Wednesday, August 27, 2008

REVIEW: The Bride Who Argued with God, by Hava Ben-Zvi

The Bride Who Argued with God: Tales from the Treasury of Jewish Folklore, compiled, translated and re-told by Hava Ben-Zvi. Published 2006 by iUniverse. Fiction. Short Stories. Translation.

The Bride Who Argued with God is one of those really special books that can be pored over, read a little at a time and just savored. Librarian and Jewish folk literature enthusiast Hava Ben-Zvi worked with the Israel Folk Archives, founded in 1955, to bring this collection of lively tales to an English-speaking audience. As Ms. Ben-Zvi explains:

The Israel Folktale Archives, part of the University of Haifa, served as my primary source and reservoir of tales, for which I am very grateful. I also used folk tales from various anthologies found in the United States.
The ingathering of Jewish immigrants after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 presented a unique opportunity to discover, gather, record and preserve tales from diverse Jewish backgrounds and cultures, yet sharing common Jewish religious and ethical traditions. This, therefore, became the goal of Israel Folktale Archives (IFA), founded by professor Dov Noy in 1955.
Israel Folktale Archives published a series of selected tales in Hebrew in their “A Tale for Each Month” series. For my present volume I have selected, translated and retold folk tales from that series, published between 1961-1978.

I believed that many of these mostly unknown tales ought to be translated to afford another window into Jewish culture for English speaking audiences. To translate and retell them I have read many versions of each story, sometimes revealing different physical and cultural environments. Conveying their essence, I hope I have made them interesting and accessible to a new generation of readers.

Reading this book was a real treat for me. I enjoyed the stories themselves and the accessible tone in which Ms. Ben-Zvi tells them; I also appreciated her extensive introduction and the explanatory "Author's Notes" which often appear at the end of each story. Other features useful for the lay reader include a glossary and discussion questions; scholars will appreciate the bibliography, the notes regarding similar and parallel tales held by the Israel Folk Archives and indices listing tales by country of origin, major tale types and major motifs.

Part of the fun of reading The Bride Who Argued with God is seeing stories I've seen elsewhere retold and learning a little more about their origins. For example, the very last story, called "Cruel Words and Feathers: A Yom Kippur Tale," about a town gossip, has been retold several times in children's-book form; one of those versions, Yettele's Feathers, by Joan Rothenberg (ISBN 9780786811496), is a favorite read-aloud story at my temple library. I enjoyed seeing this version in Ms. Ben-Zvi's book because I learned a little about the origin of the story (it appeared in The Jewish Child, in 1912) and I learned that it is associated with Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, which I did not know.

And the book has so many potential uses- parents could read the stories to their kids, librarians could read them to patrons or use them as the basis of ongoing programming, scholars could use it for reference and research, and so on. Jewish people could use it to become more closely acquainted with their folk tale heritage and non-Jews could use it to learn. Mostly though I think it's just a great treasure of folk tales and stories, great fun to read and great fun to have.

p.s. I will have the rest of my interview with Ms. Ben-Zvi on Friday. Come back then!


Anonymous said...

This looks great! Thanks for the review. I'm adding it to my wishlist right now. :-)

Anonymous said...

This book sounds fantastic, and I will definitely add it to my "to buy" book list.

Thank you for sharing.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yup, up my alley, too. Kewl.