Sacred Body: Readings in Jewish Literary Illumination provides fresh and insightful interpretations of Jewish texts, narratives, and cultural practices that show how these artifacts unhinge the “sacred” from the divine and focus instead on the “everyday sacred” of a dynamic earthly existence that emphasizes the body, celebrates life-affirming decisions, actions, and relationships, and avoids abstraction, metaphysics, and apocalypticism. Roberta Sabbath argues that a diverse array of Jewish artifacts, from sacred scripture to contemporary novels and ballet performance, articulate a tradition that has existed for millennia in mythic, proto-historic, legalistic, mystical, philosophical, and aesthetic expressions of Jewishness. The author refers to this tradition as Jewish literary illumination, and she deftly demonstrates how it illuminates the most salient message of Judaism: that earthly existence and the body are also the site of the spiritual and the sacred.
Roberta Sterman Sabbath is director of religious studies and visiting assistant professor in the English Department at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Chapter 1. Biblical Emigrants: Human Agency in Eve, Abraham, Sarah
Chapter 2. Sexuality, Martyrdom, and Suicide in the Talmud: Life Force and Death by Choice
Chapter 3. From Hekhalot to Kabbalah: Accessing the Body of God
Chapter 4. Wonder and the Jewish Enlightenment: False Messiahs, Philosophers, and Social Justice
Chapter 5. Twenty-First Century Narratives of Jewish Identity: The Schlemiel and the Messianic in Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Nicole Krauss’s Forest Dark
Chapter 6.Twenty-First Century Epic Theater and Eclectic Choreography in Margot Mink Colbert’s Ballet Transit(ion): Emigration Transformation
Roberta Sterman Sabbath presents an intriguing and stimulating survey of Jewish literature from the Bible and the Talmud, through Kabbalistic, philosophical, and enlightenment texts, and on into contemporary Jewish literature and dance. Her focus is the role of the Body, both Human and Divine, in facilitating the encounter with the Holy and its expression in the world of creation throughout the history of the Jewish experience.
This book offers a masterful discussion of Jewish literary illumination, evoking life-affirming stories from the biblical past to the twentieth century. It argues the human condition should not be left hostage to predetermined discourses on the metaphysical, apocalyptic, or uniform. It should wrestle, rather, with the tensions of uncomfortable, contradictory, and fragmentary lived experience. The sacred body is where human beings can fulfill their mission, namely to make life on earth better. Roberta Sterman Sabbath's intervention is erudite and eye-opening, and its innovative worldview is much needed in our world today, which is increasingly beset by crisis and instability.