New Look at Jewish Legends

Article excerpt

THE FOUR WHO ENTERED PARADISE A novel by Howard Schwartz 220 pages, Jason Aronson, $27.50

HOWARD SCHWARTZ has devoted his career to almost single-handedly reviving and renewing Jewish traditional literatures for American readers. His anthologies of retold Jewish folk stories and mystical, supernatural and fairy tales have gone a long way to reestablishing a rich folk canon that previously was largely untranslated and buried in scholarly archives.

Schwartz has also pioneered modern midrashic writing. Midrash is an ancient Jewish tradition of creating stories out of undeveloped details in the Bible. These midrashic tales maintained the Bible as a living, growing document, forever a source of contemplation, inspiration and interpretation.

In "The Four Who Entered Paradise," Schwartz wears both his folkloric and midrashic hats as he retells and fleshes out one of the best known and most cryptic of Jewish mystical legends. It derives from early Jewish accounts of heavenly journeys found in the Talmud and other Jewish texts dating from the 1st to the 8th centuries. …

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