This work investigates the adaptation of a folk-tale (oicotypification) to a geographic place and ethnic group, and examines the relationship between the definition of an ethnic group as such and the extent to which a folk tradition can serve as its instrument of expression. The story used to illustrate this issue is a tale told by Sephardic Jews in Jerusalem about Rabbi Kalonymos and the blood-libel. A most central aspect of group identity is expressed in its folklore. While ethnic identity is based on common traditions (past experiences, history, language), folklore can be differentiated from the traditions of the surrounding culture. Moreover, the sphere of folklore is free of obligation to the Halakhah, the Jewish law. The language used and behavior described can therefore give full expression to the distinctive qualities of the various ethnic groups. For a folk tradition to become an instrument that expresses the way in which a given group perceives its self-identity and to be part of the group's ethnic identity, it must undergo a process of adaptation. This process is a condition for the continuing vitality of the tradition, both in its passage from country to country and in its transmission from one cultural group to another. When a tale has been fully adapted, it may well become part of the self-identity of the ethnic group that has adopted it. To illustrate this process I have used a tale that is an undisputably Jewish oicotype: a blood-libel story as told in Jerusalem by members of the Judeo-Spanish community. The tale appeared in written form for the first time in 1782 in Simḥat ha-Regel by H.J.D. Azulay, and in expanded form in 1870 in the collection called Osé Péle. Here the tale retains the usual framework of the blood-libel, namely, that the Jews are accused of having killed a non-Jewish child and of using his blood in the ritual baking of the Passover Matzot. Salvation comes to the Jews (either in the person of Elijah, or a well-known rabbi, or a simple man) when their benefactor restores the child to life and the child points out his murderer. This story is classified as a legend, that is, a tale-type anchored in time and place that deals with a renowned figure and an actual historic event. In Jerusalem it is told about Rabbi Kalonimus and an event that took place in the R. Yohanan Ben-Zakkay Synagogue. The process of the tale's adaptation is examined here on four planes: 1. The specific plane, in other words, the adaptation of a general-Jewish story to an ethnic Jewish group, in this case, Judeo-Spanish; expression of this adaptation through language usage and by incorporation of customs and patterns characteristic of the group. 2. The regional-geographic plane, that is, adaptation of the tale to the city of Jerusalem, with all events occurring in familiar places in the city. Another story about Jerusalem is appended to the usual outline of the blood-libel tale: Rabbi Kalonimus punishes himself with a shameful burial because he had written the name of the Lord on the Sabbath. His body disappears on the slope of the Mount of Olives, and instead of a grave there is a mound of stones. And here a third stratum is added, a local folk belief: whoever takes a stone from this heap can rest assured that he will always return to Jerusalem, no matter how far away he may go. 3. The family plane, namely, adaptation of the tale to the tradition of a certain family, in this case, a respected family in Jerusalem that relates the story as having really happened to an illustrious rabbi who had belonged to one of the earlier generations of the family. The story is transformed from a general-Jewish legend to a praise-tale that serves to enhance the prestige of a given family. 4. The personal plane, that is, changing the story in accordance with the personality and artistry of the various narrators. The narrative art of three different raconteurs is examined — two men and a woman — and the same story as told on different occasions by the same narrator is also studied. It is proposed that adaptation is one of the creative processes of folk literature, and it plays a contributory role in crystallizing the ethnic identity of a given group. This is illustrated through a study of the linguistic texture and literary structure of the tales in the varying contexts in which they are told.
|Translated title of the contribution
|The Judeo-Spanish Legend about Rabbi Kalonimus in Jerusalem—A Study of Processes of Folk-Tale Adaptation
|Number of pages
|מחקרי ירושלים בפולקלור יהודי
|Published - 1984