7/2/09

Talmud and Taboo

Several years back I translated Bavli Hullin in three volumes for the Brown Judaic Studies series, The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation. While I was working on that project, I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans (November, 1990). I titled the article, "Talmud and Taboo: Kosher Laws and Sexual Restrictions in the Talmud." I had a sizable audience. The version that I read dealt mainly with animal slaughter and eating meat and began as follows:
Freud in Totem and Taboo describes in Kroeber's words how, "The expelled sons of the primal horde finally banded together and slew their father, ate him, and appropriated the females." Later in remorse and guilt, "They undid their deed by declaring that the killing of the father substitute, the totem, was not allowed, and renounced the fruits of their deed by denying themselves the liberated women." All of "socio-religious civilization" stems from these psychological mechanisms according to this metaphoric theory.

Even Freud himself later allowed that the event he described was "typical" rather than historical. Yet in his imaginative exploration of the mechanisms uniting of personality and culture Freud cited two, actually three, basic institutions of religion: sacrifice, sexual taboo and, of course, the festive meal.

Ancient Israelite religion, according to the sources we have, paid fair attention to sacrifice and sexual taboo. Leviticus associates the preparation and consumption of meat with ritual, theology and taboo. Permitted and forbidden sexual unions are spelled out by the Torah, and in subsequent practice they are singled out to be recited in public on the solemn Day of Atonement.

Later rabbinic Judaism devotes an extraordinary ongoing scholastic interest in the sacrificial rite of Israel. The rabbis construct their own a highly complex system of food taboos and ritual of cuisine. They continue many of the scriptural inhibitions and legislate new agglomerations of ritualized prohibitions for sexual relations... (you can read the article here.)

3 comments:

Bryce said...

"Ancient Israelite religion, according to the sources we have, paid fair attention to sacrifice and sexual taboo."

What we moderns call taboo, the ancients (quoting Hashem), called toevah. Who knows, maybe the two words are etymologically related.

bryce said...

"What is significant in this pericope is not the cosmosization of the cult. Rather, in juxtapositions such as this one, it is the deliberate depiction of the mystical charisma of the rabbi in the cultural terms of the Talmudic system in its own syntax, built painstakingly from the morphological components inherited from the Israelite predecessors."

Whew, what a mouthful!

bryce said...

My first "kvetch":

You should say that these postings are recycled.

I wouldn't want anyone to think that my two comments above are brand new. (smirk)