Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America / Edition 1

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Overview

Contradictory stereotypes about Jewish sexuality pervade modern culture, from Lenny Bruce's hip eroticism to Woody Allen's little man with the big libido (and even bigger sexual neurosis). Does Judaism in fact liberate or repress sexual desire? David Biale does much more than answer that question as he traces Judaism's evolving position on sexuality, from the Bible and Talmud to Zionism up through American attitudes today. What he finds is a persistent conflict between asceticism and gratification, between procreation and pleasure.

From the period of the Talmud onward, Biale says, Jewish culture continually struggled with sexual abstinence, attempting to incorporate the virtues of celibacy, as it absorbed them from Greco-Roman and Christian cultures, within a theology of procreation. He explores both the canonical writings of male authorities and the alternative voices of women, drawing from a fascinating range of sources that includes the Book of Ruth, Yiddish literature, the memoirs of the founders of Zionism, and the films of Woody Allen.

Biale's historical reconstruction of Jewish sexuality sees the present through the past and the past through the present. He discovers an erotic tradition that is not dogmatic, but a record of real people struggling with questions that have challenged every human culture, and that have relevance for the dilemmas of both Jews and non-Jews today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Critiquing a body of texts that runs a wide gamut from the Bible to Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint , this fine, authoritative history of Jewish sexuality may well become a standard reference. Oct.
Library Journal
This engaging history of Jewish sexuality from biblical times to the modern era attempts to answer this question: Is the nature of Judaism and the Jewish tradition ascetic and repressive or sensual and liberatory? Biale ( Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History , Schocken, 1986) shows that Jewish sexuality certainly is not monolithic in nature but exhibits both poles--that of asceticism and gratification--which have been in conflict with each other through the ages. The author covers the entire spectrum from the biblical period, the Talmudic era, the Rabbinic writings, the medieval philosophers, Hasidim, and the modern enlightenment to contemporary American Jewish culture exemplified by Philip Roth's notorious novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969). This volume, scholarly yet accessible to general readers, should remain a basic treatment of an intriguing subject for some time.-- Robert A. Silver, Shaker Heights P.L., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520211346
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/3/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 334
  • Sales rank: 1,216,530
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

David Biale is Koret Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is the author of Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History (1979) and Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History (1986), both of which won the National Jewish Book Award.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Dilemmas of Desire 1
Ch. 1 Sexual Subversions in the Bible 11
Ch. 2 Law and Desire in the Talmud 33
Ch. 3 Rabbinic Authority and Popular Culture in Medieval Europe 60
Ch. 4 Sensuality, Asceticism, and Medieval Jewish Philosophy 86
Ch. 5 Sexuality and Spirituality in the Kabbalah 101
Ch. 6 The Displacement of Desire in Eighteenth-Century Hasidism 121
Ch. 7 Eros and Enlightenment 149
Ch. 8 Zionism as an Erotic Revolution 176
Ch. 9 Sexual Stereotypes in American Jewish Culture 204
Epilogue: Creating Desire 228
Notes 231
Bibliography of Selected Secondary Works 295
Index 309
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