Responding to doubts expressed by contributors to the Common Knowledge symposium on xenophilia, this introduction to the seventh and final installment seeks to explain the critics’ methodological concerns in a case study of strong affect in the Babylonian Talmud. Examining the story of Rav Rehumi and his wife in Ketubot 62b, the author inquires whether differences of culture and the passage of time make it impossible for us to determine whether love is the affect involved. The case is especially difficult to resolve, given that, while there may be two lovers in this narrative, there may be three objects of love: the rabbi, his wife, and the Torah. In the story, Rav Rehumi is so ravished by Torah that he forgets his wife. Since the narrative does not predicate that he chose not to visit her but, rather, that he was swept away, the author proposes that “studying Torah is sex, not like sex, but sex itself.” The story describes not sublimation of libido but its desublimation. If so, the story confronts us with an unnamed affect in ancient Jewish culture that “encompasses both the joy of sex and the joy of text.” It is not that, dourly, the Talmudic Rabbis cannot imagine, or that they ignore, corporeal pleasure; it is rather that the erotic experience of Torah is the same pleasure but, at least for them, even stronger. This piece concludes, therefore, that a term like xenophilia, which incorporates the word love (philia), is not universally applicable across cultures and epistemai. The concept of love is too various.
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Research Article| August 01 2020
Introduction: “If That’s Not Love, What Is It?”
Common Knowledge (2020) 26 (3): 373–384.
Daniel Boyarin, Anne Marie Wolf, Lilith Acadia; Introduction: “If That’s Not Love, What Is It?”. Common Knowledge 1 August 2020; 26 (3): 373–384. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-8521483
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