Carnal Israel

By Daniel Boyarin

Works by Daniel Boyarin, and specifically this book, came recommended to me by several rabbis. I got this book to read for Yom Kippur in 2023 and immediately discovered that, although it is not huge, there was no way I could get through it in a single day as I’d done with other Jewish books in years before. Carnal Israel was at times a slog: Boyarin is comfortable with a level of academic vocabulary that made me have to reread sentences repeatedly, which is a very uncommon experience for me. But, the ideas nestled in this vocab lesson are a delight. Boyarin makes an incredibly compelling case for finding feminism within Talmudic literature, and thus within Jewish history and the Jewish present. His readings of the Talmud feel comfortable, not stretched, and his overlay of feminism onto a critique of Christian soul/body dualism is incredibly interesting.

If I have one critique of the book, it’s that it’s simply not gay enough. Though I searched and searched for it, I could not find one shred of rejection of gender binary, which left me feeling the lack. I both believe good feminist work needs to be intersexual and queer, and I wanted this sexy Jewish book to speak to the genderqueer in me, and in that aspect I was disappointed. Still, I would highly recommend this work to someone interested in the topic (and patient with reading dense material) and I will hope to find a gay supplement in the future.