The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Rabbinic-Roman Cities: Tractate Eruvin and the Interdependence of Architecture and Ritual

The scholarly consensus in the modern study of Sabbatical practices from tractate Eruvin has long been that the Romans produced architecture whereas the rabbis produced the ritual taking place therein. In the paper proposed here, I challenge this widely held assumption by complicating the relationships between architecture and ritual, as well as between Romans and rabbis. For this purpose, I look at the intricate ritual procedures of Roman urban foundation while examining, in turn, the concrete building instructions prescribed by the rabbis in the context of eruv ḥaẓerot and eruv teḥumim. I claim that this comparative approach to city-making requires a reevaluation not only of the history of urbanism in Roman Palestine, but also of the ontological nature of architecture and its function vis-à-vis other modes of expression. As part of this claim, I make the argument that the case of rabbinic literature has as much to offer architects and historians of architecture as do the works of thinkers and builders like Vitruvius. Likewise, scholars of the Mishnah and the Talmud have much to gain from the study of Roman architecture as a cultural component of rabbinic life rather than as merely archaeological evidence corroborating the text.