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When Near Becomes Far Old Age in Rabbinic Literature

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2021-03-23
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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When Near Becomes Far explores the representations and depictions of old age in the rabbinic Jewish literature of late antiquity (150-600 CE). Through close literary readings and cultural analysis, the book reveals the gaps and tensions between idealized images of old age on the one hand, and the psychologically, physiologically, and socially complicated realities of aging on the other hand. The authors argue that while rabbinic literature presents a number of prescriptions related to qualities and activities that make for good old age, the respect and reverence that the elderly should be awarded, and harmonious intergenerational relationship, it also includes multiple anecdotes and narratives that portray aging in much more nuanced and poignant ways.

These anecdotes and narratives relate, alongside fantasies about blissful or unnoticeable aging, a host of fears associated with old age: from the loss of physical capability and beauty to the loss of memory and mental acuity, and from marginalization in the community to being experienced as a burden by one's children. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of aging in the rabbinic world: bodily appearance and sexuality, family relations, intellectual and cognitive prowess, honor and shame, and social roles and identity. As the book shows, in their powerful and sensitive treatments of aging, rabbinic texts offer some of the richest and most audacious observations on aging in ancient world literature, many of which still resonate today.

Author Biography

Mira Balberg is Professor of History and Endowed Chair in Ancient Jewish Civilization at the University of California, San Diego. She specializes in ancient Mediterranean Religions, with a focus on the emergence and development of Judaism in antiquity (200 BCE-500 CE).

Haim Weiss is Associate Professor of Hebrew Literature at Ben Gurion University in Israel. He specializes in rabbinic literature, Midrash, and folklore, as well as in the relations between classical Jewish literature and modern Hebrew literature.

Table of Contents


1. Like Two Fountains: Fluidity, Sexuality, and the Aging Body

2. Squawk to Them Like Roosters: Aging Parents and their Children

3. I Am Not Old: Age and Agelessness in the Study House

4. Raise My Eyes for Me: Gazing at Old Age

5. Running at Dusk: Anonymity and Identity in Old Age

Source Index
Subject Index

Supplemental Materials

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The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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