Daniel Boyarin (Hebrew: דניאל בוירין; born 1946) is a historian of religion. Born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, he holds dual United States and Israeli citizenship. Trained as a scholar, in 1990 he was appointed Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, a post which he still holds. His brother, Jonathan Boyarin, is also a scholar, and the two have written together.
Boyarin was educated at Goddard College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University before earning his doctoral degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He has taught at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University, Yale, Harvard, Yeshiva University, and the University of California at Berkeley. He is a member of the Enoch seminar and of the Advisory Board of the journal Henoch. In 2005 he was elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A number of Boyarin's students, including Christine Hayes, Charlotte Fonrobert, Azzan Yadin, and Eliyahu Stern, occupy Rabbinics posts at leading American Universities. A discussion of the merits of Boyarin's scholarship is featured in the opening scene of Joseph Cedar's Oscar nominated film Footnote.
Views and writings
Daniel Boyarin works at the nexus of tradition and novelty. He defines himself as an Orthodox Jew. Boyarin's writings display a wide and ever-shifting range of interests. Boyarin's first book, Sephardic Speculation (written in Hebrew), examines the Talmudic methodology of Isaac Canpanton (1360-1463, Spain). Boyarin's first English book, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (1990), is often credited with introducing Literary Theory into the field of Rabbinics.. Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (1993) applies the methods of New Historicism to the subject of Rabbinic attitudes toward sexuality. A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (1994) examines how misreadings of Paul the Apostle's universalist philosophy eventually led to violent coercion.
In Unheroic Conduct (1997), Boyarin’s interests mesh with those of others, such as Sander Gilman and Jay Geller, who have begun to explore the relationship between psychoanalysis and Judaism. For Boyarin, the Oedipus complex both incarnates and disavows a fear Sigmund Freud had of being classified as feminine in the context of the times in which he lived, times that were antisemitic and that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust. Boyarin holds that passivity is an essential feature of Judaism, and that because this is a quality that is held in common with homosexuality, it has the power to inspire panic among Jews who fear the censorious gaze of authority. Consequently, he claims, Freud conceived of the Oedipus complex as a way of deferring the charge of Jewish femininity by offering proof that Jews, no less than Gentiles, had within them the desire to kill.
Boyarin supports his argument that passivity is essential to Judaism with the observation that Judaism worships a powerful male authority figure who demands obeisance, and with documentary evidence such as Haggadot, prayer guides for the Jewish Passover ritual of the Seder, that show the wise son as the retiring scholar, and the wicked son as the man of war. This leads Boyarin to oppose Zionism, as he feels that the necessary element of activity and war entailed in ruling over a land is at odds with what he identifies as the authentic and persistent current of scholarship that defines the tradition. Martha Nussbaum credits him with the insight that Jewish sensibilities "reshaped Roman norms of manliness, making the astonishing claim that the true man sits still all day with a book, and has the bodily shape of someone who does just that."
Border Lines (2004) examines the early stages of the partition of Judaism and Christianity into two separate and distinct religions. Socrates and the Fat Rabbis (2009) explores the dialogic structure in Plato and the Babylonian Talmud. The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (2012) carries on the line of exploration begun in Border Lines, developing the argument that New Testament ideas can be found in long-standing Jewish traditions.
Boyarin has complex views on Zionism and a critical view of the Israeli government. He has stated for example that: "More piercing to me is the pain of watching a tradition, my Judaism, to which I have dedicated my life, disintegrating before my eyes. It has been said by many Christians that Christianity died at Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. I fear, G-d forbid- that my Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Deheishe, Betein (Bethel) and El-Khalil (Hebron)." The passage has been assailed in by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, who accuses Boyarin of lacking "lucid thinking" as well as of "bias" for having drawn an analogy between the Nazi Holocaust and the Israeli government's conduct toward the Palestinians.
- A Critical Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nazir. (Doctoral dissertation, 1975).
- Sephardic Speculation: A Study in Methods of Talmudic Interpretation (Hebrew), (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1989).
- Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).
- Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
- A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
- Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, (University of California Press, 1997)
- Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism, (Stanford University Press, 1999)
- Queer Theory and the Jewish Question, (Columbia University Press, 2003)
- Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
- Socrates and the Fat Rabbis, (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, (The New Press, 2012)
- Professor Daniel Boyarin - Education (University of California, Berkeley) Retrieved: 2007-03-18.
- Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, (Berkeley, 1997), xiv-xvi
- Martha C. Nussbaum, Man Overboard, The New Republic, June 22nd, 2006.
- Schäfer, Peter (18 May 2012). "Peter Schäfer: The Jew Who Would Be God". The New Republic. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
- Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006 p.xiv.
- Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism', p. 17.
- Professor Daniel Boyarin Home page at University of California, Berkeley
- A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity E-text at California Digital Library
- Enoch Seminar website
- Journal Henoch website