Safe, Sane, and Attentive: Toward a Jewish Ethic of Sex and Public Health

Epstein-Levi, Rebecca, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mohrmann, Margaret, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Safe, Sane, and Attentive: Toward a Jewish Ethic of Sex and Public Health offers a new framework for a Jewish ethic of sex and public health that is derived from mishnaic ritual purity literature. Mishnaic texts characterize ritual impurity not as a moral stain, but as a troublesome-yet-mundane condition that is a predictable consequence of common forms of social interaction. While ritual impurity has potentially serious social and ritual consequences and its management and prevention should be taken seriously, the contraction of impurity is not an occasion for shame or disgrace, and the risk of contracting impurity does not warrant avoiding regular social interaction.
The present study argues that sex is not a sui generis phenomenon; rather, it is species of social interaction, and that STIs should be understood, in turn, as predictable risks of certain forms of social interaction. This study thus argues that these parallel features of purity discourse are valuable resources, for both Jews and non-Jews, for thinking about the ethics of managing STIs, and it articulates a Jewish ethical framework that is textually grounded, socially responsible and sexually aware. It offers a religious and unapologetically normative approach to sexual ethics that is attentive to the empirical particularity of sex and sexual health as concrete phenomena and prioritizes the needs and experiences of sexual and gender minorities.
Methodologically, the dissertation advances an innovative approach to drawing contemporary ethical claims from classical text. Instead of drawing a one-to-one correspondence between contemporary sexual ethics and texts that explicitly discuss sex, this study asks which phenomena within the social world of classical texts function in ways that are fruitfully comparable to the ways sexuality functions in contemporary social situations.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Judaism, Religious Ethics, Bioethics, Sex, Gender and Sexuality, Mishnah, Rabbinics, Sexually Transmitted Infections
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