Aryeh Cohen (University of Judaism)
Jacob Meskin (Princeton University and Rutgers University)
Michael Zank (Boston University)
Student Editor: Rebecca Stern (American Pardes Foundation)
Founding Editor: Peter Ochs (Drew University)
Roger Badham, Drew University: Postcritical Christian Philosophy and Judaism
S. Daniel Breslauer, U. of Kansas: Book Reviews
Aryeh Cohen: General Editor and Talmud
Philip Culbertson, St. Johns U., Auckland: Christian Thought and Judaism
Robert Gibbs, University of Toronto: Continental and Modern Jewish
Susan Handelman, University of Maryland: Pedagogy
Steven Kepnes, Colgate University: Biblical Hermeneutics
Shaul Magid, Jewish Theological Seminary: Kabbalah
Jacob Meskin: General Editor and Postmodern Jewish Thought and Philosophy
Vanessa Ochs, CLAL: Ritual, Ceremony and Material Culture
Ola Sigurdson, U. of Lund, Sweden: Postcritical Christian Philosophy and Judaism
Martin Srajek, Illinois Wesleyan University: Modern Continental and Jewish
Michael Zank: General Editor and Book Reviews
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* * * * * * * * * *
DEAR NETWORK MEMBERS
This issue continues a conversation about martyrdom in/and the Talmud that
began at the PostModern Jewish Philosophy Network Talmud Institute in
Princeton in August, 1995. Liz Shanks’ article and the responses to it in
Volume 5.1 started the on-line conversation. (The article can be found at
http://forest.drew.edu/~pmjp/pmjp5-1.html) I published an article (“Towards
an Erotics of Martyrdom”) in Textual Reasoning 5.2, hoping that it would
widen the circle of discussants further. (The article can be found at
http://forest.drew.edu/~pmjp/pmjp5-2.html) With the essays in this issue
that hope is realized.
There are three different groups of responses in this issue. The first
group are those who are responding directly to the article and the sugya,
and the questions raised by my reading of the sugya. The respondents in
this group are Michael Carasik, Denise Kimber Buell and Charlotte
Fonrobert. In the second group of respondents Peter Ochs reflects on the
specific type of “Textual Reasoning” in my article and situates it within
the spectrum of Textual Reasonings. Kris Lindbeck reflects on some of the
issues of interpretation of the sugya within the context of the broader
issues that the sugya raises. The final respondent, Michael Zank, raises
the question of the sexualization of our discourse–reflecting back on the
article and the responses. I am personally grateful to all the respondents
for their insightful and stimulating comments. As Mike Carasik says in his
response: “The mark of a good reading, to my mind, is that it does not
merely explain a text, but suggests further creative interaction with
it….” The same is true for a good response, and I am sure that you will
agree that these essays will generate much further creative interaction.
(The text that everybody is discussing–Bavli Sanhedrin 74a-75a–is
reproduced in full, in translation, at the beginning of the issue. The
original is available on-line at
http://www1.snunit.k12.il/kodesh/bavli/snhd074a.html) (Hebrew fonts for web
browsers are available at: http://www.snunit.k12.il/heb_new.html)
The Textual Reasoning home page is up and running now (in addition to, and
linked to, the archive at Drew). Please visit us at:
http://acs6.bu.edu:8001/~lisrael/pjpnet/home.html. There is a short history
of the Network and the Journal, and the editors’ introductions, plus the
all-important interesting links. This is a temporary address, and we will
update all members when we move to a permanent site.
for the editors
CALL FOR PAPERS
For our May issue we are looking for short essays/reflections on Jewish
Studies. What does this term mean? How is it deployed as an
epistemological, political, beaurocratic tool? Is it time to abandon the
term “Jewish Studies” or to use it as a paradigm. The first essay in this
exchange is in this issue. We are looking for essays of 750-1000 words.
Deadline is mid April.
TALMUD AND TEXTUAL REASONING:
I. Responses to Aryeh Cohen, “Towards an Erotics of Martyrdom”:
Denise Kimber Buell
II. Sexual Reasoning
III. Some Reflections on Our Preoccupation With Sexuality, Michael Zank
On Judaism and Jewish Studies, Aryeh Cohen
A brief recap is in order. In my paper I set aside any notion of kiddush
hashem as a stable concept, and interrogated its functions within one
sugya. Employing a reading method which emphasizes the poetics of the sugya
(“sugyaetics”), I examined the ways that b Sandhedrin 74a-75a-seen as one
of the central halakhic or legal discussions of kiddush hashem in the
Bavli-thematizes desire, power, pleasure, love and sex. This moves the
discussion towards an erotics of kiddush hashem. That is, the constructed
meaning of the act of submitting to death, rather than worshipping idols,
is embedded in an economy of fidelity, rape and adultery. The relationship
of the “sanctifier of God’s name” to God is understood along a spectrum of
love and sex, licit and illicit. One of the tools/consequences of this
discussion is a rereading of Esther’s role-and an erasure of her agency-in
the rescue of the Jews in the Book of Esther.
Bavli Sanhedrin 74a-75b
1. But one who runs after an animal. (M San. 8:7)
2. It has been taught [in a Tannaitic source]: R. Simeon b. Yohai
said: An idolater may be saved [from sin] at the cost of his own life,
3. by [reasoning] from the minor to the major: If [in the case of] the
damaging of a common person, [the violater] may be saved [from sin] at the
cost of his own life, how much more so the damaging of the All-Highest.
4. But can we punish as a result of an ad majus conclusion? – He
maintains that we can.
5. It has been taught: R. Eliezer, son of R. Simeon, said: He who
desecrates the Sabbath-may be saved [from sin] at the cost of his own life.
6. He agrees with his father, that we punish as a result of an ad
majus conclusion, and then he deduces the Sabbath from idolatry by [a
gezerah shawah based on the use of] ‘profanation’ [in connection with the
Sabbath and idolatry].
7. R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: By a
majority vote, it was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nathza
8. Every [other] law of the Torah, if a man is commanded: ‘Transgress
and be not killed’ he should transgress and not be killed,
9. excepting idolatry, incest, [which includes adultery] and murder.
10. And [in the case of] idolatry should he not [practice]?
11. Has it not been taught [in a Tannaitic source]: R. Ishmael said:
whence [do we know] that if a man was bidden, ‘Engage in idolatry and and
you will not be killed,’ that he should transgress, and not be killed?
12. From the verse, “[Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my
judgements,’ which if a man do] he shall live in them”(Lev. 18:5)-but not
die by them.
13. Might it be that even publicly [it may practised]?
14. Scripture teaches, “Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I
will be hallowed?”(Lev. 22:32)
15. They ruled as R. Eliezer.
16. For it has been taught [in a Tannaitic source]: R. Eliezer said:
[And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy
soul, and with all thy might.] Since ‘with all thy soul’ is stated, why is
‘with all thy might’ stated?
17. Or if ‘with all thy might’ be written, why also write ‘with all thy
18. If there be a man to whom his life is more dear than his wealth,
‘with all thy soul’ is written;
19. If there be a man to whom his wealth is more dear than his life,
‘with all thy might’ [i.e., substance] is written.
20. Incest and murder [may not be practised to save one’s life], – even
as Rabbi’s dictum.
21. For it has been taught [in a Tannaitic source]: Rabbi said, “For as
when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this
22. But what do we learn from this [comparison with] the murderer?
23. Thus, this comes to throw light and is itself illumined.
24. The murderer is compared to a betrothed maiden: just as a betrothed
maiden-[the ravisher’s soul] must be saved at the cost of his life, so in
the case of a murderer, he [the victim] must be saved at the cost of his
[the attacker’s] life.
25. And a betrothed maiden is compared to a murderer: just as [in the
case of] a murderer-he must be slain rather than transgress, (so also must
she [i.e.the betrothed maiden] rather be slain than allow her violation.)
[25a. so also [in the case of] the betrothed maiden-he must be slain
rather than transgress.]
26. And how do we know this of murder itself? – It is common sense.
27. Even as one who came before Rabbah and said to him, ‘The governor
of my town has ordered me, “Go and kill so and so; if not, I will slay
28. He answered him, ‘Let him rather slay you than that you should
commit murder; who knows that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is
29. When R. Dimi came, [he said that] R. YoÂ¦hanan said: This was taught
only [for a time which] wasn’t a time of [oppressive] religious decrees.
30. But in a time of [oppressive] religious decrees, even [in regard
to] a minor precept, one must rather be slain than transgress.
31. When R. Dimi came, [he said that] R. YoÂ¦hanan said: Even [for a
time which] wasn’t a time of [oppressive] religious decrees, it was only
permitted in private;
32. but in public, even [in regard to] a minor precept, one must rather
be slain than transgress.
33. What is meant by a “minor precept”?
34. Raba son of R. Isaac said in Rab’s name: Even to change one’s shoe
35. And how many [make it] “public”?
36. R. Jacob said in R. Johanan’s name: There is no “public” with less
37. It is obvious that Jews are required, for it is written. “But I
will be hallowed among the children of Israel.”(Lev. 22: 32)
38. R. Jeremiah asked: What of nine Jews and one Gentile?
39. Come and hear: For it is taught: R. Jannai, the brother of R. Hiyya
b. Abba drew [an analogy] from [the use of] tok [‘among’] [in two
40. Here is written, “But I will be hallowed among [be-tok] the
children of Israel;” and is written there, “separate yourselves from among
[mi-tok] this congregation;” (Numbers 16:21)
41. Just as there the reference is to ten, all Jews, so here too – ten,
42. But did not Esther transgress publicly?
43. Abaye answered; Esther was merely natural soil (karka ‘olam).
44. Raba said: Their personal pleasure is different.
45. For otherwise, how dare we yield to them [sc. the Parsees or fire
worshippers] our braziers [or fire bellows] and coal shovels?
46. But their personal pleasure is different; so here too [in Esther’s
case] their personal pleasure is different.
47. This [answer] concurs with Raba’s view expressed elsewhere.
48. For Raba said: If a Gentile said to a Jew.
49. “Cut grass on the Sabbath for the cattle, and if not I will slay thee,”
50. he should cut rather be killed;
51. “Cut it and throw it into the river,” he should rather be slain
than cut it.
52. Why so? – Because his intention is that he transgress a precept.
53. It was asked of R. Ammi: Is a Noachide commanded about the
sanctification of the Divine Name or not?
54. Abaye said, Come and hear: The Noachides were commanded to keep seven
precepts. Now, if it be so [that they were commanded to sanctify the Divine
Name], they are eight.
55. Raba said to him: Them, and all pertaining thereto.
56. What is the decision?
57. R. Ada bar Ahavah said in the name of the disciples of Rab: It is
written, “In this thing, the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master
goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand,
and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon.” (II Kings 5: 18)
58. And it is written, “And he said unto him, Go in peace.” ( II Kings
59. Now, if it be so [that a Noachide is bidden to sanctify the Divine
Name], he should not have said this?
60. This one is in private, this one is in public.
61. Said R. Yehudah said Rab:
62. Ama’aseh: A man once gazed upon a certain woman, and his heart was
consumed by his burning desire [his life being endangered thereby].
63. They came and consulted the doctors,
64. They [the doctors] said, ‘His has no cure until she submit to him.’
65. Sages said: ‘Let him die rather than that she should submit.’
66. [Said the doctors] ‘Let her stand nude before him;’ [they answered]
‘Let him die, and she should not stand nude before him.’
67. [Said the doctors] ‘let her converse with him from behind a fence.’
‘Let him die and she should not converse with him from behind a fence.’
68. Now R. Jacob b. Idi and R. Samuel b. Nahmani dispute therein. One
said that she was a married woman; the other that she was unmarried.
69. Now, this is justified according to the one who said that she was a
70. But according to the one who said that she was unmarried, why such
71. R. Papa said: Because of the damage to her family.
72. R. AÂ¦ha the son of R. Ika said: That the daughters of Israel may
not be immorally dissolute.
73. Then why not marry her? – Marriage would not assuage his passion,
74. According to R. Isaac .
75. For R. Isaac said: Since the destruction of the Temple, sexual
pleasure has been taken [from those who practise it lawfully] and given to
76. as it is written. “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in
secret is pleasant.” (Proverbs 9:17)
Response to Aryeh Cohen, “Notes Towards an Erotics of Martyrdom”
Michael Carasik, Hebrew College, Boston, MA
I would like to thank Aryeh for his reading of b. Sanh. 74a-75a. The
mark of a good reading, to my mind, is that it does not merely explain a
text, but suggests further creative interaction with it; and Aryeh’s
reading has done this for me. I will focus my remarks on the chief line to
which Aryeh drew our attention (his line #25, in my translation): “so also
must (s)he be slain rather than he transgress.” Just as the textual crux
of *t/yehareg* provided Aryeh with the kind of uncertainty into which a
wedge that opens the text for interpretation can be fit, lines 24 and 25
both share a grammatical indeterminacy that prompts further reflection.
But bear with me a moment on my way to the Sanhedrin text; as a student
primarily of the Tanakh, not the Talmud, I have a biblical errand to run
before I can get there.
Shorn of its trendy language, the assertion that the “constructed
meaning” of worshipping idols “is embedded in an economy of fidelity, rape
and adultery” should occasion no surprise. This is, after all, not a
rabbinic invention. The marital, and indeed sometimes sexual, metaphor for
the relationship between God and Israel is well-grounded in biblical
literature. This is not always deployed negatively. Even leaving aside
the Song of Songs, Hosea 2:21 (so popular today on wedding invitations)
comes immediately to mind: “I will betroth you to me forever.” But there
is a wide range of prophetic literature, Hosea 2 included, which portrays
Israel’s idolatry as adultery. Thus, the idea that “p’gam gavoha” of the
Sanhedrin text could imply something equivalent to sexual shaming ought not
to be surprising. In suggesting that Israel’s idolatry makes God a
cuckold, the rabbis were standing on the shoulders of giants.
Now to the text (in the translation provided by Aryeh):
24 The murderer is compared to a betrothed maiden: just as a betrothed
maiden [the ravisher’s soul] must be saved at the cost of his life, so in
the case of a murderer, he [the victim] must be saved at the cost of his
[the attacker’s] life.
25 And a betrothed maiden is compared to a murderer: just as [in relation
to] a murder one must rather be slain than transgress; so also must she [i.
e. the betrothed maiden] rather be slain than allow her violation.
Aryeh points out that the claim of line 25 “that the maiden must
allow herself to be slain, rather than to allow herself to be raped” is
problematic. The “practical” problem of how she would engineer her death
is not really the problem with this text, since rape is not the only sexual
perversion at issue in the Talmudic discussion. From the sugyaetic
perspective, the “problem” with line 25 is the same as the problem with
line 24. Let me explain.
Line 24 says, as a given (see line 26, “It is common sense”), that one
may kill someone who is about to commit murder. Surprisingly, the
prooftext that supports this, Lev 19:16b (*lo ta’amod al-dam re’ekha*), may
not contextually mean this (see, e.g., Baruch Levine, “Leviticus,” JPS
Torah Commentary). Still, there is a certain amount of common sense in the
idea that one should save a potential murder victim even if this requires
killing the one who is attempting murder. But this is not what line 24
says. Line 24 says that one saves the CRIMINAL (from committing a crime)
by killing him, not that one saves the victim. In the murderer’s case,
this is not clear, since everything is expressed with masculine pronominal
suffixes, which could refer equally to the victim: *nitan l’hatzilo
b’nafsho*. But the rapist’s case uses the same phrase: it is required to
save HIM at the cost of his life. The Soncino translation, which Aryeh has
given us with a few changes, makes the mistake of translating as if the
text read *l’hatzilah*, “to save her,” and Aryeh properly corrected this;
but by an oversight he retained the Soncino mistake in the clause about the
murderer, leaving this as “he [the victim] must be saved.”
Once line 24 made the remarkable move of interpreting the killing as
saving the criminal rather than his victim, the stage was set for a similar
move in line 25. If one may kill someone to save him from committing a
sin, certainly one may be required to die rather than commit a sin oneself.
Just as *l’hatzilo* of line 24 forces us to read the masculine suffixes of
the murderer clause to say that the murderer must be saved at the cost of
his life, so in line 25 *tehareg* forces us to read *yehareg* of the murder
clause to say that the man who is ordered to commit murder must die rather
than do so. Similarly, it is the interpretive move in line 24, requiring
that a potential criminal be saved from sin by death, that sets the stage
for the move in line 25, requiring the completely innocent person to
“sanctify God’s name” by dying rather than profane it. These two
individually somewhat innocuous moves combine, then, to add a remarkable
corollary to the biblical view of idolatry: not only does one deserve death
for it, but–despite the biblical example of Na’aman–one must die rather
than permit oneself to be forced to commit it. Lines 24-25 discuss only
murder and perversion; but the missing member of the trio resonates in the
discussion. In both Bible and Talmud, sex, idolatry and death go together.
Aryeh called his piece “Notes Toward …”, and indeed a number of
interesting questions remain. I will mention just two. First, the phrase
*karka olam* requires more inquiry. I (or rather my CD-ROM searcher) found
it six other places in the Babylonian Talmud: Niddah 57b, where it is
connected with a menstruating woman; Sanhedrin 47b (mentioned by Aryeh) and
Avodah Zarah 54b, where it is connected with idolatry; and Baba Kamma 28b,
30a and 50b, where it is the subject of the ACTIVE verb “damage.” Hence it
does not seem to me that this is an otherwise ordinary term (equivalent to
our “real estate” or some such); more thought about the role of the phrase
in our sugya is in order.
Second, I was struck by the phrase *lehem nistar* at the end of the
sugya (of course this is “bread eaten in secret,” not “stolen waters” as
mistakenly noted in Aryeh’s comments–a hazard of electronic publishing).
The hint of Esther’s name in this phrase is quite lovely. But the
assertion it attests to–that “Since the destruction of the Temple, sexual
pleasure has been taken [from those who practise it lawfully] and given to
transgressors,” is remarkable. One can see that with the destruction of
the Temple “avodah” has been taken away and given only to transgressors;
perhaps the right to kill justly has also been taken away (with the loss of
sovereignty) and given only to transgressors. But how is this true of
sexual pleasure? If these two questions take us in a somewhat different
direction than Aryeh intended to lead us, that is only further proof of the
usefulness of his reading. Once again, thanks.
Response to Aryeh Cohen, “Towards an Erotics of Martyrdom”
Denise Kimber Buell, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
I did not have the benefit of hearing or reading the initial discussion of
this sugya at the 1995 conference, nor do I have any training in the study
of Talmud (my primary area of study being early Christianity), which makes
mine an idiosyncratic response. Nevertheless, I hope that it may serve to
contribute to the broader discussion of Bavli Sanhedrin 74a-75a.
Let me begin at the end. I find Aryeh’s conclusions
persuasive–specifically that the sugya is constructed to necessitate the
oxymoronic concept of a passive agent who produces the conditions necessary
for transgression. This argument underlies his explanation of why the
Venice 1527 edition leading to the Vilna edition’s reading “tehareg ve’al
ta`avor”–so also must she rather be slain than allow her violation–is a
viable one. This passive agent is culturally coded as feminine, but the
literary rhetorical context of this sugya encourages the male reader to
identify with this feminine agent. As Aryeh argues, the sugya mobilizes
the gendered notion of activity and passivity in such a way that idolatry
is defined as sexual infidelity.
Because of the sugya’s opening frame, a discussion of idolatry, the reader
is led to view the one who risks damage through any transgression as
analogous with the Divine. But the sugya soon destabilizes this
identification, especially in 24-25, which compare a murderer first with a
potential perpetrator of violence against a betrothed woman but then with
the woman herself. Indeed the conclusion that one (whether the perpetrator
or victim of violence) must be slain rather than transgress implies that
both parties risk damage.
I would like to see Aryeh articulate more fully the connection between
damage, pleasure and martyrdom. His provocative title provides merely a
trace of what drives his analysis. He suggests that “idolatry is
constructed in this sugya as adultery, sexual infidelity,” which would be
[sexual] damage (p’gam) to God. He continues, “resisting this adultery,
not transgressing, not ‘tasting pleasure’ is sanctifying God’s name,” and
that this sanctification is accomplished by a passive agent. Who and how
is one then a martyr in the sense of the title–the passive agent who
refuses pleasure thereby sanctifying God’s name? The feminine agent of
temptation who submits to death rather than transgress? If either of
these, can the one who seeks to sanctify God’s name escape the paradox of
inviting sexual damage to oneself only to refuse it to avoid [sexual]
damage to the Divine?