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Christiane Steuer Der Fetus ist ein Glied seiner Mutter (ubar yerekh imo): Eine rabbinische Interpretation von Exodus 21:22-24

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According to rabbinic literature, the verses Exodus 21:22-24 entail a distinction between the legal status of a fetus and that of a pregnant woman. The mishnah Arakhin 1.4 accordingly rules that, if a pregnant woman is sentenced to death, one executes the punishment immediately and does not wait until the child is born. Contrary to commonly held opinion in scholarly literature, this article argues that the talmudic discussion, which revolves around this mishnah, is not motivated by an attempt to treat the condemned woman with mercy. The participants in this discussion systematically ignore her perspective and read her case as a teaching, the function of which is solely pedagogic: it demonstrates the clash of two contradicting halakhic principles. Whether the ignorance of her perspective can be upheld is questioned by the rabbis themselves: their discussion ends with a contradiction, which is constructed on purpose. Thus, on the one hand, the text has a purely intellectual aim and what it teaches about women is not a historical insight, but rather that the rabbis instrumentalized the woman and her fetus for the sake of constructing a “brain-teaser.” On the other hand, the discussion is not monolithic, but seems as if it is at war with itself: The brain-teaser in the end “deconstructs itself” through a contradiction.

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Christiane Steuer,

born in 1981, studied Judaic Studies and Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. She is working in the project “Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud,” supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and headed by Tal Ilan.

© Christiane Steuer, 2008,, ISSN 1661-3317