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Jewish Holiday Tales of Magic

adapted by Howard Schwartz & illustrated by Monique Passicot

Age Range: 8 - 13

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-88733-1
Publisher: Viking

The 12 stories in this collection, many originating in the oral traditions of Europe and Africa, dating from ancient times to the 20th century, all involve rabbis who use magic to help their fellow Jews. Arranged chronologically according to Jewish holidays, each tale features a rabbi who uses magic and magical powers—powers given (or lent) to him or her by God with the express purpose of helping the Jewish people. Each story, two to four pages in length, is accompanied by an afterword providing information about the holiday to which the story is connected, followed by a brief biographical passage about the rabbi whose story has just been told. The tales, including one about a female rabbi in 16th-17th-century Kurdistan, are set all over the world, including Eastern Europe, Germany, Spain, Afghanistan, and Morocco. Many figures in Jewish history show up in these stories. Maimonides, a 12th-century philosopher and sage, amazes the people of Fez, Morocco, by being able to instantly transport himself to Jerusalem for the Sabbath. The Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of Hasidism, lost in the Carpathian Mountains during a blizzard, is led out of the forest by Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees who fought the Syrians in the second century and who figures prominently in the Hanukkah story. The captivating black-and-white illustrations, fantastical, mystical, and even eerie, fit perfectly with the stories. While Schwartz can occasionally be overly didactic in the text dealing with the background of the tales, sometimes laboriously linking the stories to contemporary life in an attempt to make them “relevant,” the tales themselves are winning. Just right for reading aloud and discussing in the classroom or at home. (Glossary, source notes) (Folk tales. 8-13)