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The Jewish Body: An Anatomical History of the Jewish People (Jewish Encounters) [Kindle Edition]

Melvin Konner
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $22.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

A history of the Jewish people from bris to burial, from “muscle Jews” to nose jobs.

Melvin Konner, a renowned doctor and anthropologist, takes the measure of the “Jewish body,” considering sex, circumcision, menstruation, and even those most elusive and controversial of microscopic markers–Jewish genes. But this is not only a book that examines the human body through the prism of Jewish culture. Konner looks as well at the views of Jewish physiology held by non-Jews, and the way those views seeped into Jewish thought. He describes in detail the origins of the first nose job, and he writes about the Nazi ideology that categorized Jews as a public health menace on par with rats or germs.

A work of grand historical and philosophical sweep, The Jewish Body discusses the subtle relationship between the Jewish conception of the physical body and the Jewish conception of a bodiless God. It is a book about the relationship between a land–Israel–and the bodily sense not merely of individuals but of a people. As Konner describes, a renewed focus on the value of physical strength helped generate the creation of a Jewish homeland, and continued in the wake of it.

With deep insight and great originality, Konner gives us nothing less than an anatomical history of the Jewish people.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anthropology professor and author Konner (Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews) exudes passion and knowledge while gamely evaluating the history of the body Judaic, including customs like circumcision and the way outsiders' ignorant or malicious portrayal-in all manner of historical art and propaganda (from Michaelangelo's horned Moses to children's picture book The Poison Mushroom)-have come to impact Jewish identity and physical awareness. Konnor also offers his own interpretations of specific Torah passages alongside their historically evolving meanings, as well as more seemingly modern phenomena like nose jobs and "shiks-appeal" (the "ultimate realization" of which is the "Jewish weakness for blondes"). Konner also looks at the Holocaust, Socialist Zionism (and its promotion of gender equality), and the "Jewry of muscles" credited with the victory of Israel over hostile neighbors. In this comprehensive look into Jewish physcality, Konner discusses the most sensitive topics with curiosity, impartiality and an impressive breadth of knowledge.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This is the eleventh book in the Jewish Encounters series and 17 more are planned. Konner writes that it is his intent to not only trace the Jewish body through its radical, almost magical transformations but also to try to understand how Jewish bodies and Jewish thoughts about them have shaped the Jewish mind and the Jewish contributions to civilization. We will consider how centuries of relative bodily isolation, inspired for better or worse by ideas about the body, may have shaped Jewish genes, he writes. Konner contends that two great events of the twentieth century—one the worst thing that ever happened to the Jews, and the other the best—turned the tables on Jewish weakness forever. These are the Holocaust and the state of Israel. Konner, an anthropologist, is the author of nine books. His new one helps to shed light on a complicated subject. --George Cohen

Product Details

  • File Size: 1126 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken (January 13, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001OLRMU0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,226 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars poorly conceived and poorly executed book December 3, 2010
Book review of "The Jewish Body" by Melvin Konner, Nextbook-Schocken, New York, 2009, by Dr. Walter Ziffer, (a.k.a. "Religious Skeptic")

"The Jewish Body" by Melvin Konner is a disappointing book. I am amazed that Schocken Books, a highly prestigious publisher of Judaica-related works, accepted this work for publication.
It is hard to know where to begin with a critique because of the book's many weaknesses. Regrettably, many of the statements in the text are not referenced and so the uninformed reader has no choice but to take the author's word for them. The book's structure and content are a veritable hodge-podge. One of the participants of our synagogue book study group compared Konner's approach to that of a stand-up comedian using word association to jump from one topic to the next. Not a single member of our group found the book worthwhile reading. Much of its content is anecdotal, very little truly scientific. After making a quasi definitive statement, the author often backtracks with "buts, howevers, nevertheless's, etc." canceling out what he previously affirmed. As a theologian and Holocaust survivor who literally owes his life to the fire power of the Allies in WW II and who is grateful for these armies' powerful and violent defeat of Hitler, I am nevertheless appalled by Konner's virtual worship at the throne of power. Rare are the Jews who are not grateful for the creation of the modern State of Israel and who do not support Israel's growth, continued development and security, yet the continued and rather unconditional praise of Israel as a magnificent military power is something that this Jew and Holocaust survivor finds downright repulsive.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars mildly interesting March 10, 2009
This little book describes a wide variety of issues related to the Jewish body: circumcision, Jewish law related to sex and menstruation, the periodic oscillation of Jewish opinion between reverence for and apathy towards physical strength, and common public stereotypes of the Jewish physique (and Jews' attempts to avoid looking like those stereotypes).

A few of the more interesting points:

*Konner suggests that biblical rules about menstruation (which hold that women who menstruate are ritually impure for some days afterwards) might mean that menstruation was viewed as threatening in traditional culture. He reasons that since pregnant women don't menstruate, persistent menstrual cycles might have suggested infertility- not a good thing in an agricultural society where each child was another person who could help work the land. Interesting speculation, though I can't say whether it makes sense. (And of course, Konner's theory doesn't explain why later rabbis broadened those rules).

*Why were Jews often excellent boxers in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Konner suggests that Jews "became superb defensive fighters in order to avoid getting their faces bruised, which would alert their Orthodox parents [who Konner assumes were more hostile to fighting than non-Jewish parents] to what they are doing." But were Jews really better fighters than other immigrant groups trying to make their way up the social ladder?

*Konner's most interesting chapter focuses on Jews' attempts to change their physical appearance; for example, rhinoplasty (which makes noses smaller) was very popular among Jewish women in the mid-20th century. Konner suggests that this fad might have something to do with a Jewish desire to blend in after the Holocaust.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Jewish Body February 3, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting. Nothing revolutionary or new to a medical scientist like myself, but a good seminar jumping off point for discussion with an educated lay group.
Well written and easily understandable to the non-medical community.
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