A Bride for One Night: Tal­mud Tales

Dr. Ruth Calderon; Ilana Kur­shan, trans.

  • Review
By – March 20, 2014

Believ­ing that the sto­ries of rab­binic sages from Tal­mud and Midrash belong not just to rab­bis and aca­d­e­mics,” Ruth Calderon presents a pas­sion­ate read­ing and lit­er­ary retelling of sev­en­teen pas­sages of text in the tra­di­tion of aggadic (homilet­ic) imag­i­na­tion and dis­course. Each piece begins with a direct quote from the text, fol­lowed by a sto­ry and then, a reflec­tion. Calderon chose texts she has mulled over. She explores the small details from real life which are giv­en and often choos­es to present the sto­ries from a first per­son point of view in a for­mal, dig­ni­fied tone. A child who can­not learn observes how his com­pas­sion­ate teacher can bring rain when the Rav’s prayers do not; a good sis­ter vol­un­teers to stand pub­lic humil­i­a­tion for her sis­ter; a wife waits for her schol­ar-hus­band who is sit­ting on the roof think­ing about her, but not with her; a Roman matron tempts a Jew­ish schol­ar; a young schol­ar is cho­sen by Rab­bi Meier to seduce his own wife who is inter­est­ed in study­ing Torah. There are two very dif­fer­ent sto­ries which explore the dif­fi­cul­ties Rab­bi Shi­mon bar Yohai faces in re­entering the world after years in his cave. Four tales — Sis­ters,” Lib­erti­na,” Lamp,” and the title sto­ry — flesh out the strug­gles of women in nar­ra­tives which did not nec­es­sar­i­ly have hero­ines before and can stand on their own. A few of the sto­ries, though lyri­cal, depend on the com­men­taries which fol­low to explain Calderon’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal texts. Heart­felt, philo­soph­i­cal, imag­i­na­tive, and reli­gious, these sto­ries offer new ways to read text. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, intro­duc­tion, notes.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions