||Yiddish Mayse Bukh. Popular and much reprinted collection of stories and folk tales here organized by Eliezer Faver.This edition is set in two columns in square vocalized letters. The traditional Ma'aseh Book (Mayse Bukh) "Book of Stories") is a vast anonymous collection of stories and folktales, jests and merry tales, legends and oral traditions handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and later recorded in writing in Yiddish. The book contains much of the talmudic aggadah and Midrash translated into the vernacular and copied and recopied by various writers who also adapted and Judaized material from other literatures. The Ma'aseh Book was first published in Basle in 1602 under the title Ayn Shoyn Mayse Bukh by Jacob b. Abraham of Mezhirech (also known as Jacob Pollak), who is known to have been a compiler of religious textbooks, printer, publisher, and bookseller. The Ma'aseh Book with its 254 (the Basle edition with 255) stories was compiled in the latter part of the 16th century, certainly not before 1580, the year when the book "Kaftor va-Ferah" by the mystic Jacob Luzzatto was published in Basle and from which the author of the Ma'aseh Book borrowed several stories to supplement his collection. However, it is clear that much of the narrative lore contained in the book was handed down from generation to generation before this time; extant manuscripts of Yiddish Mayses ("stories") bear witness to a lively and continuous productivity in the field of creative narrative traditions. The Ma'aseh Book is part of the folk-literature in Yiddish designed for the use of the ordinary man and woman untutored in the holy language and its literature. Hence, its author uses a simple style and language. The book aims to provide a substitute for the widely circulated popular secular literature of the period, which the compiler of the Ma'aseh Book, like many others before him, considered ungodly. His collection, intended to replace this literature and provide a new kind of an "aggadah in the vernacular," is permeated with a spirit of piety to strengthen the reader's faith.
The ma'aseh corresponds to the Christian exemplum and serves to teach conduct and ethical principles, and also to provide entertainment for the masses. As such the Ma'aseh Book follows the example of numerous medieval Hebrew collections designed to inculcate a moral dictum by way of a narration. It thus had a powerful influence on the didactic literature in Old-Yiddish of the time. The moral of the story was usually appended at the end of the tale and concluded with the hope for an early arrival of the Messiah. But even the pious compiler of the Ma'aseh Book could not entirely resist the trend of his time, and had to make some concessions to the popular taste by including various anecdotes, merry tales and fabliaux, often in keeping with the Italian or French conte and the German collections, with their licentious, sometimes satirical tone. The author drew profusely on extraneous sources, altering the plot or its characters where possible and adapting the tale to suit the Jewish feeling. In this rich collection oriental themes mingle with Western material, and midrashic stories with legendary lore. Between the first edition of Basle in 1602 and the year 1763, 12 subsequent editions were published. Even in the 19th century several shorter and modernized versions of the Ma'aseh Book were published. The popular Ma'aseh Book nourished to a great extent the ethical literature in Yiddish and served as a model for similar collections which were later composed and incorporated in the folk-literature.
The Ma'aseh Book consists of three parts. The main section is devoted to stories from Talmud and Midrash, drawn from the Ein Ya'akov. The second contains a cycle of 27 legends and narrative traditions centered around R. Samuel and his son R. Judah he-Hasid (the "Pious"), the great mystics of medieval Germany, and the authors of the "Sefer Hasidim." These stories early entered the oral stream and were later recorded in Hebrew as well as in Yiddish. The third part consists of a variety of narrative material: medieval stories about Rashi, Maimonides, and the story of the Jewish pope.