This lovely collection of 26 stories, first published in 1891 in Mannheim Germany, is finally available in a new English translation. Most are accompanied by illustrations reproduced from the original text. Each tale is from a different country or region and together they provide a wonderful cross-section of Jewish life at the end of the 19th century.
"Bessure Towe" (Good News!) is the story of how a unfortunate man (a Prosteck) wins a dowery for his daughter through his faith in the Talmud.
"Rabbi Abdon" is about a elderly scholar and his son, who is more interested in farming than study.
In "Lewana," Nahum Bukarest wants to get from Belgrade to Constantinople. He meets a beautiful woman who offers him passage on her father's ship but gives him much more than he bargained for.
"The Meal Of The Pious" tells the story of Adolf Tigerson, the official clown of the Jewish community in Lindenberg, and his happy married life with a pretty and clever woman. This story is a fine example of "the wisdom of a fool."
"David And Abigail" tells the story of a Jewish soldier returning to his village from the Danish army after a war is over decorated with a medal in the form of a cross for bravery. This leads to a discussion in the synagog as to whether a Jew can wear a cross and remain devout.
"Shimmel Knofeles" is actually a story about how his beautiful wife outwits a Polish suitor who won't take "no" for an answer.
"The Bookbinder From Hort" is my favorite story. About a bookbinder who reads every book he binds, and to whom WORK WAS HIS PRIDE AND READING HIS HAPPINESS.
"Galeb Jekarim" is a Talmud scholar who decides to walk to Jerusalem.
"How Slobe Gets Her Sister Married" tells the story of a young woman who must find a spouse for her older sister in order to get married.
"Mrs. Leopard" tells the story about how a Jewish widow takes revenge on the town's outspoken anti-Semite.
"Handsome Kaleb" is a spoiled and vain young man who seeks to marry well. This story tells how he finds his rich bride.
"Praise Be God, Who Gave Us Death!" tells of the last days of ancient Father Menachem. A wonderful presentation of Jewish death and burial practices.
"Sholem Aleichem" tells of a young man who goes to the United States to get his family out of debt.
"Machsheve" is about a rich but superstitious merchant who overcomes his fears to save his son.
"The Angel Of Death" has a wonderful dialog between an ascetic man and a moderate Jewish woman.
"Haman and Esther" tells how a play at a festival brings together unlikely lovers.
"Deliverance" is the story of a young woman who is wasting away because of a forbidden love.
"The Tragedy In Rose Lane" is a Jewish version of Romeo and Juliet.
"Kitty Parsley" is the story of a woman who gains inner strength through confronting adversity. Here we see Sacher-Masoch's use of fur garments to show a woman's self esteem.
In "The False Thaler" a counterfeit coin helps a man win his love's hand.
In "The Two Doctors" scientific medicine confronts faith healing.
"The Iliad of Pultoff" relates a struggle between the tzaddik leader of the local Chassidim and a worldly Jewish woman.
"The Story Of the Roman Matron" is a fable about a woman who marries her 1,000 slaves randomly to each other with disastrous consequences. The moral of the tale is that marriage is more than just law.
"Thou Shalt Not Kill" shows how the word "Jew" was used as an insult in society and what it really meant to be a Jew.
"Bear And Wolf" tells how two feuding families reconcile during Yom Kippur.
"Two Kinds Of Nobility" is the last story in the book. It shows how the Jewish tradition honors intelligence and talent as much as wealth.
There is an "Afterword" by the translator, Dr. Virginia Lewis, in which she discusses how the author, a non-Jew, came to know the Jewish community and to write these stories. A "Bibliography" at the end of the book lists 14 German-language books of Jewish stories written by Sacher-Masoch. In the last 100 years only one other has been translated into English, A Light For Others And Other Jewish Tales From Galicia. Jewish Life compares well with this other book and both are recommended to readers interested in stories of 19th century Jewish culture. The stories in Jewish Life are shorter than those in A Light For Others and simpler in construction, yet they reveal much insight into life in the Jewish communities of the time.