Thoughts on “There was a Young Rabbi: A Hanukkah Tale” by Suzanne Wolfe

There Was a Young Rab­bi: A Hanukkah Tale by Suzanne Wolfe

If you want an upbeat book with colorful illustrations where the main character is super energetic and everything seems to be always on the move and at the same time teaches the very basics of Hanukkah to your young child I can recommend the book. 

However as an adult I had two issues with the book, which prevented me from fully enjoying it. I appreciate cumulative text as much as anybody who has a hard time memorizing texts. A quick reminder: “In a cumulative tale, sometimes also called a chain tale, action or dialogue repeats and builds up in some way as the tale progresses.” (Wikipedia) However some works better than others and here the rhythm was too broken up. The secret of good cumulative tales, e.g. the “Chad Gadya” song, is not just the simplicity of the text itself, but also creating a natural pattern. Here it didn’t follow the classic patterns of keep adding new lines at the end, hence its flow was not smooth enough.

It took a bit longer to realize what my second problem with the book was. The title promises the story of a young rabbi and there is no disappointment there. I believe that the author is also trying to normalize the idea that women can be rabbis as well. So she doesn’t mention it in the title, just through the drawings and pronouns. I fully support the idea and also aware that it doesn’ even need my (a male person’s)  support. I know that woman rabbis should referred to simply as rabbis and not as a “woman rabbis”. They should be judged based on how well they do the work of rabbis. Same standards should be apply to them as to their male counterparts. If the goal of the book is to break down gender stereotypes it doesn’t do a good work though. Start by looking at the cover: she is busy cooking and has not just her hands full with the job, but even her feet. Clearly she is doing a stereotypically female work: activities in the kitchen. Why couldn’t the illustrator use an task, at least for the cover, that is more clearly associated with rabbis. Yes, she seems to be enjoying the cooking, which I can’t decide makes the moral of the book worse or not. BTW: The dad–assuming the one male adult in the book is the father of the children–didn’t help a bit with any of the cooking or chores. So much for gender stereotypes.

If you are not bothered by this failed attempt of normalization and don’t want to learn everything about the holiday from a children book intended for 4-9 year olds it is an amusing quick read.

Publisher’s description:

Hanukkah is a very busy time! Join the young rabbi as she makes festive preparations―spinning the dreidel, cooking a tasty meal, lighting the menorah, and more―in this cumulative, rhyming story reminding readers of the Hanukkah miracle of long ago! Learn about Hanukkah’s festivities and rituals, and about the Jewish holiday itself.

Disclaimer: I have received an electronic copy of this book from Kar-Ben Publishing, the publisher for review.

Year first published: 2020

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