Time and Dif­fer­ence in Rab­binic Judaism

Sar­it Kat­tan Gribetz

January 14, 2020

How the rab­bis of late antiq­ui­ty used time to define the bound­aries of Jew­ish identity

The rab­binic cor­pus begins with a ques­tion – when?”―and is brim­ming with dis­cus­sions about time and the rela­tion­ship between peo­ple, God, and the hour. Time and Dif­fer­ence in Rab­binic Judaism explores the rhythms of time that ani­mat­ed the rab­binic world of late antiq­ui­ty, reveal­ing how rab­bis con­cep­tu­al­ized time as a way of con­struct­ing dif­fer­ence between them­selves and impe­r­i­al Rome, Jews and Chris­tians, men and women, and human and divine.

In each chap­ter, Sar­it Kat­tan Gri­betz explores a unique aspect of rab­binic dis­course on time. She shows how the ancient rab­binic texts art­ful­ly sub­vert Roman impe­ri­al­ism by offer­ing rab­binic time” as an alter­na­tive to Roman time.” She exam­ines rab­binic dis­course about the Sab­bath, demon­strat­ing how the week­ly day of rest marked Jew­ish time” from Chris­t­ian time.” Gri­betz looks at gen­dered dai­ly rit­u­als, show­ing how rab­bis cre­at­ed men’s time” and wom­en’s time” by man­dat­ing cer­tain rit­u­als for men and oth­ers for women. She delves into rab­binic writ­ings that reflect on how God spends time and how God’s use of time relates to human beings, merg­ing divine time” with human time.” Final­ly, she traces the lega­cies of rab­binic con­struc­tions of time in the medieval and mod­ern periods.

Time and Dif­fer­ence in Rab­binic Judaism sheds new light on the cen­tral role that time played in the con­struc­tion of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, and the­ol­o­gy dur­ing this trans­for­ma­tive peri­od in the his­to­ry of Judaism.

Discussion Questions

Sar­it Kattan-Gribetz’s Time and Dif­fer­ence in Rab­binic Judaism, is a thought­ful­ly craft­ed book that exam­ines how the rab­bis con­ceived of time and defined them­selves and their sur­round­ings through time-relat­ed dis­tinc­tions. Each chap­ter exam­ines a unit of time start­ing with the year and fin­ish­ing with the day and its sub­di­vi­sions. The rab­bis’ ideas are con­tex­tu­al­ized with­in their Roman, pagan, and Chris­t­ian sur­round­ings, and exam­ined in terms of gen­dered con­struc­tions (men’s time vs. women’s time) and under­stand­ings of the divine (God’s time as opposed to that on earth).

The book explores these ideas while pre­sent­ing a close read­ing of spe­cif­ic dis­cus­sions in the Tal­mud and oth­er late antique rab­binic and non-rab­binic writ­ings along­side a nuanced expla­na­tion of the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances in which the rab­bis had to for­mu­late and adjust their chang­ing con­cep­tions of time. This is an orig­i­nal, well-researched, and beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book that opens new path­ways for under­stand­ing the world of the rab­bis and that of their com­mu­ni­ties in late antiquity.