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Animals & Animality in the Babylonian Talmud

  • Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies 1140 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)

Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud selects key themes in animal studies - animal intelligence, morality, sexuality, suffering, danger, personhood - and explores their development in the Babylonian Talmud. Beth A. Berkowitz demonstrates that distinctive features of the Talmud - the new literary genre, the convergence of Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian cultures, the Talmud's remove from Temple-centered biblical Israel - led to unprecedented possibilities within Jewish culture for conceptualizing animals and animality. She explores their development in the Babylonian Talmud, showing how it is ripe for reading with a critical animal studies perspective. When we do, we find waiting for us a multi-layered, surprisingly self-aware discourse about animals as well as about the anthropocentrism that infuses human relationships with them. For readers of religion, Judaism, and animal studies, her book offers new perspectives on animals from the vantage point of the ancient rabbis.

Join us for a conversation on the intersection of these various topics with Beth A. BerkowitzSergey Dolgopolski, and Naama Harel.

Co-sponsored by Columbia University's Department of Religion, The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities and the Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Supported by the generosity of the Columbia University Jewish Studies Fund.

Beth A. Berkowitz is a scholar of Jewish and Religious Studies with a specialization in classical rabbinic literature. She is the author of Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2006); Defining Jewish Difference: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). She is co-editor with Elizabeth Shanks Alexander of Religious Studies and Rabbinics: A Conversation (Routledge, forthcoming). Her current writing is on the experience of pleasure in animals as the Babylonian Talmud conceives it, and her next book project will be a “biblical bestiary” that profiles the reception history of various animal characters in the Hebrew Bible.

Sergey Dolgopolski's general area of interest is the variety of ways in which philosophy and literature interact, creating new philosophical concepts and new literary forms. He specializes in the Talmud as a body of text and thought seen from poetic, rhetoric and philosophical perspectives, with a particular interest in mutual hermeneutics of philosophical, rhetorical and Talmudic traditions, and with emphasis on mutually shaping engagements of poetic Talmudic and philosophical thinking. His newest book, Other Others: The Political After the Talmud (Fordham University Press, 2018, puts contemporary political theory and a literary-theoretical exploration of the core text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud, into both a fruitful and tensed conversation one with another. Prof. Dolgopolksi's current project, tentatively titled: Suspending New Testament: The Political Philology of the Palestinian Talmud, renegotiates the competing notions and practices of citation in late antiquity and modernity by asking anew the question of the relationships between the law which always comes from the past and the citation of the law which is only and always available in the present.

Naama Harel directs the Hebrew program at Columbia University. Her research focus is at the intersection of Modern Jewish and Hebrew Literature and Human-Animal Studies. She has published various scholarly articles on related themes, including compassion for animals in the renaissance of Hebrew literature, metamorphosis narratives, animal fables, anthropomorphism, de-allegorization, humanimal hybridity and liminality, post-anthropocentric utopias, and species fluidity. Her book Kafka’s Zoopoetics: Beyond the Human/Animal Barrier is forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press. In her current book project, The Jew, the Beauty, and the Beast, she explores the triangular interplay between Jewishness, gender, and animality in Modern Hebrew literature.