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  • Dov Noy (1920–2013)
  • Dan Ben-Amos

Dov Noy was my teacher, but not mine alone. He introduced folklore into Jewish Studies, and Jewish folklore into the discipline of folklore. Stith Thompson (1885–1976) integrated Dov Noy’s dissertation (as Dov Neuman) “Motif-Index of Talmudic-Midrashic Literature” (1954) into the second edition of the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature and established its subject, and Dov Noy himself, firmly in the international community of folklore scholars. Upon the completion of his studies at Indiana University, Noy joined the faculty of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1955 and began offering courses in folklore in the Hebrew Literature and the Yiddish departments. He was an inspirational teacher who attracted students and motivated them to continue the systematic research and teaching of Jewish folklore, and they have done so at the Hebrew University and in other Israeli universities. He himself taught Jewish folklore in American and Canadian universities, and inspired scholars, writers, and storytellers to explore and revive the art of storytelling in Jewish societies.

Dov Noy was born on October 20, 1920, in Kolomyja, Poland, and in 1938, left for then Palestine, enrolling at the Hebrew University, first in the Mathematics Department, and then switching to Jewish studies, focusing on the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Jewish history. His studies were interrupted by the World War II, and he volunteered to serve in the British Army (1941–1945). At the end of the war, he resumed his studies and received his MA degree in 1946. The postwar years was a period of political unrest, with Jewish undergrounds combating the British colonial government, the Jewish leaders seeking to achieve political independence by exerting international pressure on England. Hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors reached the shores of then Palestine in old ships, only to be blocked by the British Coast Guard and incarcerated in refugee camps on the nearby island of Cyprus. Dov, himself only a few years out of Poland, headed the educational and cultural activities in these camps, listening firsthand to war horror stories from survivors of the Holocaust, an ordeal that the rest of his family, save his brother Meir, whom he met at the Cyprus camps, did not survive. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and the closure of the refugee camps, Noy returned to Israel, and from 1949 until 1952, he was a co-editor of a popular children’s weekly magazine, Davar le-yeladim. He left this post to pursue his doctoral studies in folklore in the United States.

Noy first enrolled at Yale University intending to study with the then doyen of comparative literature, Professor René Wellek (1903–1995), but on the advice of his potential mentor, he moved to Indiana University to study with Professor Stith Thompson. In his memoir, A Folklorist’s Progress (1996), Thompson wrote: “I think my other students will not object when I say that Dov was one of the most brilliant disciples I have ever had” (301). His accomplishments upon completing his studies were equally illustrious.

Noy returned to Israel and joined the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1955, teaching aggadah, the non-regulatory part of Jewish oral tradition of the late antiquities, emphasizing its folkloristic dimension. But his primary activity in those years took place outside the university halls. Israel of the 1950s was bustling with immigrants mostly from Arab lands. Dov was intellectually intoxicated by his contact with them. Their stories and their songs, their customs and their costumes, and their traditional arts and rituals were for him a folklorist’s dream comes true. Repeatedly he asserted, in lectures and in writings, that at that [End Page 467] time in Israel, one had only to cross the street or to move from one ward to another, in order to visit Jewish communities that are as far apart from each other as Warsaw, Poland, from Sanaa, Yemen.

For a start, Noy founded in 1955 the Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) within the Haifa Municipality Ethnological Museum and Folklore Archives, which was established at the same time. Following a well-tried folklore method, he edited a column “Mi-pi ha-‘am” (From the Folk...


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