Dvora E. Weisberg
In this study, Weisberg uses levirate marriage (an institution that involves the union of a man and the widow of his childless brother) as described in biblical law and explicated in rabbinic Judaism as a lens to examine the status of women and attitudes toward marriage, sexuality, and reproduction in early Jewish society. While marriage generally marks the beginning of a new family unit, levirate comes into play when a family’s life is cut short. As such, it offers an opportunity to study the family at a moment of breakdown and restructuring. With her discussion rooted in rabbinic sources and commentary, Weisberg explores kinship structure and descent, the relationship between a family unit created through levirate marriage and the extended family, and the roles of individuals within the family. She also considers the position of women, asking whether it is through marriage or the bearing of children that a woman becomes part of her husband’s family, and to what degree a married woman remains part of her natal family. She argues that rabbinic responses to levirate suggest that a family is an evolving entity, one that can preserve itself through realignment and redefinition.
Continuing the comparative survey of pre-industrial family formation undertaken in The Development of Family and Marriage in Europe (1983), Professor Goody looks in depth at kinship practice in Asia. His findings cause him to question many traditional assumptions about the "primitive" East, and he suggests that, in contrast to pre-colonial Africa, kinship practice in Asia has much in common with that prevailing in parts of pre-industrial Europe. Goody examines the transmission of productive and other property in relation both to the prevailing political economy and to family and ideological structures, and explores the distribution of mechanisms and strategies of management across cultures. The book concludes that notions of western "uniqueness" are often misplaced, and that much previous work on Asian kinship has been unwittingly distorted by the application of concepts and approaches derived from other, inappropriate, social formations.
Michael L. Satlow
Marriage today might be a highly contested topic, but certainly no more than it was in antiquity. Ancient Jews, like their non-Jewish neighbors, grappled with what have become perennial issues of marriage, from its idealistic definitions to its many practical forms to questions of who should or should not wed. In this book, Michael Satlow offers the first in-depth synthetic study of Jewish marriage in antiquity, from ca. 500 B.C.E. to 614 C.E. Placing Jewish marriage in its cultural milieu, Satlow investigates whether there was anything essentially “Jewish” about the institution as it was discussed and practiced. Moreover, he considers the social and economic aspects of marriage as both a personal relationship and a religious bond, and explores how the Jews of antiquity negotiated the gap between marital realities and their ideals.
Focusing on the various experiences of Jews throughout the Mediterranean basin and in Babylonia, Satlow argues that different communities, even rabbinic ones, constructed their own “Jewish” marriage: they read their received traditions and rituals through the lens of a basic understanding of marriage that they shared with their non-Jewish neighbors. He also maintains that Jews idealized marriage in a way that responded to the ideals of their respective societies, mediating between such values as honor and the far messier realities of marital life. Employing Jewish and non-Jewish literary texts, papyri, inscriptions, and material artifacts, Satlow paints a vibrant portrait of ancient Judaism while sharpening and clarifying present discussions on modern marriage for Jews and non-Jews alike.