cover image Jewish-American Folklore

Jewish-American Folklore

Josepha Sherman. August House Publishers, $11.95 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-87483-193-1

Despite this collection's title, very few of its short tales, proverbs and riddles have anything to do with America. Rather, they largely stem from pre-New World Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish life. Sherman ( The Shining Falcon ), a specialist in comparative folklore, makes a number of mistakes and omissions (one note refers to ``The Babylonian Talmud . . . chapter 2,'' which is analogous to saying ``Shakespeare's Plays, Acts III''). These flaws aside, this enjoyable anthology reveals the varieties of Jewish wisdom, cleverness, irony and humor through tales filled with demons and dybbuks and allegories preaching humility and charity. A particularly fascinating section entitled ``Clever Folk and Survivors''--from a traveler who outwits a robber to a fox who outwits the Angel of Death--highlights the acuity that was nothing less than a prerequisite for Jews, who have so often found themselves in seemingly impossible predicaments. Sherman also is informative on the histories of some stories--we learn that the tales of the foolish ``Wise Men of Chelm'' date back to the 15th century--and on similarities between Jewish folktales and those of other ethnic traditions. Jewish Book Club selection. (June)