Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions

M. E. Sharpe  2012


The Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Tradition is an important, comprehensive, and long-awaited two-volume treasure house of invaluable information for folklorists both Jewish and non-Jewish, students of history and religion, religious leaders, storytellers, educa­tors, synagogue libraries, and general readers. It is a reference sourcebook of high quality and depth of knowledge on thousands of aspects of Jewish culture, minhagim (customs), rituals, and traditions. It covers articles drawn from throughout Jewish history, lifecycles, holidays, types of observance, biographies of Jewish luminaries, and worldwide communities. The editorial board and contributing authors represent many of the finest authorities on Jewish folklore and traditions. Each article in this massive tome includes its own biography for further study. The appendices: on Hebrew Bible, Rabbinic Literature, and Medieval Compilations, plus the extensive Anthologies of Jewish Folklore, and the forty- four page index make this an invaluable resource book.

One cannot fault the comprehensive nature of this expansive work, yet it must be noted that this is an Israeli-produced and Israeli-centric text. Even though there are a few fine scholars involved from the US, Canada, UK, and Poland, the focus is squarely on Israel. As a home to Jews from throughout the world, it makes sense that the encyclopedia is produced in Israel. This encyclopedia is a fitting memorial tribute to the Founding Editor Raphael Patai. As it happens, it is also fitting memorial to the recently deceased Encyclo­pedia Editorial Board Member Israeli folklorist Dov Noy, whose masterwork is the 24,000 Jewish tales comprising the Israel Folktale Archives in Haifa.

Still, there is important relevant scholarly research and work being done in other parts of the world. Notably absent are biographies of some of the major American preservers and transmitters of Jewish folktales, such as Dr. Howard Schwartz, Peninnah Schram, and Bar­bara Rush, even though some of their works are included in the Anthologies of Jewish Folklore section. It would enhance the import of this encyclopedia to include discussion of the multitude of books that include Jewish folklore, folktales, and customs, thereby showing the broad spectrum of influence of Jewish tradition. Indeed, these elements of Jewish folklore are imbedded in the folktales themselves, preserved through oral tradition.

This is an encyclopedia in which both schol­ars and lay readers can revel in the revealing information in a highly readable style. More esoteric terms are explained in brackets. The articles are fascinating, finely-sourced glimpses into Jewish life and lifeways. The articles on countries include sections on music, art, notes from travelers, crafts, historical overview, and more. Additionally, there are beauti­fully detailed color plates and photographs. Articles are exceptionally diverse: everything from Lag B’Omer to tzitzit to circumcision to blessings and curses to Aaron the High Priest to I.B. Singer to Jews of Ethiopia to Riddles in Midrash!

The entire book is an immensely rich tapestry of Jewish culture and history for all readers, an invaluable addition to the volumes of The People of the Book. There is literally something for everyone in this kaleidoscope of the continually unfolding story of the Jewish People. Appendices: Medieval Compila­tions, Rabbinic Literature, The Hebrew Bible, Anthologies of Jewish Folklore, Extensive Index.

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