Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature

Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature

Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature

Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature


Web of Life weaves its suggestive interpretation of Jewish culture in the Palestine of late antiquity on the warp of a singular, breathtakingly tragic, and sublime rabbinic text, Lamentations Rabbah. The textual analyses that form the core of the book are informed by a range of theoretical paradigms rarely brought to bear on rabbinic literature: structural analysis of mythologies and folktales, performative approaches to textual production, feminist theory, psychoanalytical analysis of culture, cultural criticism, and folk narrative genre analysis.

The concept of context as the hermeneutic basis for literary interpretation reactivates the written text and subverts the hierarchical structures with which it has been traditionally identified. This book reinterprets rabbinic culture as an arena of multiple dialogues that traverse traditional concepts of identity regarding gender, nation, religion, and territory. The author's approach is permeated by the idea that scholarly writing about ancient texts is invigorated by an existential hermeneutic rooted in the universality of human experience. She thus resorts to personal experience as an idiom of communication between author and reader and between human beings of our time and of the past. This research acknowledges the overlap of poetic and analytical language as well as the language of analysis and everyday life.

In eliciting folk narrative discourses inside the rabbinic text, the book challenges traditional views about the social basis that engendered these texts. It suggests the subversive potential of the constitutive texts of Jewish culture from late antiquity to the present by pointing out the inherent multi-vocality of the text,adding to the conventionally acknowledged synagogue and academy the home, the marketplace, and other private and public socializing institutions.


This book deals with rabbinic literature—the largest textual body in Hebrew literature, as well as the most influential in Jewish life since its creation and until today. the modern reader, and particularly one lacking religious erudition, may construe the world of the Talmud and the Midrash as strange and inaccessible. in truth, however, rabbinic aggadic literature includes many fascinating and complex works, capable of moving and enchanting contemporary readers.

Lamentations Rabbah, the Midrash that will be at the focus of attention in this book, was composed in Palestine, approximately in the middle of the first millennium c.e. This Midrash weaves a rich and varied web of life, beautiful and poignant, around the biblical Book of Lamentations. It conveys experiences of loss and destruction but also of love between men and women, parents and children, as well as details of everyday life—food, clothing, trades, and pastimes.

Some approaches claim that patterns of study prevalent at the academies, reflecting the scholars' intense exegetical concerns, had a decisive influence on the artistic form assumed by the texts. Other approaches emphasize the influence of the public sermon at the synagogue—an institution that stressed such values as public education and oral artistic communication. My own approach is to show how both of these formative bodies—the academy and the synagogue—were also open to other socializing institutions, above all . . .

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