Shalom ! "From the Bookshelf" brings you up-to-date news of recent publications in the field of Jewish Folklore.
This section is not limited to new developments in Israel and it seeks to bring these new titles to the attention of a wide a public.

The address for sending bibliographical information and a short description is:

New Book
Eli YassifThe Hebrew Folktale-History, Genre, Meaning
Tamar AlexanderThe Beloved Friend-and-a-Half: Studies in Sepharadic Folk-Literature
Ilana RosenThere once was... The Oral Tradition of the Jews of Carpatho-Russia
Tamar Alexander, Galit Hasan-Rokem, Shalom Sabar (eds.) Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore Vol XIX-XX
Dan Ben-Amos (ed.) Folklore Juif
Michele KleinA Time To Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth


The Hebrew Folktale
History, Genre, Meaning

Eli Yassif
(Folklore Studies in Translation)
Hardcover - 688 pages (November 1999), Indiana University Press.
Translated from Hebrew by Jacqueline S. Teitelbaum
Foreword by Dan Ben-Amos

Eli Yassif describes the major trends - structural, thematic, functional - of folk narrative in the central periods of Jewish culture and shows the social function and cultural meaning of the Hebrew folktale. Analyzing texts in their historical and cultural context, he examines the transmission of the Hebrew folktale and looks at the interaction between texts from different times and contexts.

The Folktale in the history of the Jewish culture is presented as a continuous and developing narrative. It "moves" with Jewish history, and is a central component in the interpretation and memory of this history. The study of the folktale in Jewish culture offers an opportunity for understanding the place of folklore in the development of culture, and the complicated relationships between elite and folk culture, oral and written literature, historical reality, and narrative fiction.


  1. Introduction: Jewish Culture and the Hebrew Folktale
  2. The Biblical Period: The Folktale as a Sacred History
  3. The Second Temple Period: Casting of Narrative Patterns
  4. The Folktale in the Rabbinic Period: Folk Culture and Rabbinic Literature
  5. The Middle Ages: External Perils and Internal Tensions
  6. The Later Generations: The Folklore in Confirmation with a Changing World
Abbreviations Used in the Notes

The Beloved Friend-and-a-Half
Studies in Sepharadic Folk-Literature

Tamar Alexander
The Hebrew University Magnes Press, Jerusalem
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, Beer-Sheva

This book is a comprehensive and profound examination of the Sepharadic Jewish folk narrative. It is the first full length study of the Judeo-Spanish folk narrative, and is therefore a long overdue examination of a much neglected subject.

The theoretical standpoint of the book is the conception of the folk narrative as interrelated with its social and cultural context. Through the narrative the group transmits and express its collective tradition, including concepts, norms and values, to other members of the group. The many varied components of Sepharadic Jewish identity are expressed in the folk tale and influence its literary shape. These influences detemine the selection of traditional tales which serve as the basis for the repertory; the selection of themes; motifs; action; structure; characters; and, above all, the linguistic texture of the tale.

The primary aim of the book is to classify and analyze these stories, while attempting to answer a principal theoretical question: how does the folk tale function as an expression of ethnic group identity? The book is divided into three parts, each of which discusses this questin from a different angle.

Part One- discusses the relationship between folk literature and ethnic group identity.
Part Two- anaylsis of the major prose narrative genres which appear in Separdic repertory: legend, fairy tale, novella, joke and anecdote.
Part Three- is concerned with the art of storytelling and the performance of the narrator.

The research for the book is based upon 4,000 folk stories told by Sepharadic Jews. This Includes all the story collections published in Israel in Ladino and Hebrew; all the Sepharadic stories in I.F.A. (Israel Folklore Archives); and a substantial field work by the author (roughly 500 stories).

By defining the Judeo-Spanish repertory of folk narrative, through comparing it to universal stories and other Jewish folk traditions, the book makes an important contribution toward understanding Jewish culture in general and Judeo-Spanish culture in particular.

There once was... The Oral Tradition of the Jews of Carpatho-Russia
The Oral Tradition of the Jews of Carpatho-Russia

Ilana Rosen
The Diaspora Research Institute
Tel Aviv University, 1999

The Jews of Carpatho-Russia (nowadays western Ukraine), a traditional and largely Hasidic community in a Galician fashion, have undergone a cultural awakening between the Two World Wars, under the Czechoslovakian regime, which encouraged them to manifest their cultural and national identity. These circumstances enhanced the influence of the Zionist movement in the region, as well as the objection to Zionism among Hasidic circles. The conflict between the two ideologies remained up to the Holocaust, in which most of the region's Jews were murdered, and even after, as the survivors recall to this day. In the state of Israel, where most survivors live, their ethnic consciousness was dormant until recent years, in which like other ethnic groups, the jews coming from this region started feeling the need to commemorate their past history and lore and pass it on to future generations.

The present study presents an attempt to recapture the past oral tradition of these jews, on the background of their identity as well integrated Israelies for the past fifty years, the majority of their lives. In the fieldwork carried out at the early stage of research, some 450 items of folk literature were recorded, with dominance of "realistic"genres such as legends of different sub-genres and personal narratives. On the basis of the recorded material, the study focuses on issues of storytelling, memory, Holocaust, Zionism, and the attitude towards women in the above mentioned period.

After two introductory and methodological chapters, chapter 3 deals with two outstanding storytellers of the region, who have told Hasidic and supernatural stories, as well as presented portraits of the region's "ordinary" figures, such as fools, beggars, women, and children. Chapter 4 focuses on the schism between Hasidism and Zionism through the analyses of several group storytelling events, in which the group's supprt is necessary for the expression of problematic issues and opinions. Chapter 5 is concerned with the activity of storytelling and presents stories about traditional "Maggidim", whose example is largely followed by the more recent storytellers of the region. Chapter 6 deals with attitudes towards women, through acounts about their socialization and especially their formal and informal studies. Chapter 7 is a summary concerned with questions of ethnicity, memory and authority in writing (about) culture. Most significantly, the book includes an extended appendix presenting the process of research, methodology, and a selection of the stories recorded in the research.





Jerusalem 1998


Editors' Preface
The Scholarship of Dan Ben-Amos
Ilana Rosen Dan Ben-Amos and FolkioristicsJerusalem Studies
Dina SteinDan Ben-Amos and Folk Narrative in the Midrash: The Definition of Ethnic Genres in the Context of Culture
Hagar Salamon Dan Ben-Amos and the Study of African Folklore
Gila Gutenberg Dan Ben-Amos: List of Publications
Yoram Bilu The Sanctification of Place In Israel's Civil And Traditional Religion
Shalom Sabar The Custom Of Sending Jewish New Year Cards: Its History And Artistic Development
Luis Landau A Nation Of Slaves, a Chosen People And Cultural Heroes
Hagar Salamon Passage From Ethiopia to the Promised Land: Racial Consciousness in Transition
Tamar Alexander
Yaakov Bentolila
On the Meaning Of Personal Names in Hakitic Proverbs
Yosef And Zivia Tobi Mythicization of a Popular Singer: Oral and Written Traditions about Hbiba Msika (Tunis, 1903-1930)
Haya Bar-Itzhak Outside the Context: Jewish Folk Narratives Recorded by a Polish Author. A Study of The Miracle in the Cemetery By Klemens Junosza
Ronnie Biran The Affair of Berl Verblunsky, Jewish Folklore Collector in Poland between the Two World Wars
Larisa Fialkova Oleksa Dovbush (Dobush) as Historical Figure and Folklore Character
Eli Yassif Intertextuality in Folk Literature: Pagan Themes in Folktales of the Early Modern Period
Judith Dishon The Bad Advice of Women: A Thematic Series in Medieval Hebrew Literature
Rella Kushelevsky The Function of Humor in Three Versions of the Theme "Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi and the Angel of Death"
Avidov Lipsker The Tempting of R. Mattiah B. Heresh: A Theme between Mythical Telos and Social Telos
Yuval Harari How To Do Things With Words: Philosophical Theory and Magical Deeds
Yitzhak Ben-Mordechai Oedipus And the Riddles Of Apollo
Towards a History of Folkloristics
Nili Arye-Sapir The Lighting of Simhat Torah Bonfire in Gedera
Hagit Matras and Yaacov Mazor The Transformation of Zalman Shneur's Poem "Yad Anuga" into a Popular Song
Galit Hasan-Rokem Representation and Dialogue in Folklore Research: The Poetics and Politics of an Unperformed Festival
Tamar Hess [on: Ruth B. Bottigheimer, Grimm's Bad Girls...]
List of Contributors
English Summaries

Folklore Juif
Special Issue of Cahiers de Littrature Orale No. 44. 1998

Dan Ben-Amos (ed.)

The Jewish people have a long tradition of documenting their oral literature. Certainly, there are documented oral literatures that antedate the Hebrew Bible; there are peoples who have preserved in writing the vibrancy of their oral performances better than the Jews, and there are cultures that maintained their oral quality in a more pristine state. But the combination of a long historical duration, linguistic diversity, geographic dispersion, and in spite of all these, continuous ethnic identity, gives Jewish folklore a unique character that is singular among the oral literatures of the world.

The essays in this issue explore some key research problems. Primary among them is the relations between orality and literacy. Galit Hasan-Rokem searches for the feminine voice in the male-controlled talmudic-midrashic literature. Issachar Ben-Ami examines the representation of the anxiety of motherhood in Jewish myth, ritual, prayers, and magical invocations. Ronnie Biran uncovered the dynamics of textual exclusion in YIVO, the central institution for Yiddish research. Sam Armistead strips away the linguistic-folkloristic romanticism from Judeo-Spanish oral literature and presents it as dynamic creation that has been subject to the historic and linguistic experiences of the Judeo-Spanish Jews over the five hundred years since their expulsion. Tamar Alexander explores how the Sepharadim of Jerusalem negotiate the ideal and the mundane in their conception of their city. Joseph Chetrit deals exclusively with Judeo-Arabic. Building upon cultural-ethnic speech categories he analyses the proverbs in women's conversations. Veronika Grg-Karady analyzes Hungarian versions of Tale Types 592 The Jew in the Thorns and 561 Aladdin that manifest the historical native hostility toward and fear of the Jews. Haya Bar-Itzhak analyzes personal experience narratives which address ethnicity issues from the perspectives of the minority group. Tamar Katriel explors orality in radio communication. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett shows that the transition from traditional performance to mass production represents historical changes of sensibility toward traditional music among Jews and non-Jews.

The essays in this collection attest that the study of Jewish folklore at the end of the nineties, nay, the twentieth century is under the impact of the two most traumatic events in Jewish history of the current era: the Holocaust and the foundation of the State of Israel. Destructively and constructively respectively, both events terminated traditional Jewish life in the Diaspora, and reframed the cultural attitude of the Jews toward their oral tradition. Orality and Literacy, the two poles of Jewish tradition, acquire new dimensions, some of which these essays represent, as we make the transition to a new century.

Click here for a full English version of the Editorial

A Time To Be Born
Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth

Michele Klein

A Time To Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth, was published by The Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia, in November 1998. In March, 1999, the book won the National Jewish Book Award in New York in the category of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Culture. The book will be published in paperback in February, 2000 and in Hebrew, in Israel, in December 1999.

A Time To Be Born preserves the rich Jewish folklore surrounding childbirth, which is little known and which is gradually disappearing from the Jewish community's memory. The book draws upon Jewish folktales, folk remedies, biblical and rabbinical sources, prayers, historical sources, mystical literature, ethnographic accounts, Jewish medical manuscripts, personal memoirs and diaries, as well as the author's own field work, to explore childbirth within a Jewish context. It reports customs that were commonly observed by Jews in most communities world-wide as well as local variations in particular communities.

The book is organized thematically, to cover conception (part 1), pregnancy (part 2), birthing (part 3) and welcoming the newborn (part 4). There are chapters on fertility, barrenness, contraception and abortion,the formation of the embryo,the experiences of pregnancy, pregnancy loss, Jewish midwives, giving birth, death in childbirth, Lilit h (the demon who threatens women in chidlbirth), the first week, postnatal rituals, hopes and blessings, and has a concluding chapter "reflections." The book is the product of academic research, is fully referenced and indexed, and has glossaries and a selected bibliography.

A Time To Be Born demonstrates where Judaism has proved open to adaptation and change, highlights the Jewish social conscience, and discusses recent efforts to infuse Jewish relevance into all aspects of childbirth, from barrenness and fertility to pregnancy and delivery, from mourning a miscarriage or stillbirth to customs welcoming the newborn.

Jewish folklore main page

foreword An Essay Archives Department
Contacting Institution periodicals Books Conferences