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What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Susan A. Brayford
In the beginning--that is, in the book of Genesis--love is often expressed or represented in ways that would be neither recognized nor approved of by many modern family-values advocates. To be fair, Genesis love would likely fall short of many traditional assumptions about love--ideal or real. Although the biblical narrator often comments that one character “loves” another, he never allows the characters themselves to express their love directly. Could it be that this all-knowing storyteller realizes that the characters’ actions speak louder than words or that often their actions might make an explicit expression of love seem hypocritical?
In this paper and presentation, I examine some of the stories in Genesis in which love is expressed or represented and suggest how our contemporary ideas would raise the question “what’s love got to do with it?” I will begin with texts in which the narrator uses the word “love” (e.g., 22:2, 25:28, and 44:20) and then analyze those stories in which the characters’ actions might be associated with love (e.g., the so-called institution of marriage [2:24], God’s protection of rejected people [4:15], and the resolution of sibling rivalry [45:4-15]). Finally, I will offer some concluding comments on why these biblical texts and stories might indeed represent ideal love in the ancient world, but would be difficult to portray as real love today.
Constructing a Jewish Philosophy of Love: Possibilities and Challenges
The subject of divine love, central to most religious traditions, is often interwoven in scriptures, historical transmission and interpretation, folk literature, philosophy, poetry, and liturgy. Given this enormous literary corpus, particularly that of the "religions of the book," how do we approach this topic systematically? Does a particular religion tell a coherent story of divine love, or are the represented stories too numerous and distinct, prohibiting us from delineating meaningful trends and characteristics? What are the possibilities that lie in this endeavor and what are the challenges? This paper will attempt to map out themes, trends, and issues in re-constructing a Jewish philosophy of divine love.
Kissing Kabbalists: Hierarchy, Reciprocity, and Equality
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Mystical writers have been drawn to the image of the kiss as an iconic shorthand for their longing for God and the deity’s reciprocal love for and unification with the mystic. In this inquiry into zoharic kabbalah, I examine kisses of a (perhaps) more mundane sort, the interpersonal kiss: the kisses between lovers, master and disciple, and between peers. In the zoharic kabbalah, the kiss is deployed as a form of approbation, a sign of initiation, and as an expression of human love. The questions that I will address center on the issue of hierarchy in the relationship between persons involved in the kissing exchange: Is there a clearly hierarchical interaction, building upon the divine-human paradigm? Or is there a different model of interaction, one between equals; specifically, between a man and his fellow or between a man and his wife? Can devequt and gender be freed from conventional medieval hierarchies or must even the most surprising of kabbalistic texts ultimately be enfolded back into a vertical axis? I argue that the zoharic kabbalists subvert the linearity of gender and power relations; though their medieval mindset immerses them in patriarchal hierarchies, nonetheless they find various avenues in which they find reciprocity and equality in the meeting of one human being and another.
Love in the Palace: Some Things Just Aren’t Done
Charles D. Isbell
Louisiana State University
The rape of Tamar by Amnon, chronicled in 2 Samuel 13, is a story with salacious details fit for Hollywood. Sex, lies, deceit, murder--and all in the royal palace!
With startling force, the narrator describes the action with words that grip by their very simplicity. The feelings of Amnon for the beautiful Tamar are described as "love" (2 Sam 13:1, 4), employing the same Hebrew root used to express the divine love of YHWH for His people, their obligation to "love" God in return, or the love of a man for a woman whom he wishes to marry and make his lifelong partner (i.e., Isaac for Rebeccah in Gen 24:67).
Yet no reader of this story could possibly miss the clear implication that what Amnon feels is not love, but base lust. The narrator shows this in his description of the feelings of Amnon after his rape of Tamar. What had twice been described as love becomes fourfold hatred after lust had been sated: "Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred. Indeed, the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her" (2 Sam 13:15). But hatred is not the province of Amnon alone. Tamar’s big brother Absalom also hates. He hates the rapist (13:22), but he also hates his own father, David, whose sexual sin with Bat-Sheva has left him morally powerless to correct his children (note that Absalom not only invited David to the sheep-shearing party at which he had Amnon murdered, but he also "urged" him to attend at 13:24-25). It seems likely that had he accepted this invitation from Absalom, David would have been murdered along with Amnon.
The key to the narrative lies in the plaintive cry of the beautiful virgin about to be raped. Pleading with Amnon, she begs him not to violate her, and she appeals to his sense of morality as an Israelite: "Such a thing is not done in Israel" (13:12). But Amnon knew that Tamar was wrong. Such a thing has indeed been done in Israel—and by the king himself! Like father, like son. And to add to the bitterness of the irony, the king who had arranged to have a married (and, therefore, forbidden to him) woman brought to his bedroom also blindly arranged the visit of his own daughter to the site of her ordeal of terror (13:7).
The story ends in total disaster. The king who has lost an infant child to the plaguing hand of YHWH (12:15) now loses a second son, apparently the crown prince, to the murderous hand of a third, favorite son.
Tamar? She remained in the house of her brother Absalom, desolate, shamed, and grieving.
David? The once powerful king now appears to have lost all vigor and seems but a shell of the confident slayer of lions, bears, and giants.
The story of Tamar and Amnon, which begins with love that is actually lust, turns quickly to hatred that is surely more like self-loathing and shame, and then careens at the end to hatred that spawns revenge, murder, and alienation.
Is Rav's Wife "a Dish? Food and Eating Metaphors in Rabbinic Discourse on Sexuality and Gender Relations
The University of Judaism
This paper is an examination of food and eating metaphors used to describe sexual activity and gender relations in the classical rabbinic canon, drawing on cognitive metaphor theory and feminist linguistics. Metaphors that associate sex with eating, sexual partners with food, and/or sexual desire with hunger/appetite are quite common across both time and location. There is, however, no one means by which this association can be deployed, and different languages and cultures employ the schema of hunger and its satisfaction with different valences and to different cultural ends. In rabbinic literature, metaphors of this type serve as one prominent element in discussions about sexual desire and practices and about relations between men and women. I will explore the culturally specific ways in which rabbis apply these metaphors to draw out the underlying assumptions about sexuality that they are used to encode. Moreover, I will address the ways in which this complex of metaphors is or is not used by rabbis to express ideas about gender and gender roles/relations. Finally, where relevant and possible, I will situate the use of food and eating metaphors in the rabbinic sexual vocabulary within the context of the surrounding Greco-Roman and Sassanian cultures and their sexual metaphors.
Can Jewish Philosophers Love God?
Daniel J. Lasker
Ben Gurion University
Jews are commanded to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), and Maimonides codified love of God as the third positive commandment in his Book of Commandments. He also called one of the books of the Mishneh Torah, “The Book of Love.” Yet, it would seem that Jewish philosophers, who believe in a wholly transcendent God, would have difficulty fulfilling this commandment. Maimonides himself made knowledge of God a prerequisite to love of God; he then argued that true, positive knowledge of God is impossible. Nevertheless, he has graphic descriptions of intellectual love of God that border on the mystical. It would seem, then, that although the obligation to love God is problematic for someone holding a philosophical view of God, it is still attainable. This paper discusses different views of love of God held by Jewish philosophers, including Bahya ibn Paquda, for whom love of God was the highest “Duty of the Heart”; Judah Halevi, who believed that one can have an experiential love of God; Maimonides and Gersonides, who promoted intellectual love of God; and Hasdai Crescas, who understood love of God as participating in God’s goodness and beneficence for the world.
The Secular and the Erotic in Jewish Treatments of Love: The Song of Songs
University of Kentucky
The Song of Songs has often been regarded as a controversial part of the biblical canon. Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra interpreted it as a parable for the mutual love between Israel and God, while Maimonides saw it as an account of the intellectual love of God. In the past, the frankly erotic and physical nature of the language of this book was thoroughly reinterpreted in order to pass muster as appropriate for a Jewish text. Only kabbalistic interpretations have been unembarrassed by the language of the book, although even these have been thoroughly reinterpreted to accord with the principles of mysticism that each particular writer adopted. It is only in modern times that the thought of such diverse thinkers as Richard Rubenstein and Rav Kook has validated the very direct sexual imagery that the book uses, and it is interesting to speculate on the sea change that Jewish thought has undergone for such a radical change to be feasible. My discussion of the text will be illustrated with some examples of visual artwork designed to accompany the text at different periods.
Were Women Who Intermarried Still Jewish? A Twentieth Century History of Identity in America
Keren R. McGinity
Through an historical investigation of intermarriage and gender, and how the meaning of both was socially constructed and culturally depicted, my paper will illustrate the ways in which women gave up, maintained, or changed their religious and ethnic identities. It is based on my finished dissertation, which unearths the meaning of interfaith marriage to women who were Jewish at the time they married non-Jewish men, as well as its representation across the twentieth century. This study marks the first qualitative history of American Jewish women who intermarried. Weaving together oral history narratives and a wide range of literary sources to situate women’s experiences within larger discursive contexts, my paper explores two main questions: What were some of the historical factors that influenced Jewish women’s decisions to intermarry? And how did the experience of intermarriage affect women’s identities? Throughout the twentieth century, it was commonly believed that Jewish women who intermarried were “lost” to the Jewish community. My key finding regarding the history of some intermarried Jewish women dismantles this assumption. Through my use of gender as a primary category of analysis, it becomes evident that intermarried Jewish women actually became more interested in Jewishness and more invested in Judaism over time, rather than less.
Love at First Sight: Aseneth’s Love for Joseph in Joseph and Aseneth
Despite consignment to a throwaway line in Genesis 41, Aseneth, the Egyptian wife of Joseph, resurfaced as a proselyte turned heroine in Joseph and Aseneth. This Jewish text, preserved like many others by the Christian community, has been dated anywhere from 100 BCE to the period of late antiquity (400 CE).
Aseneth’s obscure origins proved to be liberating for the author of Aseneth (as Ross Shepherd Kraemer has correctly renamed this text). Nature abhors a vacuum—literary and otherwise―and as was done with other obscure biblical figures (like the mysterious Melchizedek from Genesis 14), an unnamed Jewish author penciled in a life for Aseneth. In the process, she was portrayed as instantly being drawn to Joseph once she laid her eyes on him. As the story unfolds, Aseneth lets nothing stand between her and Joseph, even if it means only serving him as a maidservant and slave.
Of course, Aseneth ends up as much more than Joseph’s slave, and Aseneth serves twenty-first century readers as an entrée into how her unrequited love led to marriage, family, and her role in mediating a fraternal war. This ancient romantic novella seriously describes, as few ancient novels have, what love must do both to flourish and to survive. And the plot is classic: Gentile girl loves Jewish boy, Jewish boy rejects Gentile girl, Gentile girl becomes Jewish girl, and now Jewish boy loves that girl.
Love of the Neighbor: Hermann Cohen’s Response to Nineteenth Century Biblical Exegesis
In “The Neighbor: Biblical Exegesis and Literary History,” Hermann Cohen formulates a philosophical and ethical understanding of love of the neighbor that is based on an exegesis of Leviticus 19:18 in reaction to nineteenth century biblical scholarship. Cohen critiques biblical scholars of the time for using the “New Testament” to interpret the “Old Testament,” while ignoring, or refusing to use, rabbinic literature for the same purpose. He points out that since biblical criticism is mainly practiced by Christians, Christian interpretations are privileged over Jewish. Moreover, and more importantly, Cohen sees Christian biblical criticism as denying the universal imperative inherent in the Hebrew Scriptures. In response, he connects the rea’ of Leviticus 19:18 and the ger of Leviticus 19:33 to argue that the “neighbor” and the “stranger” are really one and the same in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this paper, I explore how Cohen uses the “Love Command” of Leviticus 19:18 in order both to formulate his theory of Jewish love and universalism and to critique the methods and assumptions of biblical criticism. Specifically, I will consider how his polemical use of philology provides the basis for his theory of universalism.
From Osipovichi to Omaha: Sources for Tillie Olsen’s “Tell Me a Riddle”
In 1924, when Ida Goldberg Lerner was learning English at Kellom’s night school here in Omaha, she wrote a heart-searing description of life in the Osipovichi shtetl. In the 1920s, during Workmen’s Circle meetings, Ida denounced all compromises in socialist ideals—sometimes she publicly attacked her husband Sam Lerner. In 1955, her six children hid from her the news that she was dying of inoperable cancer, even though Gene (Morris) Lerner began taking her to visit them one last time. In her hospital bed, Ida sang songs from her Russian childhood. She recalled rituals handed down over the years. Atheist though she remained, she used her failing breath to talk about the spirit behind Jewish traditions.
If that sounds like a summary of Tillie Olsen’s “Tell Me a Riddle,” it could almost be. In the novella, Eva and David express bitterness over their long, disappointing marriage by calling each other such comic names as “Mrs. Live Alone and Like It” and “Mr. Importantbusy.” As Eva is dying, however, their love returns, as do Eva’s memories of songs and dances from her Russian girlhood. While the novella seems apolitical, its subtext is humanity’s survival against the “monstrous shapes” of the twentieth century’s a-humanity. At issue are the sources of love and hope and the survival of civilized humanity.
This talk brings to light unpublished letters and notes, including Lillian Lerner Davis’s translation from Yiddish of Ida’s late reveries. In “Tell Me a Riddle,” Tillie Olsen did not summarize such notes but recast them to transform her parents’ frustrations and ideals, resentments and love, bitterness and hope.
Commandment or Emotion? Love of God, Family, and Humanity in Classical Judaism
Lawrence H. Schiffman
New York University
The concept of love plays a prominent role in the ethical, religious, and legal teachings of the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the classic Talmudic corpus. Various teachings pertain to love of God, spouse, children, fellow Jews, and humanity in general. Largely through the medium of Christianity, these concepts have molded the institutions of family and religion in Western civilization. They stand at the basis of our sense of social justice as well. Yet, as this Symposium will show, they have continued to develop from their classical basis throughout Jewish history. We can trace the growth of this concept of love from its biblical dimensions into a wider structure in which it combines with the prohibition of hatred to create specific commandments and obligations. This development, brought to full fruition in the medieval Jewish legal codes, raises two interrelated questions: How can love be legislated? And what happens to this fundamental human emotion when it becomes a commandment?
Peace and Love (Sexuality) in the Book of the Zohar
By Zion Zohar
Florida International University
GENERAL In light of the ongoing reality of conflict and violence worldwide in the aftermath of September 11, the appropriateness of any project dealing with peace is self-evident. Today, more than ever before, striving to understand the notion of peace among the adherents of the Abrahamic traditions is crucial, especially in light of the numerous and varied conflicts that exist among the descendants of Abraham throughout the world. The time has come for the scholarly world to lend its voice to a subject that is at present addressed almost exclusively by politicians and diplomats.
SPECIFIC While the topic of sexuality and, to a certain degree, love in Kabbalah has been discussed in numerous scholarly publications, the topic of peace in the context of Kabbalah has been ignored completely.
This paper will examine aspects of sexuality and love in The Zohar with an emphasis on how they serve a vital role in the achievement of peace and harmony in the divine world as well as in the material world. Exploring the themes of sexuality and love as they intersect with the concept of peace in The Zohar is a new topic of research within the field of Jewish mysticism, about which no one has yet published (as confirmed by the foremost scholar of Jewish mysticism today, Moshe Idel). Since the fields of Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah have become a focus of study for people from many diverse traditions, this lacuna in scholarship is even more glaring and makes this paper all the more distinctive.
Moreover, there are contemporary implications to this work because of the importance given to The Zohar within Israeli society and certain segments of the Jewish population worldwide. One unfortunate example of its relevance involves the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated ten years ago this coming November. His assassin openly admitted that he had been influenced to murder Rabin by the actions of certain rabbis who had publicly performed the mystical “pulsa de-nura” ritual against the Prime Minister, essentially cursing him as a sinner worthy of death. The ritual of “pulsa de-nura” and similar misuses of Jewish mysticism were said to have originated in The Zohar. Since then, this ritual has been sporadically employed to denounce other political figures in the Middle East who are perceived by some to be acting against Israeli interests or against those of the extremist, right-wing religious agenda. And so now, as in the time of Rabin, Prime Minister Sharon has become the target of these hateful threats. When this ritual is associated with the Book of the Zohar, a major injustice has been done to this masterpiece of Jewish mysticism.
This paper provides a balanced academic account regarding the concepts of peace and love for one’s fellow man in the Book of the Zohar. Thus, it is my hope that this paper will begin to do justice to these important facets of Jewish mysticism.
In sum, our study will provide insights into how the Jewish mystical tradition lends meaning to some of the most important aspects of life; namely, the search for peace and love. It is my conviction that this paper should not only encapsulate the general themes of peace and love, but also answer specific questions: Do the concepts of peace and love found in The Zohar relate to abstract and divine realms only or do they have consequences for human beings here on earth as well? Are they related solely to the notion of peace and love within (i.e., an internal process) or are peace and love applicable for peoples and nations on a grand scale as well?