David Shyovitz (Northwestern University), Soul Food and Salvation: Eating Animals in Medieval Ashkenaz. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Medieval Studies, the Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies, and the Mahindra Humanities Center Jewish Cultures and Societies Seminar.
One of the unique features of the Jewish artwork of medieval Ashkenaz is its persistent zoomorphism—illuminated manuscripts produced by and for Jews in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Germany feature images of women and men with the heads of oxen, donkeys, birds, and so on. While art historians have offered various halakhic, polemical, and iconographical explanations for this aesthetic idiosyncrasy, this presentation will seek to situate Ashkenazic zoomorphism in a specifically theological context. Specifically, it will analyze the earliest surviving Ashkenazic zoomorphic image (a rendering of the rabbinic "heavenly banquet" motif depicted in the early-thirteenth century Ambrosian Bible), and argue that it lays bare theological anxieties over the ethics of carnivorousness, the eligibility of animals for eschatological salvation, and the limits of both "human" and "animal" identity.