Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

WHY IS RABBI YOîANAN A WOMAN?
OR, A QUEER MARRIAGE GONE BAD

“PLATONIC LOVE” IN THE TALMUD

Daniel Boyarin


Prologue: Divine Intercourse-Between Rabbis

I will begin by citing a startling, even shocking, text from the Babylonian Talmud:

What is it that is written, “Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe etc.”
Why have the words of Torah been compared here to a hind? To teach you: Just
as the hind has a narrow vagina and is beloved by her lover at each and every
time, just as at the first time, so the words of Torah are beloved by their learners
at each and every time, just as at the first time. (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin
54b)

This sensational, even disturbing, figure is crucial for understanding late ancient Jewish bodies and pleasures, desires, fulfillments, and frustrations. A look at the whole context of the verse being cited (including the bit hidden, as it were, in the “etc.” of the text) will be illuminating:

Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all
times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace
the bosom of a stranger? (Prov. 5:18–20)

As frequently the case with rabbinic midrash, the interpretation that the Talmud gives is a combination of the very plausible (to us) and the outrageous (to us). On the most obvious level, the verse seems to be speaking of a human wife, giving a piece of straight and ordinary wisdom, not different from that of Kohellet 9, “Enjoy life with a woman whom you love.” Seen from that perspective, the interpretation given by the midrash

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