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A Delightful Compendium of Consolation:
A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure & Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean

by Burton L. Visotzky

"Delightful indeed! An enticing blend of scholarship and imagination. I couldn't put it down."
Maggie Anton, author of Rashi's Daughters

"Beguiling storytelling sorcery . . . Scheherazade crossed with A. B. Yehoshua . . . absolutely brilliant."
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Deborah, Golda, and Me—Being Female and Jewish in America

The year is 1031. Karimah, a beautiful, headstrong Jewish nineteen-year-old, runs away with her Muslim boyfriend, leaving her family behind in Egypt.

In his grief, her father, Dunash, turns to Rabbi Nissim, who writes A Delightful Compendium of Consolation, a series of rabbinical tales to comfort his friend. At the same time, Karimah writes her own letters, interspersed with stories she appropriates from the Arabian Nights, to her brother.

Masterfully blending historical fact—Rabbenu Nissim was an actual religious figure of the eleventh century whose stories of consolation were discovered in the Cairo Genizah, one of the most important historical discoveries of all time—with the fantastic fictional tales crafted by Karimah, Visotzky creates an impassioned portrayal of a time when Jews and Muslims lived together in reasonable harmony.

Visotzky has spent three decades teaching and researching the stories that make up his novel. A professor of rabbinic literature, his active role in Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue has taken him to Rome, Cairo, and Qatar,

 

 

From the Author
I began my story with a real person, Rabbenu Nissim, who lived in Kairawan (now Tunisia) in the 11h Century. Although a rabbinic legalist, he compiled what became a very popular compendium of fanciful rabbinic narratives. The notion that a renowned legalist would turn to narrative fascinated me. As I researched his life and works - much of which is available to us in manuscripts from the Geniza (old book depository) of the synagogue in Old Cairo - I decided the best way to tell the story of a story-teller was by writing a novel.

Following almost two years of scholarly research and travel to the countries described in the book, I began writing the novel in Summer, 2001, completing the first draft in December of that year. A Delightful Compendium Of Consolation, a book about Jews and Muslims living in harmony together, now stands as my reaction to the fateful day that took place in the middle of my writing.


About the Author
Burton L Visotzky serves as the Nathan and Janet Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he joined the faculty upon his ordination as Rabbi in 1977. He has served as the Associate and Acting Dean of the Graduate School (1991-96), as the founding Rabbi of the egalitarian worship service of the Seminary Synagogue, and as the director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS.

Prof. Visotzky has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University, a visiting fellow and life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, as well as a visiting faculty member at Princeton Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, and the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow. Dr. Visotzky is also Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York. In Spring '04 he was Visiting Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies at Princeton University. In Spring '07, he served as the Master Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Dr. Visotzky received his B.A. with honors and highest distinction from the University of Illinois (Chicago), a Masters in Education from Harvard University, and his M.A., Rabbinic ordination, and Ph.D., and D.H.L. (hon.) from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Prof. Visotzky's articles and reviews have been published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of eight books. Visotzky's popular volumes include: Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text (1991), The Genesis of Ethics: How the Tormented Family of Genesis leads us to Moral Development (1996), The Road to Redemption: Lessons from Exodus on Leadership and Community (1998), and From Mesopotamia to Modernity: Ten Introductions to Jewish History and Literature (1999).

With Bill Moyers, he developed ten hours of television for PBS on the book of Genesis, serving as consultant and a featured on-screen participant. The series, "Genesis: A Living Conversation," premiered in October, 1996. Visotzky was also a consultant to Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks for their 1998 film, "Prince of Egypt".

Visotzky is active in Jewish/Christian/Muslim dialogue internationally, in capitals such as Warsaw, Rome, Cairo, and Doha, Qatar.

Rabbi Visotzky is active as a lecturer and scholar-in-residence throughout North America, Europe, and Israel. His study groups and books have been hailed on radio, television, and in print. He is married to an attorney, Sandra Edelman. They make their home in New York City and Kent, Connecticut.

 


      


      

Maggie Anton, author of Rashi's Daughters
"Delightful indeed! An enticing blend of scholarship and imagination. I couldn't put it down."

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Deborah, Golda, and Me" Being Female and Jewish in America
"Beguiling storytelling sorcery . . . Scheherazade crossed with A. B. Yehoshua . . . absolutely brilliant."

Mark R. Cohen, author of Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages
" A 'delightful' historical novel, capturing the spirit of this dynamic period: A tale of merchants and scholars, of families, rabbis and students - real and imagined."

Jewish Book World, Summer 2008
The title says it all. Burton Visotzky has taken fragments from the Cairo Geniza, added material from the Midrash and other Hebrew sources, plus a sprinkling of Arabian Nights and created a wonderful historical novel of love and intrigue. It’s a coming-of-age tale of a brother and sister, set against the rise of Jewish fortune and influence under Moslem rule. Beautiful Karimah runs away with a Moslem youth. Her father sits shivah; Rabbi Nissim writes to console the family. These letters form the Compendium of the title. Karimah travels the Mediterranean; her letters to her brother are the Fabulous Adventure part. Brother and sister both eventually learn to accept responsibility, make informed decisions, take charge of their own lives, etc.

Eleventh century Judaism is portrayed as a cheerful miasma of sects and subsects; as is the Islam of the day. There are various paths to the sacred, and secular life as well. Each marketplace, sea voyage, caravan, or political intrigue comes alive through Visotsky’s brilliant writing. Medieval history, geography, and teachings of renowned Jewish thinkers are seamlessly woven into a rich tapestry. This book is Delightful, indeed. Glossary, map, notes.

Assocation of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
Marion M. Stein, A. J. Heschel High School, New York, NY
Dr. Burton Visotzky has written a thoroughly engaging epistolary novel based on documents found in the Cairo Geniza.
He skillfully weaves together actual texts found there with midrashim that were often embedded in the letters from the period and pure fiction. It is not possible to tell where one element ends and the next begins, and this is perhaps the most noteworthy part of this book. The author tells a very exciting story about a family from old Cairo—their business, their family and the events of the period. One of the main characters is the 19-year-old daughter, who runs off with a Muslim companion. It is her journey and adventures that form the main plot of the story. Her relations with her family back home and the many talents and skills that she has and must employ are an important part of the narrative.

As the story unfolds, the reader is made aware of many facts of Mediterranean Jewish life during the high Middle Ages. These episodes, based on information from the Geniza documents, will appeal to adult and young adult readers. The novel would also be a fine addition to any course in medieval Jewish history, allowing for many ways of integrating Torah with geography, history, and literature. I highly recommend this book for all school and synagogue collections.

 

 

 

 

 

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