This article proposes a view of Jewish storytelling according to which the meaning of a given Jewish story should be sought in its implicit representation of the fantasies, desires, psychic conflicts, and self-idealizations of a specific set of readers or listeners. The unique role of Jewish storytellers, according to this theory, is to identify and re-present the quandaries, anxieties, and fantasies their audience have as Jews. That is, these are quandaries, anxieties, and fantasies bound up with an individual Jew's sense of himself or herself as a Jew. In order to make this argument, I draw a distinction between two models of Jewish storytelling: an ethnographic model, which conceives of stories as reflection of some underlying, largely coherent cultural ethos, and a counterethnographic model, according to which stories expose prevailing self-conceptions and fantasies of specific Jewish audiences. The first model is elaborated through a reading of a widely disseminated Hasidic story about a rebbe who saves the community by telling a story about a lost ritual in the forest. The second model is elaborated through a reading of Nathan's parable to King David in 2 Samuel about the rich man and the ewe lamb. Examples of this audience-based, counterethnographic mode of reading are adduced from stories by Isaac Babel, Grace Paley, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. In these stories, three modern Jewish types—the heedless gangster, the woman whose life force bursts all decorum, the resolute returnee to Orthodoxy—are read as wish fulfillments of modern Jewish readers.


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pp. 286-306
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