Department of Religious Studies

"Uterine Materials, Species Distinctions, and Rabbinic Conceptions of the Human" by Rachel Neis

Late Antiquity Workshop

Thu, February 25, 2016 | TBD

5:00 PM - 6:30 PM

Dr. Rachel Neis from the University of Michigan will present a paper entitled "Uterine Materials, Species Distinctions, and Rabbinic Conceptions of the Human" for the Late Antiquity Workshop. See a paper description below:

Genesis 1:26’s notion of humanity “created in the image of God” has loomed large in discussions of Christian, Jewish, and indeed ancient Rabbinic, notions of humanness. Studies of rabbinic “anthropology” drawing on Genesis tend to highlight the elevation or singularity of the human inasmuch as it resembles or reflects divinity. This project tackles such matters from an alternate angle, and consequently illuminates some rather different ideas and perspectives on the human.This talk focuses on Tannaitic texts such as the Mishnah (edited in roughly 3rd century CE Palestine) that list various configurations of material that are expelled from a woman’s uterus and that must be classified as either menstrual, fetal, or unintelligible. These uterine materials include entities with animal features and also various types of bodies (limbs, torsos, in various states of advanced or blurred form). The talk shows how the rabbis consider the parameters of humanness in terms of “human form” (tsurat ha-adam) by revealing similar considerations in their writings on animals and animal reproduction. The latter also imagine various hybrid or interspecies births (e.g. sheep birthing entities with goat-like features, or cows birthing horses). At the base of these and related phenomena is a much broader rabbinic meditation on what constitutes a member of a species and how this relates to reproduction, resemblance, hybridity, and monstrosity – concerns that were registered more explicitly in ancient Greco-Roman sources (from Aristotle to Galen). The talk shows how rabbinic ideas about humanness lurk in tractates on menstrual purity, inheritance law, agricultural and farming law, and temple ritual. Furthermore, these conceptions of the human are at once materialist and porous, being based in an idea of flexible boundaries between species that constitutes rabbinic “biology.”

Sponsored by: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Department of Religious Studies

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