Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review of Balberg, Blood for Thought

JEWISH REVIEW OF BOOKS: Sacrificial Speech (Shai Secunda). Review of:
Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature

by Mira Balberg

University of California Press, 304 pp., $95
Just a few years after the publication of her Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature, Mira Balberg has somehow managed to write another path-breaking work on another formidable and arcane section of rabbinic literature—sacrificial law. Like her first monograph, which redescribed and reclaimed the complex and seemingly irrelevant rabbinic rules of purity, Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature shows how an ancient Jewish Temple rite persevered—nay, flourished—for centuries after the Second Temple lay in ruins, its cultic theater shuttered. This was again thanks to the Rabbis of late antiquity, who cut away the melodrama and distilled the sacrificial act into a sparse, almost modernist ritual. In her reconstruction of the rabbinic conception of sacrifice, Balberg challenges the equation of sacrifice with heady romantic cultism and the idea that Judaism as we know it—rabbinic Judaism—is an inherently postsacrificial religion. Along the way, Blood for Thought provokes much thought about the distinction between religious and secular rituals and ancient and contemporary “high priests,” be they Second Temple Jerusalemites or 21st-century New Yorkers.
I noted the publication of the book here. Shai Secunda also reviewed her eariler book, as noted here.

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