Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish Folk­lore and Traditions

Raphael Patai, found­ing ed.; Haya Bar-Itzak, ed.
  • Review
By – February 19, 2014

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. 

Cherie Karo Schwartz is a sto­ry­teller, author, and edu­ca­tor from Den­ver Col­orado. She was a co-found­ing coor­di­na­tor of the Jew­ish Sto­ry­telling Net­work of the Coali­tion for the Advance­ment of Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion. She has writ­ten My Lucky Drei­del, The Kids’ Cat­a­logue of Passover (with Bar­bara Rush), and Cir­cle Spin­ning: Jew­ish Turn­ing and Return­ing Tales. Cherie has shared spir­it-filled, engag­ing sto­ries, per­for­mances and work­shops around the USA and abroad for over forty years. www​.ham​sa​pubs​.com.

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