Let the "people" Go? The "folk" and their "lore" as tropes in the reconstruction of rabbinic culture

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This article argues that "folklore" has served as a narratological device in modern scholarship of rabbinic culture; rather then reflecting rabbinic history, "folklore'" has served in constructing sociocultural images that are not grounded in, or indicated by, the rabbinic corpus itself. The first part of the article addresses the role of "folklore" as yielding a variety of historiographical tropes in the writings of scholars such as Lieberman, Urbach, Ginzberg, and Fraenkel, as well as in the writings of specific folklore scholars such as Hasan-Rokem and Yassif. "Folklore," as an essential category, when applied to rabbinic texts, designates ideological, institutional or social margins, and in turn, it implies an imagined canon. As the article argues, the identification of "folklore" with marginality cannot be sustained by the texts themselves. The article therefore suggests implementing folkloristic tools in reading rabbinic texts without the underlying essentialistic understanding of the texts themselves as reflecting rabbinic "folklore." The second part of the essay applies the nonessentialized use of folklore methodology to two close readings of rabbinic texts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-241
Number of pages36
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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