Repentance through Fear: Cosmic and Body Horror in Sheveṭ Musar

In: European Journal of Jewish Studies
Ilaria Briata
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One of the most notorious early modern musar compilations, Sheveṭ Musar, challenges its readers with an obscure and gory imagery that can be classified as horror. This article proposes an exploration of these horrific images of death, decomposition, and hell. In order to contextualize a selection of passages from Sheveṭ Musar, a state of the art concerning research on Jewish horror will be provided and integrated with references to horror scholarship in areas of literature where this topic has received more investigation. What characterizes horror in Sheveṭ Musar appears to be the didactic functionality of exciting negative emotions such as fear and disgust. This moralizing rhetorical mechanism will be illustrated through four different topics appearing throughout the tractate: (1) the literary strategy of terror; (2) the description of the physical and metaphysical processes of death; (3) a memento of the caducity of human life; and (4) anticipation of infernal damnation.

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