Thumbnail Image
Penn collection
Departmental Papers (NELC)
Degree type
Cultural History
Jewish Studies
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Grant number
Copyright date
Related resources
Ben-Amos, Dan

Four interrelated qualities distinguish Jewish folklore: (a) extended history depth, (b) continuous interdependence between orality and literacy, (c) national dispersion of the nation, and (d) linguistic diversity. The Hebrew Bible, the earliest Jewish written text, contains evidence of older oral tradition. Once canonized, its ritual reading spawned new oral exetical and metaphorical oral narratives and its retelling retrieved traditions that literacy excluded. The written records of Jewish traditions of Late Antiquity also include folklore of that era. With the rise of the Diaspora Jewish communities had their own regional folklore that synthesized local with Jewish traditions and was performed in new languages that were spoken in these communities, such as Judeo-Arabi, Judeo-Spanish, and Yiddish. During the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, geographically and linguistically distinct Jewish communities formed, and their experience generated new folklore themes and forms. In the land of Israel, during the Yishuv period and later after the establishment of the State of Israel, the emerging new folklore corresponded, in part, to the ideology of cultural revival and, in part, to the new cultural contacts of ingathered exiles and to the encounter with the Near Eastern Arab culture. The folklore of the Jews, like that of other people, is represented not only in words, but also in behavior, music, dance, and visual art. Modern scholarship on Jewish folklore started anew at least three times in the 19th century, in the recordings of Leopold Weisel (b. 1804-d. 1870), a non-Jewish country physician who recorded tales in the Old Jewish Town in Prague (J. Dolezelova, "Questions of Folklore in the Legends of the Old Jewish Town Compiled by Leopold Weisel, 1804-1870," Judaica Bohemiae 12 (1976), 35-50), with the article of Moritz Steinschneider, "Über die Volkliterature der Juden, Archiv für Literaturgeschichte 2 (1872): 1-21, and with the circular letter that Max Grunwald (b. 1871-d. 1953), then a young rabbi in Hamburg, Germany, sent in 1896, together with a questionnaire, urging its recipients to engage in field collection of Jewish folklore (F. Talmage, ed., Studies in Jewish Folklore [Cambridge, MA: Association for Jewish Studies, 1980]).

Date Range for Data Collection (Start Date)
Date Range for Data Collection (End Date)
Digital Object Identifier
Series name and number
Publication date
Journal title
Oxford Bibliographies - Jewish Studies
Volume number
Issue number
Publisher DOI
Journal Issue
Recommended citation