ABSTRACT

What has been called the “corporeal turn” in recent Jewish studies is provoking anxiety. If “Judaism’s mind has been more interesting and more influential than Judaism’s body,” a distinction worthy of study in its own right, critics are calling for “a swing back to its more traditional mooring in the text (which, in any case, has often dealt with the body).” But those who took the corporeal turn never left the text behind. Rather, they brought a concern with the body to the text and found new ways to read and think about those texts. What troubles the critics would seem to lie elsewhere. Reviewing several books published in the 1990s, Hillel Halkin characterized the trend as “feminizing Jewish Studies,” which he did not intend as a compliment (Halkin 1998; for an alternative perspective, see Bunzl 2000). The problem was not that their authors ignored the text.1 Rather, it was the way they read the texts; their approach was marked, in his view, by “postmodern thinking,” skepticism, a “non-to anti-Zionist” stance, an affirmation of “Diaspora Jewish identity,” and above all an open embrace of feminism and feminist theory (and, though he does not say so in so many words, a preoccupation with sexuality and homosexuality). NonOrthodox Jewish America is, in his view, suffering from deep confusion, exacerbated (if not caused) by the “sexual revolution,” and this kind of work just makes things worse. A firestorm ensued, fueled a few months later by Gabriel Schoenfeld’s wholesale condemnation of “the voguish hybrid known as gender studies” in Holocaust scholarship (Schoenfeld 1998: 44). Claiming that this trend “does not yet have a name,” Halkin called it “the new Jewish

scholarship.” A year earlier, Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin had announced “the new Jewish cultural studies,” and a year later The Chronicle of Higher Education published its own assessment of “the new Jewish studies”(Boyarin and Boyarin 1997; Heller 1999). In an endorsement for the Boyarins’ book, Eric Santner defined the new Jewish cultural studies as work that brings “to bear recent innovations in the study of gender and sexuality on readings of canonical Jewish texts.”2 While this may represent a corporeal turn in Jewish textual studies, it does not represent the full potential for a corporeal turn in Jewish studies more broadly conceived, a topic to which I will return. What is new in “the new Jewish cultural studies” is not only the concern with gender and sexuality (corporeality is not to be limited to these important topics in any case) but also the cultural turn in literary studies and the emergence of cultural studies.3 Text has not gone away. Rather, the corporeal turn has intensified interest in text and offered new ways to think about text as a social, corporeal, and material practice (Biddick 1996; Biddick 2003; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1982).