Review: In the Market of Zakrobat

In the Market of Zakrobat

by Ori Elon, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt

Green Bean Books, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz

The plot of In the Market of Zakrobat will likely be familiar to many Jewish readers. It’s based on a the much-told story of Yosef Moker Shabbos, which itself is based on a tale from the Talmud. The author’s name might also be familiar. Ori Elon co-created the popular Israeli TV show/Netflix series Shtisel, and he brings the same winning combination of deep Jewish rootedness and up-to-date storytelling sensibility to this delightful picture book. 
Stingy Baltosar lives alone, hoarding his chests of gold coins. His impoverished neighbor Yosef so cherishes Shabbat that he spends his few pennies purchasing the finest foods to welcome the Sabbath. When Baltosar dreams that his coins are running away to Yosef’s hut, he trades them all for a single diamond, which he sews into the lining of his hat. The hat falls into the Euphrates River, leaving Baltosar a pauper. A fish swallows the diamond. Yosef buys the fish, and Baltosar’s nightmare becomes Yosef’s dream come true.
Elon sets his tale in ancient Babylon, where it was first told. His lively, sometimes-silly storytelling is well matched by Menahem Halberstadt’s colorful art, which is cartoonish but never crass. People are depicted with varying skin tones, hair types, and styles of dress, reflecting the ethnic diversity of a place that was an international crossroads. This choice brings extra meaning to the final illustration, in which Yosef and his daughter use their new-found wealth to welcome Shabbat with a particularly sumptuous feast, shared by a diverse group of friends.  

The story, which opens by mentioning the Gemara, is thoroughly Jewish. The lesson about the mitzvah of honoring Shabbat is crystal clear, but never explicitly stated as a lesson. Restoring the much-told tale to its Babylonian source is a welcome touch, and Elon and Halberstadt's light-hearted treatment will appeal to today’s readers, whether they’re hearing the story for the hundredth time, or the first.
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Reviewer Ruth Horowitz is the author of SAVING ELI'S LIBRARY, ARE WE STILL FRIENDS, CRAB MOON, and other children's books.