Post­ed by Miri Pomerantz-Dauber

A fun book for fam­i­ly shar­ing” is the descrip­tion on the back cov­er of Jew­ish Fairy Tale Feasts (Croc­o­dile Books USA, 2013), and, look­ing through the book, it real­ly is! The book, which fea­tures Jew­ish folk­tales paired with a cor­re­spond­ing recipe and beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions, is intend­ed for chil­dren ages 5 – 11, but it cross­es gen­er­a­tions in a way that is unusu­al — both the sto­ries and the recipes will appeal to adults and kids equal­ly. The project is a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the moth­er-daugh­ter team of mas­ter sto­ry­teller Jane Yolen and Hei­di E.Y. Stem­ple, the cook behind the book’s recipes, with illus­tra­tions by Sima Eliz­a­beth Shefrin. 

Here’s a lit­tle taste from the Main Course sec­tion of the book, reprint­ed with permission: 

The Pome­gran­ate Seed

May it be Your will, O Lord our God, that our good deeds will increase like the seeds of the pomegranate.”


A hun­gry Jew, whose fam­i­ly was starv­ing, stole a loaf of bread from the mar­ket. But as soon as he slipped the loaf into the waist­band of his trousers, the stall own­er began to shriek, Thief! Thief!”

The man began to run, but he was no bet­ter at run­ning than he was at steal­ing. With­in three or four steps he felt the heavy hands of the sultan’s guards on his shoulder.

They marched him off to prison, where in the near dark of his cell he found a sin­gle pome­gran­ate seed on the dirt floor.

Why is the Lord plagu­ing me?” he thought. Here I am about to be exe­cut­ed for steal­ing a loaf of bread so that my chil­dren would not starve, and He sends me a pome­gran­ate seed.”

But, since the rab­bis always said, The Lord does not toy with us,” he gave that seed much thought.

When the guards brought him out to the open court­yard for his exe­cu­tion, the Jew was ready. He turned his face up to the exe­cu­tion­er and spoke so loud­ly, every­one — includ­ing the sul­tan, him­self — could hear, Kill me as you must, but do not throw away my mag­ic pome­gran­ate seed.”

What non­sense is this?” growled the executioner.

Not non­sense at all. If you plant it, it will grow instant­ly into a great pome­gran­ate tree, laden with ripe fruit. But …” the Jew shrugged.

But what?” The exe­cu­tion­er low­ered his axe and leaned forward.

The seed will only grow if you have nev­er stolen any­thing. So you see, it is use­less to me now.”

The exe­cu­tion­er trem­bled. I have tak­en things from the pock­ets of those I have exe­cut­ed, instead of giv­ing it to their heirs. I can­not plant the seed.”

The Jew held up the seed to the guards. Is there one among you who can plant the seed?”

The guards con­ferred amongst them­selves. Final­ly, one came for­ward. We have each tak­en gold­en spoons from the sultan’s table. We can­not plant the seed.”

The thief turned to the sultan’s vizier. And you, mighty sir?”

The vizier trem­bled. I have … um … occa­sion­al­ly pock­et­ed coins from the sultan’s trea­sury. Umm­mm … coins owed to me.” He looked quick­ly down at the ground.

Then, mag­nif­i­cent sul­tan, it is up to you to plant the seed,” the Jew said.

The sul­tan smiled. And haven’t I tak­en entire coun­tries from oth­er sul­tans? I doubt I could plant that seed.”

Oh mighty and pow­er­ful peo­ple, you have tak­en trin­kets, coins, gold­en spoons, entire coun­tries, and still retain your high sta­tus and wealth. And here am I, a poor Jew, who only want­ed to feed his starv­ing chil­dren. Yet you will live and I will die.”

The sul­tan laughed. What a clever man you are. I need some­one like you around to remind me how a life can be saved by a sim­ple pome­gran­ate seed.” He made the Jew a roy­al gar­den­er and moved his fam­i­ly into the palace, where they nev­er went hun­gry again.

We found four ver­sions of this sto­ry: in Penin­nah Schram’s The Hun­gry Clothes and Oth­er Jew­ish Folk­tales, as The Pome­gran­ate Seed”; in Shel­don Oberman’s Solomon and the Ant and Oth­er Jew­ish Sto­ries, as The Mag­ic Seed”; in Nathan Ausubel’s A Trea­sury of Jew­ish Folk­lore, as The Wise Rogue”; and in Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin’s A Child’s Book of Midrash, as The Clever Thief.”

This sto­ry is orig­i­nal­ly from Moroc­co, but sto­ries about Jews (and Arabs) who man­age by clev­er­ness to get them­selves out of impos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions are quite pop­u­lar through­out the Mid­dle East.

In some tellings, the thief is Jew­ish, in oth­ers he is not. But the sto­ry is a pop­u­lar one amongst Mid­dle East­ern Jews.

This is Tale Type 929 — Clever Defens­es” and K 500 — Escape from Arrest by Trickery.”

Miri joined the JBC team in Win­ter, 2004 upon grad­u­at­ing from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty. Orig­i­nal­ly from Philadel­phia, she has lived and stud­ied in Israel and Lon­don. Pri­or to work­ing with JBC, she interned for the Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety. After sev­en years as the direc­tor of the JBC Net­work pro­gram, Miri has shift­ed her focus to book clubs, work­ing to devel­op resources to bet­ter serve book club readers.