Sunday, April 1, 2012

Now for something more... Levantine


Alas, I must break the promise made in my last blog post: I think it would be more fun for me to compare Jewish Folktales to those of other (predominantly Christian-European) tales we have read in our class. The first point I would like to make is that despite any differences found, one can comfortably reason that according to Jungian theory, all fairy tales—Jewish, pagan, or otherwise—are based on the same pool of archetypes. Thus any differences found will be due to a cultural emphasis on certain archetypes over others, rather than differences in unconscious thinking. On that note, I begin with an element of (against?) Jewish society that has persisted for centuries: persecution. Without diverging into the history of this, the persecution of the Jews has the effect of making religion in the tale more obvious to the reader, as it is rather hard to miss such gems as “the Jews were falsely accused by their enemies of having murdered…” and “What is the meaning of this, Jew?” (The Rabbi and the Inquisitor). This, compared to other tales we have read in which God is the only reference to religion mentioned, and then generally in passing. Of course, if one wants to take a closer look at the fairy tales we have read, on can certainly read into certain Christian motifs, but such would be expected.
One character seemingly “unique” to Jewish folklore is the Rabbi. I call into question the uniqueness of the character not because a rabbi can, to my memory, be found in any of the non-Jewish tales which we have read, but because the archetype embodied by the rabbi certainly does. Of course, this is the wise old man. Plenty of fairy tales have dispensers of wisdom; those in Jewish tales just happen to have the fa├žade of Jewish religion and culture obscuring the universal archetype beneath.
Lastly, and tied to the first point about persecution, is the idea of the wandering Jew. I find that even this facet of Jewish culture is not at all unique in folk tales; it merely goes under a different name. After all, many tales use a journey caused by the persecution of step mother, witch, or other “bad guy” as a plot device. Thus, here again one can see that really it is Jewish culture making a superficial change to what is an almost standard aspect of a folk/fairy tale. Not that this is a good or a bad thing—it is just a pattern that seems evident. In summary, I suppose one could argue for differences in culture and religion-specific references, but not on any truly basic level. Again, that’s assuming we can go by Jungian theory here. If you disagree (and I don’t even know if I agree) then this analysis is not terribly useful to you. In which case, my dear reader, I know a lovely book by a certain Bettelheim that will have you counting phallic symbols to get to sleep. I’ll stick to sheep, thanks. Till next time everyone!
~Nick

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