Jewish folklore is comprised of oral tradition, including fairy tales, legends, parables, sayings, riddles, jokes, songs and Purim plays (purimshpil), as well as music and dance.

Within Ashkenazic culture, folklore developed mostly in the Yiddish language, though there were some sayings and riddles in Hebrew. Written folklore is also typical for Jewish culture; these include the Torah, midrashim, apocryphas, and collections of legends and fairy tales.

Jewish folklore was also subject to outside influences, from Ancient Greek to Slavic, and adapted them to Jewish culture. Popular heroes included Moses; the prophet Elijah; tzaddikim such as Elimelech of Lezajsk; jesters and quick-witted characters, such as Hershele of Ostropol or Motke Ganev [Hebrew, "Motke the Thief"]; and the residents of the "cities of fools", such as Chelm or Lesko in Poland.
Particular to Jewish folklore are legends about the 36 "just ones" (lamed-vovnik); about the Ten Lost Tribes, living beyond the mythical Sambation River; numerous legends about the coming of the Messiah, and also about the Promised Land. Songs can be divided into religious ones that are sung during services and special rituals (such as nigun, zmirot), and secular ones for everyday occasions: lullabies and songs for children, as well as humorous, romantic and historical songs. They were accompanied by music with motifs from songs sung in the synagogue, as well as folk tunes, which had absorbed elements from the surrounding cultures. In central Poland, these included mazurkas and krakowiaki; in the eastern Kresy, these were Ukrainian, Moldavian and Turkish melodies, for example.

Dance in Jewish culture preserved many Mediterranean traits, (hora), both in terms of dance figures and gesticulation (circle dances, typical upraised palms, and small, intertwined steps). Jewish sayings, parables and riddles had their sources in religious texts (the Book of Proverbs in the Bible and the Talmud tract "The Parables of the Fathers", for example), as well as in the later teachings of rabbis and tzaddikim that had been written down. This is an important distinguishing feature of Jewish folklore as compared to Christian folklore, which for the most part is based on the oral tradition.
Some of these texts were an intermediate form between a saying and a joke. An example of this would be the full meaning of the saying nichnas yayin, yatsa sod [Hebrew, "the wine went in, the secret came out"], which is based on the fact that the words yayin [Hebrew, "wine"] and sod [Hebrew, "secret"] have the same numerical value � seventy (gematria). East European Jews also discovered the rebus, which has its origins in the brain teasers and exercises used in traditional religious schools.

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