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Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature$
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Mira Balberg

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780520280632

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520280632.001.0001

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The Duality of Gentile Bodies

The Duality of Gentile Bodies

(p.122) 5 The Duality of Gentile Bodies
Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature

Mira Balberg

University of California Press

The fifth chapter discusses the role and function of non-Jews in the Mishnaic system of impurity. While gentiles are considered to be entirely insusceptible to the ritual impurities to which Jews are susceptible, they are also considered to convey the same impurity as persons with abnormal genital discharges, regardless of their physical condition. Attempting to disentangle this perplexing duality, the chapter suggests how these two seemingly contradictory notions came to be and how they are utilized by the rabbis to construct a discourse not only about gentiles but also (and especially) about the subjectivity of Jews. Whereas the inability of gentiles to contract impurity is presented in the Mishnah as a result of lack of legal subjectivity, their perpetual impurity is strongly identified with effeminacy and loss of bodily control.

Keywords:   gentiles, Jews, genital discharges, legal subjectivity, susceptibility to impurity

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