The Rabbis and Sexuality

While researching for article on virginity, I came across a book, Tasting the Dish: Rabbinic Rhetorics of Sexuality, by Michael L. Satlow (1995). While it was not much of a help for my topic, it did provide an interesting insight as to how Rabbi Eliezer worked out the implications of Exodus 21:10.  This verse records the obligation for a husband not to deprive a wife of her conjugal rights.  The rabbi’s concern was how to apply this verse for men of various occupations that would take them away from their wives for extended periods of time. Satlow quotes the rabbi’s understanding from Mishnah Ketub 5:6 : “the conah [obligation] which is stated in the Torah: Tayalin (day students) every day. Workers, twice a week. Donkey drivers, once a week. Camel drivers, once every thirty days. Sailors, once every six months” (268). The variation in amounts of sexual intercourse is determined by when the man is home. A sailor is away from home longer than a day student so his obligation to keep Ex 21:10 is only twice a year. A student’s obligation was everyday (outside of her mensuration week) because he was home every night! It seems that the Mishnah and the rabbis took seriously a husband’s responsibility to meet the sexual needs of his wife. Satlow concludes, “Thus, the tannaitic sources declare that a wife has a right to sex, the amount which depends on the husband’s occupation” (Ibid.).

Daniel Boyarin certainly has read the Mishnah incorrectly when he concludes, “It (the Mishnah) thus masks almost entirely its own oppressiveness of women, and the way men are securing their own sexual needs here.” “On the History of the Early Phallus,” in Gender and Differences in the Middle Ages, eds. Sharon Farmer, and Carol Braun Pasternack (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 33.

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Hollywood tackles the Song of Solomon

One scholar I read recently on the Song of Songs related that she was glad that Hollywood has not made a modern movie of the Song of Solomon as of yet. That is about to change. This September the same motion picture company that produced the Christian film, Fireproof, is releasing The Song. (See article and trailer here). The film follows Jed King, an aspiring singer who meets and falls in love with a vineyard owners daughter at their vineyard harvest festival.  He marries her and his career takes off. Tempted with all the trappings of a successful music career, Jed must make choices. The article states that the music driven film surfaces themes of “temptation, redemption and the power of forgiveness.” Sorry, but I am at a loss to see how a close reading of the Song “inspires” such themes. The trailer reminds me more of Ecclesiastes than the Song! But it is unfair to judge a movie by its trailer so I will withhold judgment until October.

Conference on the Song of Songs

For those interested in the Song of Songs Harvard Divinity School hosted a panel discussion (April 15, 2013) and featured a conversation between four scholars on The Song of Songs:Translation, Reception, Reconfiguration. The panel included Cheryl Exum of the University of Sheffield, Michael Fishbane of University of Chicago Divinity School, Paul Griffiths of Duke University, and Stephanie Paulsell of HDS. Exum was the most profitable and held to the biblical text. Fishbane shared from a Jewish perspective; Griffiths from a Roman Catholic one from the Latin Vulgate and Paulsell from a Protestant point of view.  All (except Exum) suggested multiple readings (including allegory) as legitimate reading strategies for this book. For those interested in the Song the video is worth the viewing time. The video runs an hour and forty-two minutes. Each was allotted approximately 20 minutes. A Q&A with the audience followed.

Poetry and the OT

I am wrestling with Richard Foster’s new book, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. The wrestling has to do with trying to get my mind wrapped around his practice of prayer.  I have limited myself to reading only a chapter a day so as to give myself time to mull over his practice.  I am in chapter seven and I have not been able to pin him yet.

But he did offer some insight concerning the benefits of poetry.  While he is speaking about the use of poetry in settling the mind (107), his insights into the “mechanics” of poetry are helpful for those who study OT poetry.

Foster offers three benefits of reading poetry:

“Poetry startles us with its economy of words and beauty of language…. Words, carefully chosen…have a way of slowing us down and focusing our attention on essential matters” (107).  If one wants to understand the poetry of the OT it must be read slowly and thoughtfully.  Not much is gained by racing through a psalm.

“If you are anything like me, you simply do not understand what the poet is saying on the first read. This forces us to stop and go back and read the words again. And again” (Ibid.).  Should probably read this statement again. J

“The mind is often captured by the metaphor of a poem” (Ibid.). When a poet employs a metaphor the reader is forced to understand how two very different “things” are in someway in the poet’s mind similar.   This necessitates a slow, deliberate rereading and a pondering of this relationship. For instance see Ps 73: 22

So while I have been stymied in his practice of meditative prayer, I will meditate on his insights on poetry.

Dead Sea Scrolls

For those interested in the OT you need to check out this link.  The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls is a project that has posted some of the scrolls online and allows one to magnify the texts!  My librarian son, Jeremy, thought he could “almost smell the leather.”  Check out the YouTube video that explains the project as well.

And did I mention that once you scroll over a text and click you will be provided with an English translation as well?  You can test your Hebrew reading—without vowels!

Currently, some of the scrolls will be on display at the Discovery Times Square in NYC beginning October 28, 2011.  See the website here. The exhibit features, ” the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, a stone from the Western Wall from the Second Temple in Jerusalem and more than 500 never-before-seen artifacts from biblical times.”  The exhibit will be in Philadelphia in May at the Franklin Institute.