Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America

David Biale, Author
David Biale, Author Basic Books $24 (319p) ISBN 978-0-465-02033-1
Paperback - 978-0-465-02034-8
Paperback - 319 pages - 978-0-520-21134-6
Ebook - 328 pages - 978-0-520-92006-4
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Critiquing a body of texts that runs a wide gamut from the Bible to Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint , this fine, authoritative history of Jewish sexuality may well become a standard reference. Biale ( Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History ) explicates a deeply ambivalent tradition: the Bible subordinates erotic desire to fertility; the Talmudic rabbis affirmed marital sexuality and procreation yet also preached sexual self-restraint and flirted with celibacy. In medieval times, the Ashkenazic Northern European elite held a relatively positive view of sexuality, the Jewish philosophers of the Mediterranean sought to separate procreation from desire, and the mystics pursued an erotic relationship with God. The Hasidism of the 18th-century was a widespread movement of sexual asceticism, the 19th-century proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment tried to neutralize sexuality within a bourgeois family framework, and early 20th-century Zionists spouted a theory of erotic liberation but sublimated sexual desire in the service of the Jewish nation. Discussing sexual stereotypes in American Jewish culture, Biale concludes that ``erotic liberation remains the unfinished business of contemporary Jewish culture.'' (Sept.)
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