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Defining Jewish Difference
From Antiquity to the Present


  • Date Published: May 2012
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107013711

£ 67.00

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About the Authors
  • This book traces the interpretive career of Leviticus 18:3, a verse that forbids Israel from imitating its neighbors. Beth A. Berkowitz shows that ancient, medieval and modern exegesis of this verse provides an essential backdrop for today's conversations about Jewish assimilation and minority identity more generally. The story of Jewishness that this book tells may surprise many modern readers for whom religious identity revolves around ritual and worship. In Leviticus 18:3's story of Jewishness, sexual practice and cultural habits instead loom large. The readings in this book are on a micro-level, but their implications are far-ranging: Berkowitz transforms both our notion of Bible-reading and our sense of how Jews have defined Jewishness.

    • Challenges assumptions that religious identity revolves around ritual and worship by showing that Jews have historically defined themselves instead through sexual practice and cultural habit
    • Shows that discourse about Jewish assimilation is not a distinctively modern phenomenon, but that it has a long and varied history within Jewish cultures starting with the Bible itself
    • Maps out an important new genre of Bible reception history: by tracing the interpretation of a verse that is loaded with identity politics, the book explores the nexus between hermeneutics and history, or interpretation and ideology, in its sharpest, most dramatic iterations
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… [a] profoundly impressive study …' Mara Benjamin, Religious Studies Review

    'Berkowitz's chapters are a wellspring of information on defining Jewish identity from epochs of Jewish life, culled mainly from scriptural verses as interpreted in traditional rabbinic sources … this volume is a welcome and needed repository of classic rabbinic legal discussion, disputation, and decisions concerning keeping Judaism and maintaining Jewish survival in the proximity of adaptation and assimilation … this book, with its erudite scholarship, is a worthwhile read.' The Catholic Biblical Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2012
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107013711
    • length: 288 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 159 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.51kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: law, identity, and Leviticus 18:3
    2. The question of Israelite distinctiveness: paradigms of separatism in Leviticus 18:3
    3. Allegory and ambiguity: Jewish identity in Philo's De Congressu
    4. A narrative of neighbors: rethinking universalism and particularism in patristic and rabbinic writings
    5. The limits of 'their laws' in midrash halakhah
    6. A short history of the people of Israel from the patriarchs to the Messiah: constructions of Jewish difference in Leviticus rabbah
    7. Syncretism and anti-syncretism in the Babylonian Talmud
    8. The judaization of reason: the Tosafists, Nissim Gerondi, and Joseph Colon
    9. Women's wear and men's suits: Ovadiah Yosef's and Moshe Feinstein's discourses of Jewishness
    10. Conclusion: an 'upside-down people'?

  • Author

    Beth A. Berkowitz, Jewish Theological Seminary of America
    Beth A. Berkowitz is Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Her first book, Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures, won the Salo Baron Prize for Outstanding First Book in Jewish Studies. She has published articles in the Journal for the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of Jewish Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, AJS Review and Biblical Interpretation. She has held postdoctoral fellowships in Yale University's Program in Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania's Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and New York University Law School's Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization. She received her BA and PhD from Columbia University and her MA from the University of Chicago.

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