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Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Frequently Bought Together

Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud + The Essential Jewish Stories: God, Torah, Israel & Faith + The Family Book of Midrash: 52 Jewish Stories from the Sages
Price for all three: $67.55

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jewish Lights; 1 edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580234569
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580234566
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"One of our tradition's liveliest teachers has managed to capture all of his rare vibrancy on the page. Who knew that Midrash could read like a great detective story?"
Abigail Pogrebin, author, Stars of David

“Both ancient and timeless … this retelling and retooling of ancient rabbinic wisdom tales [does] the sages and us a great service. Brings these … sages alive that we might hear their wisdom once more. A book to be savored.”
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained

“Enlivens ancient wisdom with modern whimsy, decodes Talmudic enigmas with narrative grace, and humanizes the giants of early rabbinic Judaism in ways that make each character real, quirky and unforgettable. Has there ever been a book of solid scholarship that was this much fun to read?”
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author, Deborah, Golda and Me:
Being Female and Jewish in America
; founding editor, Ms. magazine

“A treasure trove of information, insight and meaning. It is a 'must read’ for anyone interested in knowing more about rabbinic texts, traditions and history, while being charmed and entertained. Be prepared to experience rabbinic Judaism come alive!”
Dr. Norman Cohen, author, The Way Into Torah

“A revelation…. A thrilling journey full of wisdom, humor and timeless lessons…. In short, Rabbi Visotzky has blessed us with a deep and lasting gift, a spectacular work that we want to read over and over again.”
Rabbi Naomi Levy, author, Hope Will Find You and To Begin Again

“Reading Sage Tales is like going to the best show on Broadway followed by an elegant dinner with a critic, a holy skeptic who is illuminating, entertaining, learned and enlightening…. I loved this book!”
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author, Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life;
co-author, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices

“Lets you reach … into the collective consciousness of Jewish value teachings and offers you a glimpse into what life ought to be and can be.”
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author, First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit

“Wit, insight and deep sensitivity permeate every sentence and draw the reader into an irresistible journey to uncover the spiritual, intellectual and emotional underpinnings of rabbinic literature. [An] important contribution to the field.”
Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR

About the Author

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, named one of Forward's top fifty Jewish leaders in America, has been engaging spiritual seekers with the ancient wisdom of Judaism for over forty years. He is Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies and of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky consulted with Bill Moyers and was a featured participant in the PBS television series Genesis: A Living Conversation. He is a lecturer and scholar-in-residence in synagogues, churches and mosques throughout North America, and the author of nine other books, including Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud and Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky is available to speak on the following topics:

  • The Genesis of Ethics: Bible Study and Moral Development
  • Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text
  • Sibling Rivalries: Judaism and Christianity in Their Formative Years
  • In Preparation for Passover
  • The Road to Redemption: Ancient and Modern Readings of Exodus

Click here to contact the author.

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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He gives other interesting demonstrations.
Israel Drazin
Well worth the read and I'm thrilled to have this book adorn my shelves for years to come.
Nathan Miller
Name another book that contains both of these words!?).
Michael Brochstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By 3xmom on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was excited to get this book as I am Jewish, but not well educated in Rabbinic literature. The author's tone, however, is off putting/confusing to me. Does he respect these sages or what they have to say? Is he just trying to humanize them, make them more accessible to a modern day reader? I really can't get through that and it has had a negative effect on my reading of the work and my hopes of gaining greater understanding.

His approach is also set up as the Talmud etc were written to resemble a play. And the rabbis are just characters with specific roles. He points out how there are stage figures--the rich father, for example--that are common tools in many works of literature and in other religious teachings (Christian texts, for instance).

Maybe this book would be most helpful to a reader familiar with this author's other works. Maybe to someone much more well versed in the Rabbinic literature and so can see through the sarcasm/jokes. ??

I am learning a bit, but overall, I'm disappointed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Rabbi Visotsky, the author of this volume, is a professor at The Jewish Theological Seminary and has been involved in studying and teaching the subject of Jewish Midrash, the ancient tales, parables, and teachings of Judaism, for over forty years. There are twenty-two chapters filled with interesting information told in an easy to read, frequently humorous manner. The title Sage Tales could mean stories filled with wisdom, tales told by wise men, or a history of ancient intellectuals. Visotsky uses the title in all three ways, because he gifts us well-told wise tales and informs us about the history of the times and the men who told the tales.

His opening chapter, for instance, explains what prompted the many unforgettable stories about the appearance of the biblical prophet Elijah long after his death, always appearing as a miraculous helper to people in distress. He tells his own story of how he was lost in Uzbekistan and was unable to communicate with people on the street since he couldn't speak or understand their language. But then a man suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and took him to the house he was seeking, even though he never told the man the address of the house. When he turned around within seconds to thank him, he couldn't find him. He disappeared. Was he Elijah the Prophet? He tells three stories from the Talmud where the rabbis relate similar instances and say that the stranger was Elijah, and he explains why they said so. One is how Elijah caught a man who jumped off a roof to commit suicide and dissuaded him from repeating his mistake. One tells how Elijah replenished a man's sack of jewels that a thief stole and arranged suitable punishment for the thief.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael Brochstein on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stories (or should I say "tales"), the stories behind the stories, the historical settings for the stories and the connectedness between the stories. Rabbi Visotzky explores various stories from the Talmud with an expert's knowledge of them, the experience of exploring and teaching these stories for many years and a raconteur's ability to tell a story. A very accessible trip through these stories with many references to modern culture (and FWIW; Propinquity and truthiness! Name another book that contains both of these words!?). I can't imagine an easier or more fun way to learn Talmud.

Full disclosure: Rabbi Visotzky is a friend of mine. I bought his book on my own volition (and without his knowledge) and with my own money and I am reviewing it here without his knowledge (hopefully we'll still be friends if/after he reads this review).
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