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Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature

by David Stern

Bibliographic information

TitleRabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature
AuthorDavid Stern
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectJewish Religious Thought
Pages374


Description 

Rabbinic Fantasies opens a new window into the Jewish imagination. Through sixteen unusual selections from ancient and medieval Hebrew texts, sensitively rendered into English prose, it reveals facets of the Jewish experience and tradition that would otherwise remain unknown. Once drawn into the captivating world of rabbinic storytelling, the reader will discover many surprises - not the least of which is the deep connection between the values of classical Judaism and the art of imaginative narrative writing. The narratives presented in Rabbinic Fantasies dare to probe the far reaches of the writers imaginations. Some are humorous and playful, others suggestive or mystifying; some are pious, others near scandalous. Among them are such gems as The Midrash on the Ten Commandments, The Alphabet of Ben Sira, and selections from Sefer Ha-Bahir, Sefer Hasidim, and A Valley of Vision. The translations are the creative work of a group of talented younger scholars, including Arthur Green, Martha Himmelfarb, Ivan Marcus, Joel Rosenberg, David Ruderman, and Raymond P. Scheindlin.

This extraordinary volume is framed by two major original essays by the editors. David Sterns introduction is a dazzling piece of original scholarship that is sure to stand as the classic definition of the genre represented by this collection. He examines in vivid detail the various moods and forms in which the rabbinic imagination found expression, from the world of ancient sages to the emergence of Hasidism at the dawn of the modern age. Mark Jay Mirskys moving afterword, In a Turn of the Scroll, is a meditation on his personal fascination with rabbinic storytelling. He also explores the impact that this unique form of narrative has had on modern fiction, including his own work as a novelist.

The selection in Rabbinic Fantasies are enhanced by a group of medieval illustrations and by the original woodcuts of two contemporary artists, Mimi Gross and Inger Johanne Grytting.





About the Author 

David Stern, (Editor) ---

DAVID STERN is Associate Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published many essays and articles in Contemporary, The New Republic, and Prooftexts, among other journals, and is the author of the book, Parables in Midrash.





Contents 

Acknowledgments

INTRODUCTION

DAVID STERN

A NOTE ON THE SELECTIONS

AND THE TRANSLATIONS

  1. RABBINIC PARABLES

  2. TWO NARRATIVES ABOUT GOD

  3. JONAH AND THE SAILORS

from Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer

  1. SEFER ZERUBBABEL

  2. MIDRASH ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

  3. THE TALE OF THE JERUSALEMITE

  4. MIDRASH ELEH EZKERAH

or The Legend of the Ten Martyrs

  1. THE ALPHABET OF BEN SIRA

  2. PARABLES FROM SEFER HA-BAHIR

  3. NARRATIVE FANTASIES FROM SEFER HASIDIM

  4. LOVE IN THE AFTERLIFE

A Selection from the Zohar

  1. ASHER IN THE HAREM

by Solomon Ibn Saqbel

  1. THE MISOGYNIST

by Judah Ibn Shabbetai

  1. THE SORCERER

from Meshal Ha-Kadmom by Isaac Ibn Sahula

  1. JOBS NOVELLA

from A Valley of Vision

by Abraham ben Hananiah Yagel

  1. THE "DREAM-TALKS" OF NAHMAN OF BRATSLAV

IN A TURN OF THE SCROLL:

AN AFTERWORD

MARK JAY MIRSKY



Excerpt 

A tale is told of Rabbi Matthiah ben Heresh, who once was sitting and occupied with Torah. And he was so handsome that the light of his face was like the sun, and its features like those of the ministering angels, with their expression of heavenly awe. He had never once cast his gaze upon a woman. Now, as he sat occupied with Torah in the house of study, Satan espied him and was kindled with interest in him. He thought, Is it possible that a fine man like this would not sin?

So he went up to the heavens and stood before the Holy One, blessed be He. He said, as he stood before Him, Master of the universe, Matthiah ben Heresh, what is he in Your sight? He replied, He is a thoroughly just man. He said to Him, Give me permission, and I will lead him astray. The Holy One, blessed be He, replied, Go.

He went and found him sitting occupied with Torah. What did he do? He appeared to him in the guise of a woman whose beauty was unequaled in all the world. She came and stood in front of him. When he saw her, he turned his eyes away. And when he saw that she could appear wherever he turned his glance, he thought, m afraid that the evil urge will overcome me! What did he do? He said to his sons, Go fetch me a fire and some nails. He then placed the nails in the fire until they grew redhot, and with them he blinded his eyes.

When Satan beheld this, he was frightened. He went up before the Holy One, blessed be He, and he said, Master of the universe, here is what happened. . . . God replied, Did I not tell you that you could not have any power over him? That same hour, the Holy One, blessed be He, called to the archangel Raphael and told him, Go, cure the eyes of Matthiah ben Heresh!

Raphael came before him. He asked Raphael, Who are you? I am Raphael the angel, he replied, the Holy One, blessed be He, has sent me to heal your eyes. He said to him, m afraid lest the evil urge conquer me. Raphael went up before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, Here is what Matthiah has said to me. ... The Holy One, blessed be He, replied, Go, and say to him that I guarantee that the evil urge will never conquer him. And the angel went to him immediately and cured his eyes.

Whence our rabbis of blessed memory have said, Whoever does not cast his eye upon another mans wife will not be conquered by the evil urge.



Reviews 

No other anthology offers the English reader such a fluent but at the same time scripturally responsible rendering of classical Hebrew literature.

- David G. Roskies

Commentary

Fills an important gap in our understanding of the diversity of Hebrew literary expression.

- Leonard Gordon

Religious Studies Review

A book of delight. . . . For modern readers [the selections] are wondrously entertaining; they are also a glorious opportunity to enhance our appreciation of the imaginative genius of our forebears.

- Max D. Ticktin

Jewish Monthly

This book . . . is replete with an introduction, afterword, and sixteen selections of narratives each translated into very readable English, each annotated. . . . I would hope that the work would find a comfortable niche in courses on comparative literature or world literature. . . . Stern's introduction is a masterpiece, moving with ease through the genres of narratives collected.

Shofar

This book opens a new window into Jewish imagination. Through 16 unusual selections from ancient and medieval Hebrew texts, sensitively made into English prose, otherwise unknown facets of the Jewish experience and tradition are revealed. This extraordinary volume is framed by two major original essays by the editors. Once drawn into the captivating world of rabbinic storytelling, the reader discovers many surprises, not the least of which is the deep connection between the values of classical Judaism and the art of imaginative narrative writing.

Menorah Review






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