‘The first short stories ever written were of course Jewish short stories.’ The confident, if controversial, claim of the British Jewish writer Gerda Charles (born Edna Lipson) posits the historical Jewish affinity with the short story. What she has in mind are the biblical stories of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39) and the books of Ruth and Esther. In a similar vein, Joseph Leftwich charts the Jewish narrative tradition as a tradition of the short story through legends, fables and parables from the Bible to the Talmud and Rabbinic literature to more recent folk tales and, eventually, the Jewish contribution to the cultural production of the modern nations in languages other than Hebrew or Yiddish.
The focus of this chapter is on the British Jewish short story in English, which in the past has suffered a surprising lack of recognition. There is, to date, no comprehensive anthology, though there have been various attempts in the Anglophone world at anthologizing Jewish short stories. In order to gain a sense of the development of the British Jewish short story and its place in the larger context of English (or perhaps better Anglophone) and Jewish literature it is therefore useful to explore its manifestation in some such collections which are, after all, dedicated to categorization and, at least implicitly, to the negotiation of a canon.
Anthologies, by their very nature, need to define criteria of inclusion and exclusion which extend beyond the question of literary quality. Seen in a comparative historical perspective, such collections accordingly chart shifts in the approach to Jewish secular writing pre- and post-Holocaust, from its emergence in the middle of the nineteenth century to (almost) the present day. Significantly, as such they suggest a trajectory of the global evolution of the Jewish short story while simultaneously indicating, more specifically, patterns of the perception of British Jewish short stories in changing contexts. Indeed, it is possible to discern two putative phases of anthologizing British Jewish short stories in the Anglophone world, which negotiate between these two parameters.
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