Book: The Religious Body Imagined
Chapter: 1. Embodied Religious Authority: New Approaches in the Study of Judaism
Scholarship in Jewish studies leans heavily towards the study of rabbinic texts and rabbinic figures, perpetuating the falsehood that texts, discourse, and rabbinic elites (men, both historical and contemporary) alone define Judaism and construct religious authority. When Jewish religious bodies are discussed, they are often depicted as feeble or grotesque—ineffective as bodies. Conversely, bodies are often understood as that which threatens the purity or power of texts. Drawing on ethnographic research with two groups of women—Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women in Jerusalem and female Orthodox clergy in America—I argue that religious identity and religious authority also come from bodies. This paper explores how the study of Judaism would be significantly changed by refocusing on the embodied aspects of religious authority.