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While Standing on One Foot: Puzzle Stories and Wisdom Tales from the Jewish Tradition Hardcover – December, 1993

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With their craftily honed narratives and their pithy prefatory comments, Jaffe ( In the Month of Kislev ) and Zeitlin do ample justice to 18 gems of Jewish folklore. The heroes and heroines of these selections have only moments to frame solutions to thorny questions or dilemmas--in many cases, their answers will mean the difference between life and death. The authors create a drumroll effect by interrupting the stories at their crucial moments to invite the reader to match wits with the characters, and it is a testimony to their skill that this intervention heightens rather than destroys the narrative tension. A wide range of settings, from the Spanish Inquisition to Nazi Germany to contemporary New York City, varies the genre and allows Jaffe and Zeitlin to introduce episodes in Jewish history, while a glossary and source notes extend the education. The book is virtually as cleverly conceived as its protagonists' lightning responses. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-6-The 17 brief selections in this book come from many eras and places in Jewish history and geography. Among them are "The Grand Inquistor," set in medieval Spain, in which a vicious inquisitor schemes to trick an innocent rabbi into admitting his (and by extension, all the Jews') guilt for a terrible crime. Others tell how a fox outwitted Leviathan, the powerful sea monster; how the boy who would later become King Solomon outsmarted a surly innkeeper; how a jester avoided dying by choosing the right form of death; and how a barren wife kept her husband through cleverness. Those who have read classical versions know that the originals meander, lack drama, and are dull. They have been adapted here so as to be short enough for memorizing and telling; all have a hero, a villain, a challenge, and a punch-line. Introductions supply background information. Just before revealing the outcome of each tale, the teller pauses, sums up the dilemma, and then asks readers what they would do in the same situation. Excellent for group discussions.
Marcia Posner, Federation of New York and the Jewish Book Council, New York City
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holth & Co (J); 1st edition (December 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805025944
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805025941
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,611,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Even though described for 9-12 year olds (which surprised me), this is a terrific thought provoking book. Perfect for d'var Torahs and teaching. Lots of Talmudic wisdom and midrashim packed in a delightful edition. A great gift idea as well. I really enjoyed reading and rereading the different chapters.
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Format: Paperback
This collection of 18 stories (in Hebrew Chai means both 18 and life) was masterfully collated by Judaic storyteller and Bank Street College professor Nina Jaffe and Steve Zeitlin, a Ph.D. in urban folklore at a New York cultural heritage foundation called City Lore.
Each piece is accompanied by a brief introduction explaining the background for the story. Some tell where the story is from--the Torah, Talmud, or rabbinic legends called Midrash and a bit about each tradition. Others tell fascinating background. Bet you didn't know that Herschel of Ostropol--whom Eric Kimmel has brought to life in a recent Chanukah goblin tale--was a real person, born in the Ukraine in the mid-18th century.
The stories themselves are short, but told as riddles. Each one thoroughly enthralls children from the beginning.
Take the Midrash about the Leviathan and the Fox, a tale about a small creature who dared to defy an enormous beast. The Leviathan, knowing the fox is clever, assumes that if he eats the latter he will be not only the strongest creature alive but also the most clever. Thus he sends the Swordfish and Sea Bass to find and bring the fox to him. They lure the fox to come with the false promise of a feast.
Of course, the fox cannot swim, and so the fish agree to carry him. Once he is on their backs at sea, they tell him the truth--that the Leviathan plans to make a meal of him. Now the story breaks, and the child is asked, if he were in the fox' place, what would he do? This is a tough one, and most children will not know (although there are other tales where they can easily guess the riddle). Alas, says the fox, I left my heart at home. "We foxes never travel with our hearts unless it is for a very important reason.
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By J. Choate on February 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is such a great collection of wise and clever jewish tales. Worth a read, wonderful for historical insight.
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We are studying ancient history and this book was a great addition. It was an easy read with short humorous stories. I gave it a four star because a few of the tales were a little silly. However, it had a lot of really good stories that made the kids and I really think. We also learned a little about the Jewish culture.
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Format: Paperback
Nina Jaffe and Steve Zeitlin have assembled an enjoyable collection of Jewish folklore in their slim but entertaining 1993 volume, "While Standing on One Foot."

At just 120 pages, including introduction and sources, "Standing" can easily be read in an hour or two. It's ideal for children or adults seeking an introduction (or reintroduction) to Judaism. This book can also provide several bedtime stories or diversions for traveling youngsters.

The first word in the subtitle, "Puzzle Stories and Wisdom Tales from the Jewish Tradition," should be taken at face value: There is a point in every chapter for pausing and considering the best way for the protagonist to handle each conundrum. Readers may ponder how a rabbi might escape a trap set by a wicked Grand Inquisitor in 15th-century Spain; how a wily fox might persuade his captors to free him before a fateful dinner appointment with the fearsome Leviathan; or how a devoted wife might salvage her marriage to a man who despairs at their failure to conceive children.

Another word from the subtitle, wisdom, is also key to the book. The stories emphasize how the various characters' wisdom produces satisfactory outcomes despite high odds against them. Notably, none of the solutions involve violence, even in life-and-death situations.

The book sketches the state of Judaism at various times and places, including Nazi Germany and the Lower East Side. The stories include definitions of terms that may not be familiar to newcomers to Judaism, among them maggid (traveling inspirational preacher) and Disapora (communities established around the world by Jews after they left Israel). There is also a short glossary.

John Segal's charming illustrations add to the book's charm.

In short, this is a fine volume for youngsters and other readers who want to broaden their knowledge of Judaism.
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Have you ever remembered a fragment of a tale used in a sermon or told you by an elder relative? It is here. Now you can find those anecdotes and make them part of your own repertoire. As the title suggests, gems like the story of summarizing the Torah while standing on one foot are retold to complete your memory of them.
Once you have read it, you will have learned more of the practical and amusing anecdotes. Some are inspitiational. Some are humorous. Whatever you take away from it will make you a richer person.
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