New Book-Defining Jewish Difference
In this week’s Torah reading the following verse will be read (Lev. 18:3):
כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ
You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. (NRSV)
Beth Berkowitz, whose previous book was Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures, has published a new book about this verse, Defining Jewish Difference: From Antiquity to the Present. From the publisher’s web site:
This book traces the interpretive career of Leviticus 18:3, a verse that forbids Israel from imitating its neighbors. Beth A. Berkowitz shows that ancient, medieval and modern exegesis of this verse provides an essential backdrop for today’s conversations about Jewish assimilation and minority identity more generally. The story of Jewishness that this book tells may surprise many modern readers for whom religious identity revolves around ritual and worship. In Leviticus 18:3′s story of Jewishness, sexual practice and cultural habits instead loom large. The readings in this book are on a micro-level, but their implications are far-ranging: Berkowitz transforms both our notion of Bible-reading and our sense of how Jews have defined Jewishness.