Disability and the Dissident Body: Ancient Jewish Resistance to Empire

Lecture | January 17 | 4-6 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Julia Watts Belser, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department,Georgetown University.

 Disability Studies Research Cluster, HIFIS

Ancient Jewish accounts of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem use disability to reckon with charged questions about power, violence, and resistance. Bringing feminist disability studies to bear on rabbinic Jewish narrative, this lecture argues that disability affords the rabbis a complex symbolic discourse with which to grapple with the power of God and the brutality of empire. Even as subjugated bodies bear the material costs of opposition to Rome, rabbinic Jewish storytellers also flip the conventional script of loss and vulnerability. Disability become a means for the rabbis to critique colonial power—and articulate the subversive potency of dissident bodies that refuse to perform as desired beneath the imperial regime.

Julia Watts Belser is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University. She studies rabbinic Jewish culture in late antiquity, with expertise in disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, and ecological criticism. She is the author of Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem, just released by Oxford University Press, as well as Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Currently a research fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, she has also been a faculty fellow in the Women’s Studies and Religion at Harvard Divinity School. She received her Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union and is delighted to return to the Bay Area. Alongside her academic work in disability studies, she is a longtime disability activist and the co-author of A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities (Hesperian Foundation, 2007), a grassroots public health book used around the world and translated into more than ten languages.

The venue is wheelchair accessible. CART transcription and ASL interpretation can be provided with advance request to sschweik@berkeley.edu. Please refrain from wearing scented products. Any questions or requests? Please contact sschweik@berkeley.edu.

Co-Sponsors: The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society; Disability Studies Cluster, HIFIS; Religious Diversity Cluster, HIFIS; The Division of Arts and Humanities; The Center for Jewish Studies, UC Berkeley; The Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union; Professor Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture; Professor Karen Nakamura, Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair of Disability Studies.

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