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How the Jews of Eastern Europe Read the Bible

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The Tsene-rene and Purim Plays

image of Russian History

This article addresses some of the ways that Eastern European Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries accessed the Bible. It argues that reading the Hebrew Scripture itself was just one of many ways that common Jews became acquainted with biblical stories, and suggests that historians place greater scholarly attention on the extra-canonical sources Jews commonly used to access biblical narratives. Jewish audiences also heard biblical stories through interpretations, popular retellings, and dramatic performances. The article discusses the most popular Yiddish interpretive retelling, the sixteenth-century Tsene-rene, and demonstrates how some of its variances from the canonical text may have influenced Jewish notions of time and redemption. The article concludes with a discussion of some Purimshpils (plays performed during the holiday of Purim) and how they reinforced the ideas of the Tsene-rene.

Affiliations: 1: University of Michigan,


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