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Jewish Tales in Arab Lands

June 3, 2011 | By

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Dov Noy has an unusual profession–he collects Jewish folktales.

To date, he’s recorded and catalogued more than 20,000 distinct tales. By identifying common types and recurring themes (among them, “reincarnation,” “a miracle happens to a poor person,” “prophetic fish”), he’s able to trace the paths that different stories have traveled over hundreds of years, and among different Jewish cultures.

Some of these tales are being collected in the series Folktales of the Jews, a six-volume set, divided by region. The first two volumes focus on the Sephardic Dispersion (Volume 1) and Eastern European countries (Volume 2). The third book, Tales from Arab Lands–released last week–is a huge (800-page) library of stories from Jews in Lebanon, Iraq, and North Africa, collected over the past century but often dating back much further. Some stories tell simple moral tales of people following the mitzvot, observing traditions, and being satisfied with their lot. Others invoke ghosts, magical rings, and Elijah the Prophet(who often arrives to mete out justice). This is a dazzling collection, a connection to oral traditions that most of us can’t directly access.

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