Josepha Sherman’s Rachel The Clever and Other Jewish Folktales

cover art for Rachel the CleverChuck Lipsig wrote this review.

Rachel the Clever is a collection of Jewish folktales from a variety of geographic and religious sources. The stories are generally well told, with the right touches of wit and clarity, though sometimes suffering for being too brief.

Some of the tales are familiar from many folk traditions, such as a Jewish version of “Cinderella,” with a rabbi’s son instead of a prince. Just to make it more interesting, the King Leir story of the daughter who loves her father “as salt” is combined. “The Demon’s Midwife” is similar to Celtic tales of human midwives for the elves with Sherman noting that demons in Jewish folklore tend to be mischievous, as opposed to evil, spirits.

Some of the stories have a more distinct Jewish flavor. “The Insulted Ghosts,” with ghosts being offended at being spied on is one example of this. “The Golem of Prague” with a great Rabbi bringing a man of clay to life, is one of the most famous creations of Jewish Folklore – although this is a rather tame version of it. The section devoted to the Wise Men of Chelm, where all the town’s inhabitants are fools, is on its own worth the price of the book.

Jeanne Seagle’s illustrations fit the tone of the book well, being light-hearted, yet having more subtlety and depth of character than they appear to have at first.

On the whole, Rachel the Clever is an enjoyable book that is ideal for a young adult reader. It is also a good introduction to Jewish folklore for those wishing to get a brief taste of it.

(August House, 1993)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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