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The Jewish Body

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The Jewish Body

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The Jewish Body
By Melvin Konner
Part of the 'Jewish Encounters' Series
Nextbook / Schocken, New York: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8052-4236-2

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - March 9, 2009

My first reaction after reading The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner, was that it was a very interesting book. In this regard I mean interesting in a good way. Konner was trained as an anthropologist and later went on to become a medical doctor. Within the pages of this book he attempts to analysis the Jewish notion of body - both in the religious and physical sense. As such, he examines Jewish beliefs of circumcision, sex, body image, family purity laws, and the Jewish concept of a 'bodiless G-d'. Along the way he also looks at Jewish athletes, gangsters, and soldiers and the powerful body image that they portray.

Within the course of this text, Konner shows how Jewish concepts of body and physical portrayals of Jewish strength aided in the creation of the modern nation of Israel, and Jewish self-esteem. In short, he connects how Jewish concepts of body images are related to Jewish history and Jewish identity. He also looks at how non-Jewish views and representation of Jewish body images have impacted Jewish culture and identity. In this realm, Konner also examines Nazi ideas of racial purity and the deadly impact that they had for European Jews.

As I said at the beginning, this is an interesting book. Konner covers a great deal of ground in his analysis of the 'Jewish Body' even touching upon such subjects as nose jobs and genes. His writing is lively, engaging, and full of odd bits of trivia and cultural lore. Konner's narrative in The Jewish Body definitely kept my interest throughout the entirety of this eclectic book, and it spurred me to think upon aspects of Jewish cultural and history that I had never considered before.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading an intelligent and unique survey of Jewish concepts related to both the physical and spiritual aspects of the body. However, this book is not suitable for everyone. It does contain some anatomically graphic illustration, and some of the content may be deemed improper for some readers. Otherwise, it is an excellent book that makes for a very interesting read. It is also a book which makes a perfect book club selection as it is sure to engender a lively discussion!


Melvin Konner is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to The Jewish Body he has written eight other books, including: Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews, Becoming a Doctor: A Journey of Initiation in Medical School, and The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit.


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