In Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity, Julia Watts Belser coins the term “performative perception” to describe how “a sage's interpretation of events can have a powerful effect on his experience.”1 For her, “the quintessential rabbinic practice of interpretation is not simply a matter of interpreting the divine word, but also a practice that can shape the meaning of the divine world.”2 Through her careful study of the Babylonian Talmud tractate Ta'anit, Belser concludes that “what appears to be curse is often actually blessing, that what seems to be a sign of disfavor may actually revel the presence of divine love and care.”3 Performative perception reveals that things are not always as they appear to be.

Despite efforts to the contrary, the divine word and the world are messier than they seem. That messiness or unruliness is a central feature in...

You do not currently have access to this content.