The Bride Who Argued With God: Tales from the Treasury of Jewish Folklore


“Pay careful attention to respect and honor your wife, for your home is blessed solely due to her merit.” So it is written in the Talmud, and so it is shown in The Bride Who Argued With God, a collection of Jewish folktales newly translated into English by Hava Ben-Zvi.These seventy eight parables, collected at Israel Folktale Archives at the University of Haifa from immigrants who came to Israel after its founding in 1948, cast the reader back to the pre-industrial millennia, when the Jews lived in awkward segregation from larger society.

The bibliography and index of major motifs at the end of the book will help scholars to categorize these stories within their oikotypes and to find parallel tales in other cultures. Yet, this collection may find its surest home within a modern family, as an enjoyable way for parents to share the ancient lessons of their heritage with their children.


Praise for The Bride Who Argued with God:

“In this fascinating and thoughtful book, Hava Ben-Zvi has compiled a well researched, intriguing, and remarkably rich collection of folktales, legends, Hasidic, midrashic, and talmudic lore from all comers of the Jewish world, all of which engage the perennially timely, often thorny, and always complicated, relationship between men and women. Reading these stories is like going on a global anthropological field trip to the past, for we learn so much about the many-hued traditions of Judaism and the texture of Jewish life, its customs, its mode of perception, through them! Hava Ben-Zvi’s careful citation of sources helps make it a book for the scholars as well. This is a book all those interested in Jewish storytelling, folk literature, and the nuanced relationship of Jewish men and women through the ages, will want to have in their library. I respect and honor her achievement.”
–Dr. Miriyam Glazer
Professor of Literature at the University of Judaism, Los Angeles,
author of Dancing on the Edge of the World: Jewish Stories of Faith, Inspiration and Love and of Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers.
“…In the introduction, Ben-Zvi notes that for centuries, Jews have passed down their culture, morals and spirituality through oral folktales. Emerging from countless countries, they dispersed throughout the world, forming a strong Diaspora that has fostered a diverse story telling tradition. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, many immigrants told their stories to the Israel Folktale Archives, which became the author’s major inspiration and research source. The tales included here … seek to explain, teach a lesson, or extol the religious or personal virtues of the characters. In the title story, a couple is visited by the Angel of Death, who informs them that they will soon loose their son. They ask that he be allowed to marry first, and on the day of his wedding, the Angel appears in the form of a beggar.
Though both the parents and the son plead for his life, it is his new bride who prevails … After each story, Ben-Zvi includes notes that offer an interpretation of the story’s lesson, a guide to direct readers to more information about the Jewish laws and traditions invoked ill the tale, or more information about the particular Jewish community from which the story originated. The author’s dedication to research is evident. The wide range of settings: Morocco, Poland, Persia, Tunisia, Israel, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Iraq and more-admirably reflects the remarkable diversity of the Jewish Diaspora. In much of the world, particularly North Africa, Asia and the non-Israeli regions of the Middle East, the Jewish communities are slowly dying out– a fact that makes this preservation of their oral traditions particularly meaningful. An important piece of public history.”
–Kirkus Discoveries

“A rich and rewarding read. With the impressive scholarship used by Ben-Zvi to support the work, it should prove a valuable contribution to the literature of Jewish folklore.”
–Kay Haugaard
Professor of Creative Writing at Pasadena City College
“Hava Ben-Zvi has searched out the richest and most resonant tales from the vast treasure-house of Jewish literature and folklore, and she presents them to a new generation of readers with all the grace, good humor, and drama of a natural story-teller. Her wisdom and insight shine out from both the stories themselves and the author’s illuminating annotations, but the real glory is the sheer pleasure of hearing a tale well told. Above all, Hava Ben-Zvi gives us a fresh example of the story-telling tradition that has always been the repository of Jewish culture and the source of Jewish vitality. Truly, The Bride Who Argued With God is a book of light.”
–Jonathan Kirsch
author of The Woman Who Laughed at God, Harlot by the Side of the Road,
Moses: A Life, and King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel
“A delightfully engaging anthology; and the theme of love and relationships is a very pertinent one for my middle school students. The work is scholarly, authoritative, wide in scope, and well organized. But most importantly for the school-age reader, it is just plain fun to read! My school library colleagues in elementary through high school will find it a valuable addition to their folktale collections.”
Betsy Kahn, Middle School Librarian
The Bride Who Argued With God is a wonderful collection of Jewish folk tales that brings alive the hopes and dreams, fears and struggles of a people through the retelling of its stories. Many of the selections have not had wide publication in the past, so that the book serves as an excellent resource for club and camp, classroom and study group. Ben-Zvi’s notes at the conclusion of each story make it accessible, even for the novice reader of Jewish folk literature. The book has given me hours of pleasurable reading and is a valuable resource on my bookshelf.”
Dr. Alvin Mars
Director, Center for Jewish Education, Jewish Community Centers Association of North America
The Bride Who Argued With God celebrates the renewed interest in Jewish folklore – a folklore that is vigorous, earthy, sometimes funny and ‘moral’ without moralizing. The wide selection in this volume is based on the work of great anthologizers of an earlier age. This volume is more ‘efficient’ than many of our earlier anthologies.
The major themes of Jewish life continue to be important – even in our complex modernity – but the hopes and longings expressed in these tales continue to perplex the modern Jew, while the stories about these hopes and longings can delight the Jewish and general reader alike.”
Rabbi William Cutter, Ph.D.
Director, Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health Hebrew Union College
Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles.
“In these stories, the bulwark against disaster is the family. Indeed, tradition says that since the Master of the Universe finished creating the world, He has occupied Himself with arranging matches. The wife is the active core of the marriage, for good or for ill. Using her wisdom, industry, and piety, she can bring riches and blessings to her home. Or, she can make it a living hell with screaming, scheming, and physical abuse. The men, in contrast, seem passive: they are stoic, they withdraw in divorce, or they spend their days studying while the women run the family business.
There is plenty of magic in this world, with the Prophet Elijah often appearing to lend a helping hand, and visits from the Angel of Death, who can apparently be persuaded to postpone his duty by clever argument, as long as he clears it with his Boss first.
The Bride Who Argued With God is like a box of old-fashioned treats, some sweet, some salty. The tales taste of love, resilience, and dark humor in the face of hardship. As the rabbi says to the poor widow who asks if the chicken is kosher: ‘If it is bitter, enjoy it!'”
–Irene E. McDermott
Reference Librarian, San Marino Public Library
author of The Librarian’s Internet Survival Guide

Hava Ben-Zvi is a retired librarian. She lives in California. Write to her at The Bride Who Argued With God
ISBN: 0-595-40567-3
Publisher: iUniverse
Date: December 2006

To order or arrange for programs please contact the author at or call 626-799-3133.
Price: $22.95. May also be ordered through, Barnes &, and Libraries and stores may order from Baker and Taylor and Ingram.


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