Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
64
This is a sample of Kaminer’s parodies. But it could have been
written by Rosenzweig. There was a difference, of course, between
Hebrew parodists in the Old World and the Hebrew parodist in
the New World. The Hebrew writers in Russia concentrated their
verbal attacks on social injustice. Gerson Rosenzweig ridiculed
and castigated essential aspects of Jewish life in America: the
greenhorn with his uncouth manners and awkward gestures, the
peddler, the
Melammed,
the rabbi. And the barb was sharp,
pointed, poisoned—like an Indian arrow.
The peddler was his
bete noire.
This favorite occupation of the
greenhorn—springboard to future fortune and graveyard of hopes
—he castigated with pitiless abandon. In poetry he bewailed his
lot, in prose he laughed at his shortcomings. In the classic form
of the Talmud—in a brief
Mishnah,
followed by a long
Gemara
and by supporting biblical texts—he presented the portrait of
the profession.
Mishnah:
What does a peddler go out with? With a basket
and a sack and a coffer and a valise and a chest. . .
Gemara:
Our Rabbis have taught: a greenhorn who has spent
seven days in this country and does not know how to earn a
living is helped to become a peddler. How? Friends buy him
a basket and a bit of merchandise. They reveal to him the
mysteries of peddling. They tell him: go from door to door.
And they bless him twice: Blessed art thou in thy going out
and blessed art thou in thy coming in. Blessed art thou in thy
going out—that the rogues may not harm him. And blessed art
thou in thy coming in—that his coming shall be as his going
out. If he succeeds he bends his shoulder to carry bundles of
merchandise like a large-boned ass. If he does not succeed, his
basket wastes away and he becomes a worker, for it is writ-
ten (Genesis 49:14) :
And he bowed his shoulder to bear and
became a servant under taskwork
.
It was said: They reveal to him the mysteries of peddling.
What are they? Said the Master of Peddling: there are two
mysteries: any customer who pays the peddler what he owes him
is a perfect saint and any peddler who pays the storekeeper what
he owes him is a perfect saint . . .
The unsuccessful peddler becomes a tutor. This is the second
link in a chain of metamorphoses. “Jewish women have pity on a
peddler who has been proven unfit or a worker who has been
disqualified. They engage him as Hebrew teacher for their
children. For teaching Hebrew in America is neither an art nor
a science . . . ”
There is a third link: peddler turned author. “He who writes a
Hebrew book in America or comes here with his book from
Europe is a madman . . . If David, king of Israel, who has only
scribbled a few unnecessary signs was thought to be mad (1