Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 10 (1951-1952)

Basic HTML Version

among the ghetto characters; but they were lovable rogues,
distinctive and colorful.
In the
King of the Schnorrers
, Zangwill reveals his love for a
magnificent faker whose
, fortified by verses from the
Torah, breaks down the stuffy and self-righteous tight-fistedness
of the rich Jews. Among the beggars, whose “woebegone air was
achieved almost entirely by not washing,” the “King” stands out.
His philosophy is that begging is noble because it gives Jews an
opportunity to perform a
So intent is he on raising their
moral level that he virtually persecutes them into giving charity —
to him. When Grobstock, the rich man, looks through his old
clothes to see whether anything was left in the pockets before
handing them over to the “King,” he is reviled in sermonic form.
“What says Deuteronomy? ‘When thou reapest thine harvest in
thy field and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go
again to fetch it. It shall be for the fatherless and for the widows/
You will admit that Moses would have added a prohibition against
searching minutely the pockets of cast-off garments, were it not
that for forty years our ancestors had to wander in the wilderness
in the same clothes . . .”
When a beau brummel gives him nothing, he shouts: “You
will make a third at grace. Since the world was created only
two men have taken their clothes with them to the world to come.
One was Korah who was swallowed down, and the other was
Elijah who was borne aloft. It is patent in which direction the
third will go.”
Zangwill clearly preferred the “King of the Schnorrers” to the
self-hating grandchild of the ghetto, whom he describes in a story
called “The Jewish Trinity” : “The Jew is a
and a
everywhere, and an
everywhere. Passionate
Hungarians, and true-born Italians, eagle-waving Americans and
loyal Frenchmen. We are dispersed to preach the unity, and
what we illustrate is the Jewish trinity.”
The failure of the grandchildren to understand the ghetto leads
to Zangwill’s second major theme, the tragedy of the generations.
In one of his most touching stories, “Transitional,” he deals with
the problem of intermarriage. A father, torn between his devotion
to Judaism and his daughter’s happiness, sacrifices his principles
for his child; she, recognizing his struggle, and his renunciation,
catches a glimpse of the heights to which true piety can raise
a man. In a letter to her fiance, bidding him farewell, she writes:
“If a religion that I thought all formalism is capable of prod-
ucing such types of abnegation as my dear father, then it must,