Preface
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xv Preface Since biblical times, narration has been regarded as an art among the Jewish people. During the first centuries of the postbiblical period, narrative literature was transmitted orally. The official name given to this body of rich talmudic-midrashic literature is the Oral Law. In the folklore of contemporary Jewry one can still observe signs of such oral transmission today. The various communities scattered throughout the Jewish Diaspora cultivated the art of storytelling during the years of their long dispersion. The most popular attraction within these communities, both East and West, was the social institution of the sermon (derash). The preacher (darshan ) who created these oral commentaries, which often included narrative elements, was the main instrument of their diffusion. Side by side with this religious channel were secular channels of oral transmission—the art of storytelling. No matter how skillfully the darshan crafted his words, the synagogue sermon has never replaced these popular evenings of storytelling. Unfortunately, modern Jewish authors and scholars of Jewish folklore have focused their attention mainly on religious tales, published in collections from the beginning of Jewish printing . Due to their ready accessibility in print, these tales were the first to attract the attention of Jewish scholars. Their secular counterparts were passed over or simply unknown. However, these secular currents continued to flow in their own way, even if the flow was often underground. Over a century ago, the distinguished Jewish folklorist,Y. L. Cahan, drew the attention of Jewish scholars and folklorists to the rich secular lore of East European Jews. Owing to the energetic work done by the collectors and scholars of theYiddish Scientific Institution (YIVO) in Vilna, Poland, and then after World War II in New York, the secular Yiddish folktales transmitted by the Jews of Eastern Europe are now well known. Unfortunately, no Cahan arose among the Jews of the Middle East. Only after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the "ingathering of the exiled communities" in their new homeland that followed did it become evident that our notions about the character of the Jewish Middle Eastern folktale were also false. Of course, the religious story, with its ethical background and its concluding moral, is still conspicuous in the literary treasury of these communities, but it is far from being dominant . As in the case of Eastern European Jewish folktales, the stories from Northern Africa and the Middle East exhibit the same remarkable variety of genres, themes, and character types. The narrators of the folktales collected in Israel since 1955 under my supervision represent over thirty ethnic groups. Their rich diversity bears witness to the fact that magic and secular folktales continue to play an important role in the life, imagination, and creation of these communities. The wide dispersion of the narrators, whose origins span three continents, testifies that the Jewish narrator still carries and spreads tales from one cultural area to another. When my fellow folklorists and I ventured out to study widespread cultural traditions among the various ethnic groups in Israel through their tales, we worked in a dry, scientific way: We took data and recorded, catalogued , and preserved it on the archive’s shelves. But we also interacted with real life people: the storytellers and their listeners, who drank in the narrators’ words with thirst. It was the storytellers who breathed life into the tales--and it is this life’s breath that continues to make these stories come alive, over and over again. From among over 23,000 stories collected to date and preserved in the Israel Folktale Archives, 355 tales have been selected for this JPS series. Together they represent the endless creativity of the Jewish imagination. DOV NOY  xvi  Preface ...


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