cover image Jewish Folktales

Jewish Folktales

Pinhas Sadeh. Doubleday Books, $24.95 (443pp) ISBN 978-0-385-19573-7

The graceful, elegant prose of Israeli novelist and poet Sadeh, expertly translated by American-born Halkin, is continually engaging, even when he is retelling predictable scenarios of a vengeful God smiting down the wicked. But such sternly moralistic tales comprise only a small part of this collection of 200-plus stories drawn from Eastern European, Middle Eastern and North African sources; others transcend their genre time after time with passion, magic and humor that reach out to people of all faiths. The book also includes a brilliant afterword by Sadeh, who muses on how folktales are born and offers cogent analyses of stories he finds particularly significant. In his superb explication of ``The Shepherd's Pipe,'' for example, he shows how each tiny detail in this very brief story is redolent of symbolism, the pipe itself summoning up images of the various trees immortalized in the great religions, ``rising upward from the earth to speak of and to man's soul.'' Sadeh's insights make one wish he could have devoted more space to interpreting each of these wondrous folktales. Illustrated. (Nov.)