“Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism” by Sarit Kattan Gribetz— The Boundaries of Jewish Identity

Gribetz, Sarit Kattan. “Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism”,  Princeton University Press, 2020.

The Boundaries of Jewish Identity

Amos Lassen

“Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism” by Sarit Kattan Gribetz looks at how the rabbis of late antiquity used time to define the boundaries of Jewish identity. The word “when” is key when looking at the

relationship between people, God, and the hour. Here Gribetz  explores “the rhythms of time that animated the rabbinic world of late antiquity, revealing how rabbis conceptualized time as a way of constructing difference between themselves and imperial Rome, Jews and Christians, men and women, and human and divine.”

Each chapter looks at a unique aspect of rabbinic discourse on time. We see how the ancient rabbinic texts cleverly subvert Roman imperialism by offering “rabbinic time” as an alternative to “Roman time.” In looking at Rabbinic discourse about the Sabbath, we see how the day of rest marked “Jewish time” from “Christian time.” The explanations of gendered daily rituals, show how rabbis created “men’s time” and “women’s time” by mandating certain rituals for men and others for women. The rabbinic writings that reflect on how God spends time and how God’s use of time is relatable to human beings, merging “divine time” with “human time.” The legacies of rabbinic constructions of time in the medieval and modern periods are traced so that they are better understood.

Time has always played a central role in Judaism and on the construction of Jewish identity, subjectivity, and theology during this period in the history of the religion. Gribetz has done extensive and meticulous research to give us an analysis of early texts. We immediacy see  the critical role time plays in forging distinct social identities and how schedules and calendars are important to major cultural contrasts between rabbinic and Roman, Jewish and Christian, man and woman, and human and divine. We see time “as an analytic rubric for understanding rabbinic culture.”  Here we clearly see the relationship of humans and their world to time. The rabbis of the Mishnah and in late antiquity used the construction of time to distinguish, and to bring together Jews, Romans, and Christians; women and men; and God and his human creations. Gribetz has systematically mapped the differentiating function of time across social categories, from empire to the gendered body.

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