What Is Midrash?

Several classic PJ Library picture books and podcast episodes are based on midrash, Jewish wisdom tales. You may be wondering but what is midrash exactly? What role does it play in sharing Jewish stories? And how do we explain it to kids?

The practice of writing stories about biblical figures is called midrash. Traditionally midrash has been used to interpret a story in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), fill in narrative gaps, or help fill in a backstory. Midrash creates backstories for biblical characters, fills in logical gaps in the plotline, and explains unlikely turns of events. Learn more with the following stories, activity, and article:

Read And Listen

The following PJ Library stories are based on midrash:

The Clever Thief

Two people and a donkey

The Donkey and the Garden
by Devora Busheri

Akiva the shepherd is forty years old, and is still illiterate. In a creative way, his wife, Rachel, helps him overcome his embarrassment, and join a group of children as they learn to read and write.

Five kids and a dragon foot

Five Brave Knights vs. the Dreadful Dragon
by Netalie Gvirtz

Five brave knights (er, five energetic children) compete to determine which of them is the bravest and strongest of them all. But their mother has a clever challenge for them about what it truly means to be powerful. Will the five brave knights figure it out? Maybe, if they put their heads together! This story, based on a classic Jewish teaching, will resonate with kids everywhere - and their parents.

Lots of people gathered around a mountain

The Littlest Mountain
by Barb Rosenstock

When God decides to speak to people from a mountaintop and give them laws to follow, the mountains vie for the privilege. Which one will be chosen?

A person on the side of a hill

Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim
by Deborah Bodin Cohen

As the Israelites rush to leave Egypt after being freed from slavery, young Nachshon is the first to brave the water that must be crossed, even though he is afraid to take the plunge.

Og Goes Rogue

A kid holding an open box

The World Needs Beautiful Things
by Leah Rachel Berkowitz

When the Israelite slaves leave Egypt and head into the desert, young Bezalel keeps noticing beautiful things along the way -- a stone here, a feather there. He starts collecting the lovely things he finds even though no one else think they're of any use. But soon they will become very useful indeed.

A kid on a tractor in a corn field

Yitzi, The Trusty Tractor
by Naomi Shulman

Sarah gets a lot of work done with the help of her trusty tractor, Yitzi. And every Friday night they rest in the fields together to enjoy Shabbat. When times get tough, Sarah has to sell Yitzi. Luckily her neighbor, Farmer Ruthie, buys him -- but what happens when Yitzi wants to power down for Shabbat and Ruthie wants to keep working?


Make your own midrash! Encourage your children to take a crack at writing midrash - think about a character in a story they love, and then write a new story about that character. Maybe Og the giant goes on a new adventure - or Yitzi the tractor visits a new farm - have fun creating a new story from one that your family already knows well.


What is Midrash via My Jewish Learning