Our Bodies 101

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Themes and Theology

For the sages of the talmudic era, the body was first and foremost the repository of the soul, but they did not view the living human body as a source of moral taint or ritual pollution. The concept of Imago Dei, the creation of humankind in the divine image, while rarely understood to include a physical resemblance, nonetheless imparted to the human form a certain degree of awe and respect. The complexity of the body's systems, too, occasions a sense of wonder at the work of Creation that is reflected even in Jewish liturgy. Surprisingly, perhaps, medieval Jewish mystics' view of divinity is expressed as ten realms arranged diagrammatically in the form of a human body.

Clothing

Among Jews as among all societies, garments have reflected religious outlook (consider the deliberate archaism of ultra-Orthodox dress), social status (the garb of the ancient High Priest, for example), emotional states (think of the symbolic ripping of a garment worn while mourning), and even the group's relation with the outside world (such as the distinguishing Jewish badges and hats imposed by various medieval European regimes).

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