A scholarly study of Jewish sexuality that is neither sexy nor particularly Jewish. Here, Biale (Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History, 1986) appears to have lost his way in the murkier realms of philosophy and theology. He's at his best when dealing with the sociological and psychological realms of sexuality and powerlessness, as noted in the nervous passions of Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Erica Jong. Elsewhere, though, his central argument sees Eros in Judaism as ``the struggle between contradictory attractions...the story of a profoundly ambivalent culture.'' Biale consistently misses the subtleties of the Oriental, Jewish paradox of erotic spirituality with his Occidental, secular Bible-critic's sensibility that finds only contradictions. He therefore thinks it scandalous (rather than glorious) that King David's lineage is built on the incestuous seductions of the gentiles Tamar and Ruth (who lust only for progeny). Similarly, Biale cannot see how the literal level of the ``Song of Songs'' feeds the spiritual level with its erotic yearning for the Other. The failure to see that classical Judaism is closer to the Kama Sutra than to the teachings of St. Paul is one thing, but Biale is guilty of errors (``Jacob himself associated with the affirmation of intermarriage'') and of contempt for traditionalists who don't share his view that Judaism is a derivative amalgam of Canaanite and Greco-Roman culture. His subjectivity is all too perceptible. The extensive notes and bibliography help document shifting attitudes toward romance and marriage, but a topic like this deserves a little passion.
Read full book review >