Leaves From the Garden of Eden: One Hundred Classic Jewish Tales

Oxford University Press  2008

Four years after Tree of Souls took our breaths away with myths of the Jewish tradition, three-time National Jewish Book Award winner Howard Schwartz now brings us a reference pulsing with one hundred magical, miraculous, and spiritual Jewish stories. Forty-eight are quest stories, seven involve marriage with demons; six engage Lilith; ten are by the Hasidic master Reb Nachman of Bratslav. There are angels, dreams, enchanted palaces; magical combat, charms, and healing; and journeys to heaven and hell. The tales Schwartz has chosen originated over fourteen centuries and through four continents from 5th c. Babylon to 20th c. United States. Postbiblical, they are equally divided among fairy tales, folktales, supernatural tales, and mystical tales. 

Schwartz defines fairy tales as inhabiting wondrous realms where obstacles are overcome with magical objects and endings are happy. This is where he places “The Witches of Ashkelon” and “The Lost Princess.” Rabbis become heroes and perform miracles set in our world in the folktale section, which includes “Drawing the Wind,” “The Sabbath Lion,” and “The Groom Who Was Destined to Die on His Wedding Day.” The supernatural tales are grand, dark fantasies that embody sexual fears and battles for people’s souls against forces of evil. In “Helen of Troy,” Joseph della Reina, warped and tormented after failing in his quest to bring back the Messiah, forces himself upon the beautiful, virtuous Queen Dolphina in his world and then tries to summon the most beautiful woman from the past. Twenty-five mystical tales center on the powers of known Hasidic and Kabbalistic rabbis and sages, during and after their lives. 

Schwartz built his retelling of these tales from a variety of original sources, printed and oral: Hasidic and medieval writings, Kabbalah, Midrash, Israel Folklore Archives, Talmud. Readers will recognize many of these stories from Schwartz’s previous collections for adults and children, but gathered together here, they represent a memorable core in one volume. Comprehensive notes and commentary root each story and draw its ties to Jewish tradition. The five appendices are crowning jewels, which also define and index the tales by source, story cycle (of, about, and by key protagonists), countries of origin, specialized subject types, and Arne-Thompson tale types. Bibilography of original sources, English bibliography, glossary, introduction, subject/story name index.

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