A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales

A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales

A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales

A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 hundreds of stories about rabbinic sages and other historical figures who lived during the late Second Temple and rabbinic periods, which spanned the first few centuries of the Common Era. The stories were recorded long after the events they recount, and thus they are literary rather than historical accounts. For generations these stories were neglected by literary audiences and were considered the province of rabbis and academics alone. But this is no longer the case. In the past decades readers of diverse backgrounds have developed an openness and a willingness to engage this literature on their own terms. The question that confronts us today is not whether to study Talmud and midrash but, rather, how to read these texts, what they hold in store for us, and what stands to be gained from the encounter between ancient texts and modern readers. Rabbinic literature includes hundreds of tales. In the chapters that follow I deal primarily with short stories and, among them, miniature vignettes of just a few lines, intricately crafted like poetry.

The orders and tractates into which the Talmud is divided touch upon every aspect of life. A source on marriage, for instance, does not necessarily appear in the tractate that nominally treats that subject because life is a tapestry of interwoven strands, and ideas are not constrained by disciplinary boundaries. A single talmudic page is likely to include wellcrafted stories, informal anecdotes, folk sayings, legends, riddles, humor, satire, political critique, reworkings of biblical stories, as well as . . .

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