Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
His Hasidic Stories and Folk Tales
Peretz touched the very heavens, “if not higher,” in his Has-
sidic stories and folk tales. The crisis in Jewish existence did not
abate in passivity and quiescence. It gave rise to new movements
and opened up new horizons and possibilities. Several genera­
tions of Jews with superlative idealism and courage were pro­
duced—the Hirsh Leckerts and Naftali Botwins of the socialist
who were ready to lay down their lives for the freedom of
all in Czarist Russia and surely for the dignity and rights of
their own sisters and brothers, and the Zionist
reclaimed with the sweat of their brows and the marrow of their
bones the soil of the ancient land for the establishment of a
modern state. The crisis took on another form, no longer of grief
and despair but of hope and joy and confidence in its favorable
It was in this mood of trust and in this atmosphere of idealism
that Peretz wrote his Hassidic stories and folk tales. He was
speaking as a contemporary to his generations; he was seeking,
as in his “Transmigrations of a Melody,” the appropriate
for his time. He was too sophisticated and too honest to set up
a cult of neo-Hassidism or to engage in an esthetic Hassidism.
Too sensitive to the cumulative melody of history to sever the
present from the past, he grasped the paradox that men cannot
have wings unless they also have roots. He turned to Hassidism
not for its letter, its
but for its light, its
nor for its
Yerusholayim shel matah
but for its
Yerusholayim shel maalah.
More accurately, he prized it for its longing to infuse the
to weave strands of
Yerusholayim shel maalah
Yerusholayim shel matah,
to relate the “transcendental” to the
temporal process (in this sense only was Hassidism “pantheistic”),
and to do so by stressing holiness as a quality of daily living, as
a spark, a
of the divine in man. It was this passion to
incorporate the “transcendental” in the temporal process, to
educe the divine spark in every man, that constituted for Peretz
the bond between the Hassidism of the past, prior to its “secular”
infiltration (the insidious effect of ambition, envy and rivalry
for power, prestige, and income), and his own generations.
In the earlier story “Dos Shtraiml” religion is bereft of holi­
ness; the
the fur-hat, is the mark of authority, and
religion is its servant in willing accomodation to the status quo.
But in “Three Gifts,” the
skullcap of the old Jew
who is compelled in some medieval town to run the gauntlet,
is not the negation of holiness but its exemplification and epi­
tome. As the old Jew, bleeding from wounds inflicted by soldiers
lashing him with their whips, reaches the end of the row, he
notices that his skullcap has fallen off and instantly without