By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Maiseh, (or maaseh in Hebrew) is Yiddish for a story. Its best known when conjoined with the Yiddish word for grandma in the phrase bubbamaiseh, meaning a folktale of doubtful veracity (though my grandmother, if shes reading, should not take this as in any way impugning the truthfulness of her stories).

The Hebrew maaseh literally means act or deed, and comes from the word for making or doing. Maaseh Bereishit is the story or act of Creation.

A maaseh shhayah means a story that really happened. The great Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon (1888-1970) begins many of his short fictions with those words.

It is interesting that a story is synonymous with doing.

In a culture based on the Bible, which is long on narrative and short on description, stories are primarily accounts of acts rather than of flabby introspection.

In the Talmud a maaseh has the force of a legal argument. A story recording the deed of a famous rabbi may be cited to support a halachic argument in favour of that action.

The rabbinic emphasis on the value of action is further accentuated by the talmudic phrase for spiritual giants, anshei maaseh, literally meaning people of deeds.

Last updated: 12:33pm, March 6 2009