In "Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism", Yitzhak Buxbaum shows that storytelling has always been a prime vehicle for communicating spirituality and that some of the greatest Jewish teachers were expert storytellers. He notes that "[even the Torah starts] 'In the beginning...' as if the Holy One, blessed be He, was an elder with a long white beard, who sat us on His knee and began: 'Once upon a time." In recent centuries, Hasidism revived sacred storytelling and the sacred story, especially tales about tzaddikim (hasidic saints). "There are those who enjoy stories and storytelling," says Buxbaum, "but in the back of their minds think, 'After all, they're only stories.' But in the same way that the Western Wall of the Temple is not just a wall, a mere pile of stones, neither are the stories of the Torah or of the tzaddikim 'just stories'. Holy stories are the light of the world." Recent years have seen a revival of storytelling in America and in the Jewish community. Martin Buber, Elie Wiesel, and others spurred a keen interest in reading hasidic tales. Now people are also eager to hear and to tell them. We have much to learn, says Buxbaum, from Hasidism's "theology" of storytelling. Hasidic rebbes asked and answered these questions: What is the place of storytelling among spiritual practices? Why do stories captivate and charm us? How should they be told and listened to? What are their effects? According to Hasidism, storytelling is a holy activity equal to Torah study or prayer. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism and a master storyteller, said that telling stories is equivalent to the exalted mystic study of the Divine Chariot. Indeed, hasidic storytelling is not only inspirational but mystical as well. Hasidim even claim that God loves storytelling about tzaddikim. "Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism", the first and only book about Jewish storytelling, will increase people's appreciation of hasidic tales by making them aware of their living, oral context and will encourage involvement in spiritual storytelling. Containing delightful stories about storytelling and the author's own insights as an accomplished storyteller, it has a vital message for the Jewish community and for the larger storytelling and religious communities.
by Yitzhak Buxbaum