In Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals, Mira Beth Wasserman undertakes a close reading of Avoda Zara, arguably the Talmud's most scandalous tractate, to uncover the hidden architecture of this classic work of Jewish religious thought. She proposes a new way of reading the Talmud that brings it into conversation with the humanities, including animal studies, the new materialisms, and other areas of critical theory that have been reshaping the understanding of what it is to be a human being.
Even as it comments on the the rabbinic laws that govern relations between Jews and non-Jews, Avoda Zara is also an attempt to reflect on what all people share in common, and on how humans fit into a larger universe of animals and things. As is typical of the Talmud in general, it proceeds by incorporating a vast and confusing array of apparently digressive materials, but Wasserman demonstrates that there is a whole greater than the sum of the parts, a sustained effort to explore human identity and difference.
In centuries past, Avoda Zara has been a flashpoint in Jewish-Christian relations. It was partly due to its content that the Talmud was subject to burning and censorship by Christian authorities. Wasserman develops a twenty-first-century reading of the tractate that aims to reposition it as part of a broader quest to understand what connects human beings to each other and to the world around them.
A Note on Sources, Usage, and Transliteration
Introduction Chapter 1. The Sense of a Beginning Chapter 2. Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals Chapter 3. Leaky Vessels Chapter 4. Ethics and Objects Chapter 5. The Last Laugh
Notes Index Acknowledgments
Mira Beth Wasserman teaches rabbinic literature at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
"[A]n insightful examination of an entire tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, one of the central texts of rabbinic Judaism . . . Throughout the book, Wasserman displays a masterful ability to synthesize a large body of complex material, guiding the reader through the details of complex legal reasoning without getting lost in the weeds . . . Wasserman's accomplishment is substantial, and her work promises readers a rich reward."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals is a highly original work that combines a broad view of patterns and structures with insightful readings of individual texts in their full semantic range. The work engages rigorous studies in rabbinic literature as well as theoretical discourse, balanced by a commitment to allowing the ancient texts to resist and talk back."—Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, Northwestern University
"Elegantly written, fluidly organized, and argued with creativity and care, Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals is a joy to read. Mira Beth Wasserman is especially skilled in the pedagogy of taking readers through the intricacies of texts. She makes complicated talmudic passages comprehensible and allows readers to experience their richness fully."—Beth Berkowitz, Barnard College
Winner of the 2018 American Academy for Jewish Research Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize for an outstanding first book in Jewish studies