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‘Their Backs toward the Temple, and Their Faces toward the East:’ The Temple and Toilet Practices in Rabbinic Palestine and Babylonia

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Abstract This article treats the cultural meaning of rabbinic toilet rules from their Tannaitic instantiation through to later developments in Palestine and Mesopotamia. It argues that these rules draw their corporeal and mental bearings from the Jerusalem temple, in inverse and opposite directions to prayer deportment. It shows how the juxtaposition of the sacred (temple) and profane (toilet) triggered the temple in unlikely instances under the guise of prohibition. As such, toilet rules are the underside of a rabbinic mapping project, similar to rules of bodily orientation in prayer. This map, effectively drawn by corporeal direction and orientation, with the (absent) temple at its center, traversed Palestine and the Diaspora, and ignored contemporary religious and imperials maps and limes. Thus developing toilet practices can tell us something about how a minority religious and social formation shaped bodily functions not necessarily in the more predictable terms of disgust and expulsion but rather as devices through which to uphold a lost center.

Affiliations: 1: University of Michigan


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