Jew­ish Sto­ries of Love and Mar­riage: Folk­tales, Leg­ends, and Letters

Sandy Eisen­berg Sas­so and Penin­nah Schram
  • Review
By – June 3, 2016

How many ways can one say, I love you?” An anthol­o­gy must, by its very nature, be selec­tive, but it does seem that Sas­so and Schram have includ­ed almost every­thing in Jew­ish Sto­ries of Love and Mar­riage.

The vol­ume presents both famil­iar love sto­ries and the unusu­al — rang­ing from the bet­ter-known bib­li­cal Song of Songs to love let­ters from a hus­band show­ing appre­ci­a­tion for his wife’s ordeal dur­ing child­birth. The sto­ries inform those who have lit­tle knowl­edge of Judaism, and deep­en the under­stand­ing of those who are already famil­iar with its tenets. Well-researched in archives and libraries, and well-doc­u­ment­ed, the mate­r­i­al here is full of dif­fer­ent voic­es. To men­tion only a few:

The Wed­ding Bless­ing,” a brief sto­ry from the Tal­mud, is a par­tic­u­lar­ly apt inclu­sion. In her cre­ative retelling, Penin­nah Schram guides the read­er to extend the Tal­mu­dic ver­sion and bless oth­ers — at a wed­ding, birth­day, or oth­er milestone.

In midrash (sto­ries writ­ten by rab­bis after the Bible) the course of Jew­ish his­to­ry is for­ev­er altered. The Book of Exo­dus tells us that Miri­am, sis­ter of Moses, led the women to free­dom with tim­brels and with dances.” The Bible doesn’t men­tion her fur­ther. It is only in post-bib­li­cal imag­i­na­tion that we learn of Miri­am’s mar­riage to Caleb, who fell in love with her despite a hideous skin dis­ease. Even­tu­al­ly she was the ances­tress of King David and the mes­sian­ic promise. A love sto­ry indeed.

In Jew­ish tra­di­tion, microg­ra­phy (out­lin­ing a pic­ture with let­ters rather than sol­id lines) is used to present pas­sages of Torah. Here, in a five-page visu­al feast, skill­ful­ly exe­cut­ed by Schram’s daugh­ter-in-law, Sonia, small met­al points were employed to tell the sto­ry in which love of Torah and love of fes­ti­vals lead to love between man and wife. Use your mag­ni­fy­ing glass to see what is hid­den from the naked eye!

In Jew­ish folk lit­er­a­ture, the great­est con­cern of young women is the sub­ject of mar­riage. Who will be my hus­band? What will mar­ried life be like?” are ques­tions they often ask. The sto­ries here, most of which are told by women, were cre­at­ed to answer these ques­tions. Due to the inter­na­tion­al ori­gins of the pieces, the read­er feels a sense of con­nec­tion with women from around the world.

One of the largest polit­i­cal and judi­cial scan­dals of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies was the false trea­son accu­sa­tion of Alfred Drey­fus, a French Jew­ish sol­dier. After his con­vic­tion, he was ban­ished to Dev­il’s Island. His heart-wrench­ing love let­ters to his fam­i­ly, pre­sent­ed here, put a human face on history. 

But what makes this book tru­ly a trea­sure is the shar­ing by the authors of the most inti­mate feel­ings in their own lives: Penin­nah Schram’s father begins a let­ter to his wife, My beau­ti­ful lit­tle bird Devorele” and Sandy Sas­so address­es her ded­i­ca­tion, To Den­nis, with whom my own love sto­ry began. With eter­nal love have I loved you.” It is clear that both authors are lov­ing and loved. The read­er feels loved as well. In fact, he or she might think, These authors are so con­cerned about me that they includ­ed instruc­tions for writ­ing my own love sto­ry.” What a rich vol­ume for any­one and everyone.

Relat­ed Content:

Bar­bara is the author of The Book of Jew­ish Wom­en’s Tales as well as twelve oth­er books on Jew­ish art, his­to­ry, and folk­lore. As a sto­ry­teller she was sent by the U.S. gov­ern­ment to teach folk­lore and sto­ry­telling abroad; and under the aus­pices of the munic­i­pal­i­ty of Tel Aviv, she helped to devel­op the first course for pro­fes­sion­al tellers in Israel.

Discussion Questions