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A Bride for One Night

Talmud Tales

Ruth Calderon

Publication Year: 2014

Ruth Calderon has recently electrified the Jewish world with her teachings of talmudic texts. In this volume, her first to appear in English, she offers a fascinating window into some of the liveliest and most colorful stories in the Talmud. Calderon rewrites talmudic tales as richly imagined fictions, drawing us into the lives of such characters as the woman who risks her life for a sister suspected of adultery; a humble schoolteacher who rescues his village from drought; and a wife who dresses as a prostitute to seduce her pious husband in their garden. Breathing new life into an ancient text, A Bride for One Night offers a surprising and provocative read, both for anyone already intimate with the Talmud and for anyone interested in one of the most influential works of Jewish literature.


Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xvi

In this book I retell stories from the Talmud and midrash that are close to my heart, to introduce them to those who, like me, did not grow up with them. I do not cast these tales in an educational, religious, or academic light but, rather, present them as texts that have the power to move people. That is, I present them as literature.
The Talmud contains...

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The Imaginative Map

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pp. xvii-xx

The stories in this book take place in a variety of settings: the market, the home, the bathhouse, the fishpond, the study house in Tiberias, the courtroom in Mahoza, a southern desert, a cave in the Galilee, the Temple in Jerusalem. Even if my selection of these stories out of the entire corpus of aggadic literature in the Talmud and midrash was a...

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The Fishpond

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pp. 1-6

We were twenty-five students sitting before the teacher during that parched summer. He was young, still wet behind the ears, and he taught us by playing melodies. Sometimes he would play a tune slightly differently than we were accustomed to, adding pleasant trills. He was tall and thin as a reed, and his beard had still not filled out. I loved his school...

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pp. 7-14

Sometimes even Mother could not tell the difference between my younger sister and me. As children, we used to dress in each other’s clothes and confuse the neighbors. Even so, she was always the prettier one. She got married before I did, though this was not the custom where we lived. Because I am the older one.
My sister’s husband was a wealthy...

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The Other Side

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pp. 15-30

The Jordan River was the boundary. The city extended to its banks, and beyond it lay the Golan, a wilderness, a place of robbers and wild animals. On the banks of the Kinneret, to the west, Tiberias flourished. Its city square was the site of a bustling, colorful marketplace on Monday and Thursday mornings. The women of the villages, dressed in bright...

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Beloved Rabbi

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pp. 31-38

A dreary morning after a night of hallucination and heart pounding: “He’s coming.” I hear footsteps in my dreams, and now they accompany me when I am awake as well. Like imaginary labor pains.
Another year has passed. The air feels cool against my smooth ankles, my limbs, the curves of my belly. As if I have shed my skin and bared myself...

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pp. 39-48

Rabbi Hiya bar Ashi lies on the stone floor, spread- eagled. He is praying.
It is market day, and his wife is out. He enjoys being alone in an empty house. Only this way does he find peace. It is strange, since the whole world lies open to him: the study house, the courtroom, the inn where he sometimes sleeps on nice days. She, his wife, is quiet and earnest, always...

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pp. 49-56

How long had he been away? Twelve Passover seders; two times twelve celebrations upon completing a tractate of the Talmud; twelve spring terms and another twelve fall terms. There were other ways, too, of measuring his days in the study house: thirty-six pairs of shoes from the cobbler, hundreds of Shabbat meals at the homes of strangers, and thousands...

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A Bride for One Night

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pp. 57-66

When Rav would visit Darshish, once or twice a year, the whole synagogue would get caught up in a frenzy of excitement, and Rav would lock himself up for hours in the study house to settle matters of law that had been left unresolved. On Shabbat he would come to pray in the synagogue at the top of the hill, which looked out on the whole town and...

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pp. 67-74

The Temple stood silent. The High Priest, Shimon the Righteous, was accompanied by the patter of his own footsteps on the stone floor as he traversed the great holy space. He marched forward, enveloped in darkness and cold as in a cave of marble and stone. As he walked, his heart fluttered on account of the cold and his cough and his general sense of...

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pp. 75-84

A warm clay lamp rests in my palm, the heat of the oil passing from one side of my hand to the other with a quick flick of the wrist. In the evening the oil was congealed, with a small warm puddle of liquid gathered just around the flame. Now the entire lamp is warm—the flax wick is floating, and the flame appears as if suspended in midair.
The room...

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The Matron

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pp. 85-90

Rabbi Zadok captured my heart. Like the last pea lodged deep in a pod, he was ensconced in the study house, protected from the rest of the world. His vulnerability was bound up in a strength that I had never seen in the men of Rome.
A year had passed since I left Rome and went to live among the Jews. I was intrigued by their study houses, which resembled the academies...

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The Goblet

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pp. 91-98

Tall and proud, Homa crossed the entrance hall of the courthouse with purposeful strides. Her thick mass of black hair stubbornly peeked out of her kerchief as if to see what was going on in the world. Even now, when dressed in black mourning clothes, she was enveloped in the same loveliness—as simple as fresh baked bread and just as appealing. It was...

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The Knife

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pp. 99-104

The lepers were sitting at the entrance to the bathhouse. Some were scratching themselves with their fingernails or pottery shards or clumps of earth they had found. Groups of children would come stare at them and then run away, excited and terrified by their ugliness. They would linger beside one old man who used to expose a hole in the skin of his...

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He and His Son

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pp. 105-114

The opening conversation in this story probably took place at a party, perhaps a wedding feast. These were days of persecution and destruction, and happiness was hard to come by. But the sages could be counted upon to bring joy to the bride and groom, to eat meat and drink wine.
Terrible rumors circulated each day about the authorities’ relentless...

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Sorrow in the Cave

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pp. 115-122

Earth. The body is buried once again. All that remains after the tremendous effort of digging is some loose earth buried beneath the fingernails. Until the sun climbs to the highest point in the sky, it is best for the body to cling to the dirt. But by early afternoon the skin begins to tingle. Sometimes the itching is unbearable, but it is impossible to free a hand with...

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pp. 123-132

The bright sun peeking cautiously from behind the clouds after weeks of rain and mud drew a great crowd out of their homes. The dresses and kerchiefs of the women and girls filled the yard outside of the synagogue with color. The synagogue, the heart of Tiberias, was so awash with humanity that it seemed to be the center of the world.
The Torah reading had...

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The Beruria Incident

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pp. 133-138

I came to Rabbi Meir’s study house as a tanna, a “walking book,” valued for what I knew by heart. From an early age I was blessed with an extraordinary memory. The Torah was engraved in my mouth, and I was a vessel for its words. I had memorized many ancient teachings, particularly those relevant to the tractates of the Talmud known as...

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Yishmael, My Son, Bless Me

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pp. 139-144

The sanctuary is silent. All alone, Rabbi Yishmael crosses the twenty-two-cubit distance between the antechamber and the altar. Farther and farther inside, beyond the curtains that are always drawn, as if walking through water and coming ever closer to its source. He has already immersed himself five times in the ritual waters, and his body is as soft as...


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pp. 145-158

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 159-163

E-ISBN-13: 9780827611634
E-ISBN-10: 0827611633
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827612099

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014