Feeding Fetuses: Pregnant Widows, Powerful Fetuses, and the Imagined Rabbinic Household

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Event Location
135 Nicholson Hall

216 Pillsbury Dr. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

What kinds of power does a fetus actually have? The Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 22) designates certain kinds of foods as sacred, and limits their consumption to the priestly household. In this work-in-progress, I explore how the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud imagine fetal power, through the lens of how the fetus limits the ability of a pregnant person and their household to consume these sacred foods. Using insights from ritual theory and medical anthropology, I argue that the rabbis resist the idea of fetal ritual and legal agency while insisting that fetuses do affect change in the lives of pregnant people. This tension highlights rabbinic ambivalence about fetal personhood, and the range of ways that the rabbis think about fetuses in different legal and ritual contexts.

Dr. Sara Ronis is associate professor of Theology at St. Mary’s University, Texas, where she teaches courses in the Hebrew Bible and its reception, and Jewish Studies and religious studies more broadly. She holds a Ph.D. in ancient Judaism specializing in the Talmud from Yale University, and a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. Her first book, Demons in the Details: Demonic Discourse and Rabbinic Culture in the Babylonian Talmud (August 2022), looks at demonic discourse in the Babylonian Talmud in its legal, narrative, and socio-cultural contexts. 

Cosponsors: Classical & Near Eastern Religions & Cultures, The Center for Premodern Studies, and The First Millennium Workshop

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