Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jewish Folktale Traditions

            Jewish folktales are unlike all the tales formed in the Western tradition.  Although Judaism is monotheistic like the basis of Christianity, the common religion in most of Europe, the influence of the tales is different.  The Rabbi is the central figure that teaches people what they need to know from the Torah, the Jewish holy book.  This interpretation from the Rabbi is called the Talmud.  This is an obvious difference from the start, as the Torah is also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.  To Jews, it is complete and finished.  Rabbis take the stories and laws contained within it and interpret them in a way that their community of followers will understand.  Nearly all of these tales have a Rabbi as a central or important character.  They preserved these tales to pass down important information to future generations.  Many local legends from Eastern European countries (today Romania, Ukraine, Russia, etc.) become mixed with the Torah.  These tales are also primarily religiously based, and although God or other higher powers may be mentioned in other Western European tales, it is typically not the focus of any story. 


            A unique aspect of these tales is their often teaching purpose.  Many times these stories end with a question that causes listeners or readers to think deeper and attempt to gain a better understanding of the meaning.  They also tend to display Jews as clever or smart characters.  For instance, in “The Rabbi and the Inquisitor” the idea of a trickster is displayed in the actions of the Rabbi as he swallows the other piece of paper.  There are also morals sometimes stated or displayed through the brief plot of the tales.  These tend to be more helpful than their Western counterparts that are fraught with gender bias and unusual wordings.  “It Could Always be Worse” is a tale that focuses on the simple message of valuing one’s own blessings and realizing that there is always somebody out there that has worse problems that you do. 

            Overall, Jewish folktales are pretty unique from any other type of tale we have read thus far.  The emphasis is on teaching and promoting the laws of the Torah.    

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