The Essen­tial Jew­ish Stories

Sey­mour Rossel
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
From his life’s work as a con­gre­ga­tion­al rab­bi, Rossel retells over 320 sto­ries, per­son­al teach­ing favorites he has cho­sen because they thrum with Jew­ish belief, ethics, and ways of life mean­ing­ful today. Sto­ries draw through time from tra­di­tion­al tales to eclec­tic selec­tions from Inter­net anec­dotes, Kaf­ka, Boc­cac­cio, and Sufi lore. Most, but not all, have Jew­ish roots and include adap­ta­tions from New­man, Buber, Ausubel, Langer, Midrash, Tal­mud, and Rossel’s own pub­lished works. Brief sources fol­low each sto­ry, though folk­tales are often iden­ti­fied mere­ly as Yiddish/​European with­out nam­ing a par­tic­u­lar book. Some of the sources, like Certner’s 101 Jew­ish Sto­ries, are out of print, which makes it so valu­able to have whole sto­ries here.

The book is divid­ed into four sec­tions — God, Torah, Israel, and Faith — and then sub­di­vid­ed into many cat­e­gories. Israel is by far the largest sec­tion, encom­pass­ing themes from dai­ly liv­ing, such as com­mu­ni­ty, gos­sip, jus­tice, and choos­ing life. There are thir­ty-two sto­ries on Wis­dom in the Torah sec­tion. Despite, dis­ap­point­ing­ly, there being only four tales under Women, this book is a gift for rab­bis, sto­ry­tellers, par­ents, and teach­ers. It is clear that Rossel has not only been a good sto­ry­teller in his life, but also a good lis­ten­er. Many of these sto­ries have been told before, but they sound fresh in this user-friend­ly col­lec­tion, enhanced with index­es by hol­i­days, char­ac­ters, and con­cepts and val­ues, as well as a bibliography.

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