Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America


"Contradictory stereotypes about Jewish sexuality pervade modern culture. Are Jews obsessively neurotic (as the films of Woody Allen and the novels of Philip Roth suggest)? Or are they less repressed because their culture never embraced celibacy? In a myth-shattering journey through the sexual culture of the Jews, award-winning historian David Biale demonstrates that Jewish tradition from the Bible and Talmud through modern America is a story of persistent conflict between asceticism and gratification, between procreation and pleasure. Beginning with Philip Roth's scandalous novel, Portnoy's Complaint, the book then discusses sexual subversions in the Bible and proceeds to cover such topics as law and desire in the Talmud, the displacement of sexuality in Hasidism, and Zionism as an erotic revolution. Eros and the Jews concludes with a fascinating discussion of the ambivalent role of sexuality in modern American Jewish culture. With broad historical strokes, the book pursues the tension between procreation and sexual desire in a culture which required that everyone marry. Biale shows that from the period of the Talmud onwards, Jewish culture continually struggled with sexual abstinence, trying to find ways to incorporate the virtues of celibacy, as it absorbed them from Greco-Roman and Christian cultures, within a theology of procreation. Biale explores both the canonical writings of male authorities and the alternative voices of women and popular culture. Drawing on works ranging from the Book of Ruth to the novels of Isaac Bashevis Singer, from medieval Yiddish literature to the films of Woody Allen, and from the teachings of Hasidism to the memoirs of the founders of Zionism, the book shows that the contemporary dilemmas of Jewish desire, from intermarriage to the meaning of erotic pleasure, have their analogues in the past." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1992


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