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Sexuality

“How Lovely Are Your Tents, O Jacob” – Balaam’s Fertility Blessing

Using imagery of tents, gardens, and flowing water—themes associated with love and sexuality in the Bible and the ancient Near East—Balaam’s praise of Israelite women, מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב (Numbers 24:5), also serves as a warning. The Priestly authors, however, invert this blessing to present Balaam as the instigator of the Baal Peor incident.

Dr.

Erica Lee Martin

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Onah: A Husband’s Conjugal Duties?

The Torah requires a man who marries his maidservant to treat her as a wife, providing her with food, clothing, and onah, a term that has been interpreted as shelter, anointing oil, or conjugal rights. The latter is the traditional understanding, which Shadal defends. Critiquing Maimonides’ philosophical attitude to sexuality, Shadal claims that the Torah here is recognizing a woman's sexual needs.

Prof. Rabbi

Marty Lockshin

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Deborah, Yael and Sisera’s Mother, Themech

Biblical Antiquities, circa 1st cent. C.E., retells the story of Judges 4–5. It expands the maternal imagery of Deborah and Yael, develops the character of Sisera’s mother, and adds sexual innuendo to Yael’s interactions with Sisera.

Dr.

Caryn Tamber-Rosenau

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Lot Sexually Manipulates His Two Daughters

After escaping Sodom, Lot and his daughters hide out in a cave. Believing they were the last humans on earth, the daughters get their father drunk, and conceive children with him while he is asleep. But since when do daughters rape their fathers? A womanist midrashic reading retells the story from their perspective.

Prof. Rev.

Wil Gafney

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A Relationship with God Is Not Enough: Adam Needed Eve

Human perfection cannot be achieved only through intellectual and spiritual development, but requires companionship and physical intimacy.

Prof.

Kenneth Seeskin

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Does Ishmael Molest Isaac?

In Genesis 21:9, Sarah sees Ishmael מְצַחֵק metzacheq and tells Abraham to banish the boy. The verb has long been interpreted innocently, as laughing or playing, yet this may not be what it means.

Dr.

Lisbeth S. Fried

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Marrying a Beautiful Captive Woman

If an Israelite wishes to marry a woman taken captive in war, she becomes part of the Israelite polity and is protected from future re-enslavement. Uncomfortable with the Torah’s permitting this marriage, the rabbis declare it to be a compromise to man’s “evil impulse,” an idea reminiscent of Jesus’ claim that the Torah allows divorce as a compromise to humanity’s “hard heart.”

Prof. Rabbi

Shaye J. D. Cohen

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Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Is the Autumn Ingathering Festival at the Beginning, Middle, or End of the Year?

The Feast of Ingathering is “at the tzet (צֵאת) of the year” (Exod 23:16). This phrase is generally translated as “the end of the year,” but a closer look at the meaning of the Hebrew verb in biblical Hebrew suggests it may mean the beginning.

Harvey N. Bock

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Remarrying Your Ex-Wife

Why can’t a man remarry his wife once she has been married to someone else?

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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A Feminist Literalist Allegorical Reading of Shir Hashirim

Finding gender equality in the Song of Songs without compromising God and meaning.

Prof. Rabbi

Wendy Zierler

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Purity of Priests: Contamination through Marriage

Leviticus 21 and Ezekiel 44 regulate whom priests may marry. What rationale lies behind these laws?

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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A Copper Laver Made from Women’s Mirrors

Who were these women and what were these mirrors used for? Reconstructing the narrative: the historical-critical method vs. midrash. 

Prof.

Rachel Adelman

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Dancing Erotically with the Golden Calf

And Moses’ decision to break the tablets

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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A Moral Value in the Song of Songs

Reading Shir HaShirim in Its Original Sense

Prof. Rabbi

Michael V. Fox

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The Prohibition of Cross-Dressing

Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits men and women from wearing each other’s clothes. What is the motivation behind this law, and why is this behavior “abhorrent to YHWH”?

Dr.

Hilary Lipka

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The Parturient’s Days of Purity: From Torah to Halacha

In reference to the parturient, the Torah speaks of a 33 or 66 day period of דמי טהרה “blood of her purity” as distinguished from a 7 or 14 day period “like menstruation.” What is the difference between these two periods according to Leviticus and how did later groups such as rabbinic Jews, Karaites, Samaritans, and Beta Israel understand it?

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Intimacy on Shabbat: Was It Always a Mitzvah?

A surprising look at Shabbat in the Second Temple period.

Dr.

Malka Z. Simkovich

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