anthropomorphism, messianism, the messianic era, and others. Kanarfogel ultimately succeeds in offering the most sustained and wide-ranging effort to reconceptualize the nature and boundaries of Jewish intellectual life in medieval Ashkenaz.  Like his other works, this book is meticulously researched. Kanarfogel’s knowledge and use of medieval Jewish manuscripts is unparalleled; he cites or references more than 200 different Hebrew manuscripts and his citation of other scholarly works follows his pattern of well researched articles and books. To be sure, one may question whether Kanarfogel could have positioned his conclusions in wider contexts.  For example, at the conclusion of the first chapter, Kanarfogel analyzes the parallels between the methods, hermeneutics, institutional structures and even the language utilized by Halakhists and canonists and churchmen in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Kanarfogel pays particular attention to the parallels in institutional structure, comparing the pre-crusade academies in Ashkenaz to monastic schools and the rise of cathedral schools to Tosafist academies as well as the use of dialectic in both the cathedral schools and the Tosafist academies.  But while the focus on institutions, the use of dialectic as a defining pedagogical feature of the institutions, and the ubiquitous nature of dialectic though transference, stands apart as an innovative way to understand the parallels- in part because Kanarfogel successfully underlines the parallel internal debates between Halakhists and churchmen in Germany and France respectively regarding the acceptance of dialectic as a useful methodological tool- the argument could be broadened in a number of ways. In particular, the argument could be augmented by placing the possibility of transferences and shared interest in the legal hermeneutical context within the contours of the broader historiographical debate concerning the perceived relationship between Judaism and Christianity during the high and later Middle Ages. Indeed, the parallel development between Halakhists and canonists both in regards to substantive law and legal methodology and hermeneutic has yet to be adequately studied and understood within broader conceptions of medieval social and cultural life. And yet, despite this fairly minor shortcoming, Kanarfogel effectively draws out the details of the diverse array of intellectual interests of Jews in medieval Ashkenaz and successfully challenges the dominant perception that medieval Ashkenazic rabbinic scholarship was lacking in intellectualism and broad scholarly interest.  

[1] See pg. 26-35.

Ferrari and Christofori, _Current Issues in Law and Religion_

July 11th, 2013

This September, Ashgate will publish Current Issues in Law and Religion by Silvio Ferrari and Rinaldo Christofori. Here's the publisher’s blurb:
This volume focuses on issues that have only recently come to the forefront of the discipline such as freedom from religion, ordination of homosexuals, apostasy, security and fundamentalism, issues that are linked to the common themes of secularism and globalization. Although these subjects are not new to the academic debate, they have become prominent in law and religion circles as a result of recent and rapid changes in society. The essays in this volume present multiple points of view, facilitate scholars in understanding this evolving discipline and act as a stimulus for further research.This collection gives the reader a sense of the key topics and current debates in law and religion and is of interest to law, politics, human rights, and religion scholars.
And here's the table of contents:
Introduction Part I Why Religion, Why Now? Political and Legal perspectives: Religious revivals as a product and as a tool of globalization, O. Roy; Religious freedom, democracy and international human rights, J. Witte Jr and M.C. Green. Part II Law, Religion and Social Conflicts The global rise of religious nationalism, M. Juergensmeyer; The sacred conspiracy’: religion, nationalism, and the crisis of internationalism, N. Berman; Freedom from religion and national security, A. Guiora; Security, religious autonomy, and the good society, B. Scharffs; Globalization, postmodernism and proselytism, S. Ferrari; Apostasy and freedom to change religion or belief, N. Ghanea; The curious persistence of blasphemy, J. Patrick. Part III Legal responses to religious Issues Cultural diversity. Challenge and accommodation, R. Ballard, A. Ferrari, R. Grillo, A.J. Hoekema, M. Maussen and P. Shah; Sharia in Europe, M. Rohe; Religious courts’ recognition claims: two qualitatively distinct narratives, Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens; Major controversies involving new religious movements, J. Richardson; legal responses to religious difference, P. Edge. Part IV Law, Religion and Gender Issues Is multiculturalism bad for women?, S. Moller; Keeping faith: reconciling women’s human rights and religion, M. Sunder; On the tension between sex equality and religious freedom, R. Sunstein; The unhappy marriage of religion and politics: problems and pitfalls for gender equality, S. Razavi and A. Jenichen. Part V Human Rights within Religious Organizations? Justifications for religious autonomy, N. Doe and A. Jeremy; The recurring paradox of groups in the liberal state, F.M. Gedicks; The right to autonomy in religious affairs. A comparative view, C. Durham; Homophobic speech, equality denial and religious expression, I. Leigh; Religious group autonomy, gay ordination, and human rights law, R.J. Ahdar
(HT: Center for Law and Religion Forum)

Review of Labendz, _Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture_

July 10th, 2013

Review of Jenny R. Labendz, Socratic Torah. Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 272 pages. $74. By Clémence Boulouque In Socratic Torah, Jenny Labendz sets out to challenge assumptions of insularity and parochialism among the rabbis of late antiquity. By laying out an alternative understanding of their perspectives and epistemology, she seeks to demonstrate that some rabbis in the Talmud did allow non-Jews to take part in shaping Jewish self-understanding. Labendz claims that such lesser-known worldviews which give a voice to non-Jews were probably more widespread than scholars have been willing to acknowledge. In doing so, she portrays the rabbis as cosmopolitan teachers, genuinely willing to venture beyond their immediate surroundings. She cites and echoes Erich Gruen in Rethinking the Other in Antiquity, who argues against “a blanket characterization of xenophobia and ethnocentrism regarding the ways societies – Greeks, Romans, Jews and others – related to other societies in the ancient world” (216). While an earlier generation of scholars focused on the interaction between Jews and non-Jews in order to derive historical data (such as Moshe David Herr in his seminal article, “The Historical significance of the Dialogues between Jewish Sages and Roman Dignitaries”), a recent turn in rabbinic scholarship notes the cultural function of these dialogues and their role in Jewish self-perception. Labendz predicates her argument on a number of texts which do not closely follow general Talmudic textual models: she calls this corpus, extracted mainly from the Palestinian Talmud, “Socratic Torah.” “The dialogues that are central to this study are strikingly similar to Plato’s dialogues in their use of a method of inquiry that has become known as the ‘Socratic method’. This method is called ‘elenchus’ from the verb elenchein – ‘refute, examine critically, or censure’: it consists in probing ‘a series of questions and answers through a series of questions and answers between a leader and an interlocutor’” (39). She observes an affinity between this genre and an intended audience: Socratic Torah, she claims, is used primarily with non-Jews (66). To be sure, this register indicates the capacity of rabbis to fine-tune their arguments according to their interlocutors. As the author puts it: “Knowledge in this model, is deeply personal, not in the sense that truth varies from person to person, but in the sense that universal truths come from within people” (71).  Since there is no invoking transcendence or truth claims with such an audience, the non-Jews have to be spoken to on their own terms. According to Labendz, Socratic Torah departs from the standard rabbinic texts which rely on biblical and rabbinical truth claims. Instead, these dialogues make the interlocutor draw on his or her own subjectivity and experience– a feature also present in Christian parables. Mentioning revelation is unproductive in engaging with non-Jews since they will only rely on themselves and not on any external source of authority to derive truth. Interestingly, recollection is key in the maieutics process; a couple of texts in the Talmud and in Plato convey the image of knowledge as having once been possessed in people’s infancy, then forgotten – and waiting to be found again. Although Labendz does not focus on this, it would have been interesting to probe this notion of maieutics and of retrieving knowledge and tradition both in a non-Jewish and Talmudic setting. Previous attempts at addressing non-Jewish audiences on their own terms, including second-century BCE Letter of Aristeas, could be categorized as apologetics. Here it signals something different. Labendz judiciously quotes Vassilopoulo in Late Antique Epistemology: Other Ways to Truth: “Whereas philosophers moved from a rational epistemology to one that included nonrational sources, such as revelations, the rabbis moved from an epistemology based on revelation and tradition to one that came to incorporate rational features such as logic and experience” (70). The recourse to reason proves a strong belief, albeit implicit, in shared humanity. This begs an intriguing question: Does a turn in epistemology usher in or, at least, mirror a new set of doctrines? In this regard, elaborating further on the parallel between the rabbis’ assumptions about shared humanity with the other and the emergence of the Noachide laws would have been interesting. Interactions with non-Jews certainly bespeak a degree of confidence on the part of the rabbis in forging their identity in close proximity to non-Jews. Labendz shows that students engage more reluctantly with non-Jews and that they are quick to question the rabbis formulated in the presence of the non-Jewish interlocutor once that interlocutor is gone. She thus makes an interesting point in showing that the anxiety of influence may be felt in a sharper way by the less educated. But there is even more: such interactions also probe the limits of what can be disclosed, especially to the non-Jews. Here, one may wonder why Labendz abstained from venturing into another shared feature and affinity between Judaism and Socratic transmission, namely, the unwritten doctrine. Even though proponents of the importance of Plato’s acroamatism, especially in the Tübingen school, have stirred vigorous controversy, a textual exploration of boundaries of the unveiling and the veiling, the said and the unsaid in light of oral Socratic and Jewish traditions and methodology, would have greatly enriched the book. Building on Socrates and Plato scholarship, Labendz chooses to lean toward Victorino Tejera’s portrayal of Socrates as “an ethical dialectician,” someone “who always speaks to his interlocutors from their own assumptions and stated interests: he never, as we would say, dumps on them” (46). Yet it would have been worthwhile to interrogate the concept of maieutics further as well as look more critically at the notion of elenchus and the arguments leveled against it. This, in turn, would have allowed for an additional vantage point in order to assess the rabbis’ agenda in their practice of elenchus. Richard Robinson’s classic study, Plato’s Earlier Dialectics, emphasizes the less-than-favorable light in which this method has been described: a display of persistent hypocrisy and of a destructive spirit. Socrates’ achievement is to humiliate or outsmart the opponent rather than convince him. Such is arguably the case in Leviticus Rabbah 4:5, cited in the book: “A certain non-Jew asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah: ‘It is written in your Torah, Lean toward the multitude [Exodus 23:2], and we are the multitude over you. Why do you not join us in polytheism?’.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah objects by asking the non-Jew about the atmosphere around the dinner table where each of his children worship a different deity and pronounce different blessings. He thereby demonstrates that polytheism is the source of disunity, which even renders any family meal impossible. The non-Jew’s response is to run away after realizing that he not only failed to trick his interlocutor but that his position is untenable. Shame, which is the reason for his hastened departure, is the most eloquent acknowledgment of his defeat. Labendz mentions irony in this dialogue, and she frames it with a quote of Strauss, “if irony is a vice, it is a graceful vice. Properly used, it is not a vice at all.” She does not connect this aspect of irony to a not-so distant echo of the Menippean tradition explored by Daniel Boyarin with regards to the Babylonian corpus, in Socrates and the Fat Rabbis. Yet, drawing on Boyarin, one would be keen to understand what can be made of irony or comparable seriocomic proclivities in the Palestinian context? If this vein resembles Bakhtin’s carnivalesque, whose presence in the Babylonian Talmud is underscored by Boyarin, it purports to show “the difference between ideal behavior and knowledge and the matter in which the real world is made” (Boyarin, 321). Is there an absence of carnivalesque in the Palestinian culture and, if so, how? Does this difference between the Palestinian and the Babylonian Talmud point to different worldviews? Labendz briefly deals with the Bavli indeed– in her eighth and final chapter – and she acknowledges that “it requires its own study.” Expanding her corpus and research to a systematic examination of Babylonian materials will certainly yield interesting results. Labendz cites Bakhtin quite significantly but she fails to use the Russian thinker’s sharp distinction between dialogue and dialogicity. Labendz claims that some power is granted to the non-Jew (in that his reactions drive the course of the dialogue) and she dismisses the suspicion that the rabbis’ agenda might be of a quest for intellectual superiority – thus disagreeing with scholars like Catherine Hezser, for instance. Yet using Bakhtin’s concepts would have fruitfully complicated her thesis. As Bakhtin shows, dialogues are sometimes less dialectic in nature than monologues. From this, Boyarin articulates a different understanding of Socratic recourse to dialogues: they may be of an authoritative, if not authoritarian, nature. If the rabbis’ dialogues aim at asserting a certain power or worldview, who is their intended audience? Is this just geared internally in order to assuage people’s fears about minim who get easily defeated? Or would it support Richard Kalmin’s thesis, which argues that debating with minim in these stories may exemplify an effort to convince others of the superiority of rabbinic doctrine and scriptural exegesis – an intellectual way of proselytizing? Finally, the nature of the other, namely the Jew, in works of Christian literature such as Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho has stirred similar questions – is the other, who remains unnamed, a fictional device? It would have been interesting to compare and contrast the recourse to otherness in Christian apologetics and in these materials. Undoubtedly, Labendz’ argument is fascinating – it echoes the endeavors of advocates of Jewish universalism, eager to defend the cosmopolitan essence of Jewish culture. Labendz’ study can be situated in wider intellectual, historiographical trends. The New Criticism in the Anglo-Saxon world or Barthes’ Death of the Author ushered in a textually-centered modernist lens detached from its surroundings, and this perspective has also permeated rabbinics; Jonah Fraenkel’s hermeneutics, for instance, convey these sensitivities, as shown by Isaiah Gafni. Recent years, however, have witnessed the advent of what Boyarin calls a “micro-history of ideas,” where intellectual exchanges between universes seemingly remote or incompatible have received greater attention. In this intellectual horizon, her close reading of the texts raises an array of rich questions. With this work, Labendz certainly points to new directions in framing otherness through the ages, in a Jewish key.

Review of Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity

July 1st, 2013

Over at The Talmud Blog, Ron Naiweld has posted a review of Benjamin Isaac and Yuval Shahar (eds.), Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).

Salmon, “Christians and Christianity in Halachic Literature from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century”

July 1st, 2013

The most recent issue of Modern Judaism (33:2) features an article by Yosef Salmon entitled “Christians and Christianity in Halachic Literature from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century.” The article is accessible by subscription only, but the following is from the free extract:

In his book Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times, Jacob Katz outlined Ashkenazi rabbinic attitudes and conduct toward Christians from the time of Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or Ha-Golah until and including Moses Mendelssohn.1 In this article, we will try to fill in the gaps that we believe exist in Katz’s treatment of the subject.

As a rule, the Jews in the Middle Ages related to the Christians on the theoretical level as idolaters, while they were forced on the practical level to adopt a more moderate attitude toward the Christians for economic reasons.2 The generalization of viewing Christianity as an idolatrous religion went through a process of qualification within the context of the practical needs of the Jewish community during the Middle Ages, such as the permissibility of transacting business with Christians on their holy days. These qualifications were based on the position of Rav Yochanan that “Gentiles in the Diaspora are not actually idolaters, but merely maintain the practices of their ancestors”, or as alternatively formulated by Rashi and other halachic authorities in the Middle Ages: “Gentiles in our times are not well versed in the nature of idolatry.”3 Another qualification voiced by the Tosafists, and reiterated in the 17th and 18th centuries, indicated that “The sons of Noah are not prohibited regarding ‘shittuf’ (i.e., belief in the Trinity).” In other words, only the Jews are required to believe in absolute monotheism, in contrast to others, such as the Christians, whose belief in the Trinity does not constitute a violation of the prohibition of idolatry.4 These qualifications, which already appeared in rabbinic literature in the Middle Ages, did not flow from a principled approach but were designed to create leniencies in matters of business relationships with idolaters …