Synopses & Reviews
This book explores the ways in which the early rabbis reshaped biblical laws of ritual purity and impurity and argues that the rabbis new purity discourse generated a unique notion of a bodily self. Focusing on the Mishnah, a Palestinian legal codex compiled around the turn of the third century CE, Mira Balberg shows how the rabbis constructed the processes of contracting, conveying, and managing ritual impurity as ways of negotiating the relations between ones self and ones body and, more broadly, the relations between ones self and ones human and nonhuman environments.
With their heightened emphasis on subjectivity, consciousness, and self-reflection, the rabbis reinvented biblically inherited language and practices in a way that resonated with central cultural concerns and intellectual commitments of the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world. Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature adds a new dimension to the study of practices of self-making in antiquity by suggesting that not only philosophical exercises but also legal paradigms functioned as sites through which the self was shaped and improved.
"Balberg has the rare ability to make an esoteric and complex subject approachable and captivating. This book is a
tour de force that could significantly influence the study of Mishna, the philosophy of halakah
, and our understanding of Rabbinic subjectivity. It is one of the smartest works on the Mishnha I have read."
Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Tel Aviv University
"This book presents a new and striking understanding of rabbinic purity. It is a pleasure to read for the freshness of its ideas and insights; Balbergs interpretations are aptly put and incisively astute."
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, University of Virginia
About the Author
Mira Balberg is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University.
Table of Contents
1. From Sources of Impurity to Circles of Impurity
2. Subjecting the Body
3. Objects That Matter
4. On Corpses and Persons
5. The Duality of Gentile Bodies
6. The Pure Self
Epilogue: Recomposing Purity and Meaning