• Directing the Heart: Early Rabbinic Language and the Anatomy of Ritual Space

    Rachel Rafael Neis (see profile)
    Biblical Studies, Jewish History and Culture in Antiquity, Late Antiquity, Rabbinic Literature and Culture, Religious Studies
    Jews--Study and teaching, Civilization, Classical, History, Ancient, Rabbinical literature--Study and teaching, Religion, History, Ritual, Space (Architecture)
    Item Type:
    Prayer, rabbis, Jewish studies, Late Antiquity, Religious studies, Rabbinics, History of religion, Spatiality
    Permanent URL:
    Neis traces an expression of bodily language (kavvanat halev, literally “directing the heart”) from biblical to early rabbinic sources and demonstrates how it oriented people to the affective, physical, and spatial dimensions of prayer. Rejecting a binary that would treat such language as either mental/subjective (and thus metaphorically) or soley physical/objective , Neis argues that we must unpack the fraught meaning of such corporeal spatial terminology to understand “rabbinic concepts of body-mind, ritual technology, and sacred geography." Neis highlights the guidelines for the body in prayer mode found in the rulings of Mishnah and Tosefta Berakhot, which provide a geography and choreography of bodily and affective orientation that calls into question the notion of a fixed, mandate to turn toward the site of the Jerusalem Temple. Although later directions found in the Babylonian Talmud on the praying toward the holy of holies have come to be viewed as normative, Neis warns against reading these into the earlier sources on prayer, finding multiple focal points in her anatomy of the tannaitic evidence. Analyzing kavvanat halev in Mishnah Rosh Hoshana 3 and its parallel in the Tosefta, Neis shows how the sages turned hearing into ritual listening and ordinary gazing into observing, directions grounded in the body, space, and affect. Neis closes with a section on the broader implications of this analysis for scholarly discussions of mind/body dualisms and metaphorical and embodied language.
    Published as:
    Book chapter    
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago
    All Rights Reserved
    Share this:


    Item Name: pdf neis_placing_ancient_texts_131-165.pdf
      Download View in browser
    Activity: Downloads: 241