Sacred scriptures defile the hands

Albert I. Baumgarten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article takes up the paradoxical crux of sacred scriptures defiling hands and offers a solution based on tKelim, BM 5:8, which discusses the protection offered by the Temple courtyard against certain texts defiling hands. While just which texts enjoyed this protection depends on the interpretation of this source, that the Temple courtyard offered some sort of protection against sacred scriptures defiling hands is beyond doubt. I propose that sacred scriptures defiled hands when they were in the profane world, but in the sacred context of the Temple courtyard they did not defile: The interplay of sacred and profane, as elaborated in particular by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, was responsible for sacred scriptures defiling the hands. Finally, since sacred scriptures defiling hands was apparently an exclusively Pharisaic practice, I discuss its place and purpose by applying Cultural Theory to understanding the dynamics of the Pharisees and their practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-67
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016


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