Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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B
randw e in
—A
g no n
: A
l ienat ion
and
R
eturn
31
In a state of excitement and depression he orders dinner and
wine and becomes drunk, which results in all his money being
stolen. Menashe Chaim once again finds himself in the same
position as when he started on his way—poor, empty handed,
but still hopeful. He continues his struggle to collect, to ac-
cumulate—in order to return, to reestablish, to rejoin his wife.
Meanwhile the beggar who bought the letter of authorization
has died, and news of the death of the beggar, identified as
Menashe Chaim because of the letter found in his pocket, has
reached the hero’s city. Based upon this evidence, the Rabbi
decrees Kraindel a widow and proclaims Menashe Chaim dead,
while Menashe Chaim makes his way home. When he reaches
the city, he encounters another beggar who offers him a handful
of chick-peas from the “Shalom Zachar” feast, the Friday night
feast before the circumcision of Kraindel’s newborn baby—
Kraindel having remarried. Hearing this, Menashe Chaim runs
wild among the graves, falls on his face, his eyes to the ground,
glancing in the direction of Kraindel’s home, Kraindel, his wife.
What shall he do? He hears a voice from within: “Enter the
city and declare Kraindel to be living in shame and her son a
bastard.” If he fails to do so, it is an unforgivable sin. God has
forbidden him to remain silent. Yet he hears another voice from
within: “No! No! Menashe Chaim, in any event your wife is
now forbidden to you forever. How can you shame her so—
her, your Kraindel (your crown)? How can you proclaim her
son a bastard? How!” Menashe Chaim does not stay in the city.
Instead, he wanders from one graveyard to another, comes across
the very tombstone which his wife had prepared for the beggar
identified as Menashe Chaim, and finally merits the “levelling
of the rugged”—the tombstone on which his name had been
engraved is placed on the grave of the truly dead Menashe Chaim.
The rugged has been made level, all is straight, smooth, even.
At the very first analysis, this story reveals that the aura of
orthodox Jewish tradition does not prevail here. The good,
merciful God does not grant Menashe Chaim and Kraindel a
son while they live in piety and modesty, but instead grants it
to Kraindel and her new husband at a time when she lives with
him in sin and shame. Menashe Chaim, the pious and forth-
right, rebels against the world of Jewish tradition, enabling his
wife to live in what can only be considered by law to be guilt
and sin, and covering by his silence the presence of a bastard
in Israel.
Thus he accepts his tragic destiny. The storyteller, who ac-
companies Menashe Chaim on his journeys and identifies with
him, reveals the world of chaos which overrules the divine world,
the detachment and alienation which overpower the desire to
return and block every path to it. Faith and heresy, tragedy