Creation, Re-creation, and Recreation in an Old Yiddish Romance

Delany, Sheila
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The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
There’s a Yiddish joke: Before I speak, I want to say a few words. I’ll be talking today about an Old Yiddish romance, the Bovo-bukh, and about its creation in the early sixteenth century—a process that, as we’ll see, was really a re-creation. I’ll be talking too about the use of this romance not only as recreation in the sense of entertainment, but as a tool for further re-creation or renewal of an always-threatened culture. Because my topic is related to Jewish literature and culture, it’s appropriate to mention that on Friday—tomorrow—at sundown commence two of the most important Jewish holidays, which themselves evoke creation and re-creation.1 One is, of course, the Sabbath (or, as my grandparents, with their Ashkenazi accent, would say, ‘shabbas’). This weekly holiday, based in the biblical story of creation, is the earliest and most important of Jewish holidays. Shabbas is also the only holiday directly related to Yahweh himself, who took the seventh day off after his six days of creative labor, and enjoined us to do the same so that we might, through our recreations on that day, re-create the cycle of work and rest that the ur-artisan performed. Traditionally (though not biblically) these recreations include a bath, good clothes, a fine dinner, and—according to a thirteenth-century kabbalistic marriage manual—lovemaking (for scholars, at least) at midnight, when the dinner has been properly digested (The Holy Letter, c. 3).
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