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Female Corporeality, Magic, and Gender in the Babylonian Talmud

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For the rabbis, female corporeality – and the control of the female body through rules and regulations – was the locus for (decidedly male) rabbinic piety, and a means for the rabbis to workout what constituted ideal maleness. In their constructions of what constituted "male" and "female," the rabbis created a hierarchy in which males – in particular rabbinic males – were at the top of the hierarchy, and females were at the bottom. The focus of this article is the rabbinic taxonomy of human beings as found in the Babylonian Talmud, a multi-layered and edited corpus of Jewish literature dating from the third to the sixth or seventh centuries CE, redacted in its final form in Babylonia. Using what I call a "taxonomical continuum" as a heuristic tool, I explore how the rabbis employed the label of magic in their discourse as a means of expressing gender. I suggest that "male," which for the rabbis was the form of the ideal human being, was at one end of the continuum. The further from the "male" pole a person was placed along the continuum, the less perfect and less ideal – and the more "female" – was that person. I argue that magic was employed as a mechanism for expressing rabbinic perceptions of gender, since the term "magic" has both positive and negative connotations in the Babylonian Talmud. The valence of the term depended on where the individual who performed the supra-natural action in question was found along the rabbinic taxonomic continuum.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religion, Bishop's University, 2600 College St., Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada J1M 1Z7; Department of New Testament and Early Christian Studies, University of South Africa, P.O. Box 392, 0003 UNISA, Republic of South Africa


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