In this book, Ari Mermelstein examines the mutually-reinforcing relationship between power and emotion in ancient Judaism. Ancient Jewish writers in both Palestine and the diaspora contended that Jewish identity entails not simply allegiance to God and performance of the commandments but also the acquisition of specific emotional norms. These rules regarding feeling were both shaped by and responses to networks of power — God, the foreign empire, and other groups of Jews — which threatened Jews’ sense of agency. According to these writers, emotional communities that felt Jewish would succeed in neutralizing the power wielded over them by others and, depending on the circumstances, restore their power to acculturate, maintain their Jewish identity, and achieve redemption. An important contribution to the history of emotions, this book argues that power relations are the basis for historical changes in emotion discourse.
Power and Emotion in Ancient Judaism: Community and Identity in Formation
In Power and Emotion in Ancient Judaism: Community and Identity in Formation, Ari Mermelstein engages ancient texts in a way that is profoundly generative for contemporary communities. The book is not only a nuanced study of power and emotion and the relationship between them, but also of the way in which text and ritual lead to feeling Jewish — that is, adhering to the rules that govern Jewish communities and experiencing the emotions that derive from a Jewish analysis of power.
Highlighting the concept of feeling Jewish as a central component of how ancient writers perceived Jewish identity is revelatory. Readers interested in antiquity can find in Power and Emotion a fresh lens for understanding ancient texts and the communities that produced them. At the same time, readers with more contemporary concerns can find in it insights to more effectively challenge social ills like racism and antisemitism. Although the book devotes limited attention to the present, its analysis of power and emotion illuminates current social dynamics as well as ancient ones. Moreover, recognizing how ancient texts transform power relations by engaging emotion can inspire readers to a new appreciation of the possibilities inherent in the way in which contemporary communities continue to make text and ritual central to Jewish life.
Help support the Jewish Book Council.