Query: Looking for sources about the literary representations of the Jewish grandmother

Lesley Simpson's picture

I am a Phd candiate at York University in Toronto.  I am writing my disseration about Jewish ethical wills and paradigms of memory. I am looking for material that explores the representations of Jewish grandmothers in connection with acts of legacy and culltural transmission. The material could be historical or literary or feminist criticism.  I am working in particular on a Holocuast memoir called Bits and Pieces by Canadian writer Henia Reinhartz, a book dedicated to her grandchildren and am interested in the trajectory of cultural transmission between grandmother and grandchildren. I would be grateful for any assistance on this network


Lesley Simpson

Categories: Query, front page item

Commenting on Lev. 27:1, the Talmud asks:

Why is a grandmother valued at one third, whereas a grandfather at not even a third?
Hezekiah replied, as the saying goes: An old man in the house is a burden in the house, an old woman in the house is a treasure in the house!

(BT Arachin 19a, also cited by Rashi on Lev. Compare with Alpha Beta d'Ben Sira, p. 41, which simply states that an old man is a treasure in the house)

Leor Jacobi

Hi Lesley. I think "A Cross and a Star: Memoirs of a Jewish Girl in Chile" by Marjorie Agosín could be useful.

Paulina Lorca Koch.

One frequently-quoted anecdotal testimony might be relevant: When R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the ultra-Orthodox decisor, was asked about the permissibly of preparing egg salad on the Sabbath, he replied: How do I know it's permitted? Because my grandmother made egg salad on the Sabbath.

- Ed Levin
Lifshitz College

At the beginning of Chap. 7 of Number Our Days, by Barbara Myerhoff, there is a discussion among the elders at the community center about men's and women's Judaism. Rachel describes her grandmother's transmission of Judaism to her granddaughters. It's a beautiful passage.

May I suggest that you look at Paulina Wengeroff's Memoirs of a Grandmother. Her view of her own relation to her children and grandchildren and her approach to cultural continuity, quite prominent in the structure of the book, was far more nuanced than scholars once assumed. See my afterword to Rememberings, the translation by Henny Wenkart (University Press of Maryland, 2000) [https://jewishstudies.umd.edu/publication-series].

My account of my own grandmother's legacy and final benediction to me -- how to use her library -- appears in my piece "Stretto," Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 33, No. 1/2. (Winter - Summer, 1995), pp. 180-190. http://www.jstor.org/stable/833704

Ronald Robboy

For the question of Lesley Simpson who is looking for sources about the literary representations of the Jewish grandmother, especially in connection with acts of legacy and cultural transmission.

The best, I believe, in this case, would be to find family memoirs that can give you information on specific cases. I will give here two examples in order to clarify to which kind of books I refer:

a. Mothers inherit the option to use a ‘chair’ (=place) in the Ezrat Nashim in the Synagogue from the grandmothers (Kalish [=Kalisz] – Poland) – see:
Israel David Beit-Halevi, Toldot Yehudei Kalish, Tel Aviv 1961, p. 113.

b. Cases in which the Germans in the Second World War have taken from the hands of the Jewish mothers candlesticks [Pamotim] and other valuable Mitzva-objects which they have inherit from their mothers. See for example: Ben Zion Eilon-Barakin, Pinkas Ostraha, Tel Aviv 1960, p. 346 [=Ostroh, Ukraine].

Admiel Kosman
Potsdam University

In the recently published second volume of Dirshuni-Midreshei Nashim (an anthology of Midrashim written by contemporary Israeli women), edited by Tamar Biala and published by Yediot Acharonot, there are several Midrashim involving grandmothers.
The book is just out and you can read about - and order it - here

Certainly worth looking at the complex character of the grandmother in the late Nava Semel's stunning Holocaust fable, AND THE RAT LAUGHED.

From a scan of our Temple library catalog ...

Bubbe Meisehs by Shayneh Maidelehs: An Anthology of Poetry by Jewish Grandaughters About Our Grandmothers by Leslea Newman

There Are Jews in My House by Lara Vapnyar

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

Prayers for the Living by Alan Cheuse

Passover by David Mamet

Following Lesley Simpson's question and Admiel Kosman's reply: family memoirs are indeed an important source. Grandchildren appear as an important part of the life of Hannah Merton, who kept a diary between 1845-1898, in London. Her grand-daughter preserved this woman's journals, and published some quotes from it in a book about her mother - Hannah Floretta Cohen, Changing Faces, 1937. Cohen's book, however ignores the gifts her grandmother gave them and those that they made for her, the games they played together, holidays spent together, family heirlooms and much more. The grand-daughter made sure her grandmother's journals, letters, photo albums, chairs, and more stayed in the family.
Michele Klein

Avigail Graetz has a novel A Rabbi's Daughter which has a grandmother as a central character. It is her death which triggers the novel.