Currently, I am engaged several projects including: a book on ritual space; an essay on the dangers and perils of comparative law; an article on ultra-orthodox ‘Jew-hop’ music videos; and a larger, ongoing project on rabbinic conceptions of humans and other species. Here is some further detail about two of these projects.
Mapping Jews in Late Antiquity: Ritual Space across Roman and Sassanian Empires
Jews are figured ambivalently with respect to space. Claims about Jews as quintessentially Diasporic on the one hand, and as associated with land and territory on the other, are often backdated to antiquity. This project critically examines the spatial and mapping practices of Jews, including rabbis, who lived in the first several centuries CE in both Roman-Byzantine Palestine and in Persian-Sassanian Mesopotamia. These practices –which cross the religious, material, and every day– overlaid the constraints of contemporaneous imperial geographies. Working with a variety of materials, the project will consider such things as prayer rules, toilet practices, pilgrimage itineraries, and Jerusalem Temple iconography, as means by which Jews sought to shape and signify ritual space. The project will compare ancient Jewish practices with those of other ancient religious or ethnic minorities in order to consider how ancient minority spatial practices can illumine our understandings of religion, identity, empire, and geography.
Form, Feature, Reproduction: Rabbinic Conceptions of Human and Other Species
In both scholarly and traditional writing Genesis’s notion of humanity “created in the image of God” has loomed large in discussions of Christian, Jewish, and indeed ancient Rabbinic, notions of humanness. The contemporary entailments of such discussions range across legal, philosophical, and political controversies about science and medicine. Many scholars considering “rabbinic anthropology” begin and end with Genesis-inspired rabbinic texts, many of which push for an elevation or singularity of the human inasmuch as it resembles or reflects divinity. While acknowledging this line of thinking and scholarship, this project tackles such questions from a very different angle, and consequently illuminates some rather different ideas and perspectives on the human. What emerges from this research across rabbinic literature is a thinking about humanness through a rabbinic “biology” that seeks to determine the boundaries —and more importantly— overlaps and intersections between a variety of species. At the intersection of rabbinic sources on women’s uterine emissions, animal slaughter, agricultural and animal husbandry, purity law, inheritance law, and temple-related rules for animals and priests lies a rich trove of rabbinic considerations of humans and other entities.