Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud

By Christine E. Hayes | Go to book overview

Notes

Chapter 1
1
For an excellent discussion of the crucial importance of symbol, myth and communication codes in the formation and articulation of ethnicity and national identities, see Anthony D. Smith (1986:1–20). Smith outlines major trends in twentieth-century scholarly attempts to account for national identities and argues against both a modernist view of nations as offshoots of modern civilization and a sociological view of nations as grounded in common bonds of language, race, ethnicity, and territory. Smith argues that nations are rooted in ethnic identity and that the core of ethnicity resides in the “quartet of 'myths, memories, values and symbols' and in the characteristic forms or styles and genres of certain historical configurations of populations” (15). John Armstrong (1982) includes a variety of diverse phenomena in his account of ethnic identities and also employs a symbolic analysis. Armstrong emphasizes “border guards” — those symbols that mark the barriers between insiders and outsiders.
2
For a discussion of the social functions of systems of impurity or defilement, see Mary Douglas (1969). Douglas argues that systems of impurity may serve as a means of influencing or controlling human behavior and interaction, particularly disliked social or sexual behavior (34, 112–113), and so consolidate group identity.
3
Klawans (2000:18) notes that the ancient Israelite purity system may have served to demarcate external religious and cultural boundaries, rather than internal boundaries. He cites Mary Douglas, who observes in her more recent work (1993/1994:112–113) that the purity laws set forth in Leviticus do not function as internal mechanisms of social ordering and control: “In short, pollution ideas normally maintain the accepted moral and social codes and at the same time separate categories of the same population. …In so far as the Levitical rules for purity apply universally they are useless for internal disciplining. They maintain absolutely no social demarcation. It is true that only the priest can make atonement, and that the priest's dedicated food must not be eaten by outsiders, but the book insists over and over again that the poor and the stranger are to be included in the requirements of the laws; no one is excluded from the benefits of purification. ” The focus of the biblical purity laws is, therefore, external.
4
Scholars have employed various English translations of the Hebrew terms ṭame' (adjective), ṭum'ah (noun) and ṭimme' (verb). My own preference is to translate these terms as “impure, ” “impurity, ” and “to defile, ” respectively. Other translations (such as “unclean”) are employed by other scholars and appear in citations of their works. The reader should understand that “impure, ” “defiled, ” “unclean, ” “polluted, ” and related forms are equivalent in this volume insofar as each translates forms of the Hebrew root ṭ.m. '.

-223-

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