Disability and the Destruction of Jerusalem: Gender, Sex, and Flesh in Rabbinic Narrative
This lecture examines rabbinic tales of the destruction of Jerusalem through the lens of scarred and wounded flesh. Rabbinic accounts of Roman conquest are saturated with sexual violence, enslavement, and the brutal corporeal cost of imperial ambition. Bringing disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, and feminist materialist theory to bear on rabbinic narrative, this lecture argues that disability affords the rabbis a potent symbolic discourse with which to think through the ruin of Jerusalem. Yet even as the rabbis use disablement to expresses trauma and violation, disabled figures also flip the conventional script of loss and vulnerability. At the same time that subjugated bodies bear the material costs of opposition to Roman dominance, these very bodies can also become potent sites of resistance, sites through which communities can critique colonial power—and articulate the subversive potency of dissident bodies that refuse to perform as desired beneath the imperial regime.
Julia Watts Belser is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University. She studies rabbinic Jewish culture in late antiquity, with expertise in disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, and ecological criticism. She is the author of Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Her current book project, Corporeal Catastrophe: Gender, Sex, and Disability in Rabbinic Stories of Destruction, will be forthcoming from Oxford University Press. A passionate lecturer and teacher, Belser held a visiting faculty fellowship in the Women’s Studies and Religion at Harvard Divinity School and previously taught in the Religious Studies Department at Missouri State University. She received her Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, as well as rabbinic ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion California.
Sponsored by Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and University of Michigan Initiative for Disability Studies.