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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.

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.

Beth 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.