Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

Basic HTML Version

e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
need not be Jewish to believe it or to live it. And is it not of
the nature of human situations that in order to be honest one
sometimes must be other than “good,” or to do what is “right”
one must sometimes fall short of being honest?
I t may be argued that Morris is, after all, an unlearned man.
But the rabbi who delivers the eulogy at Morris’s funeral seems
to be as confused as Morris. He asserts that in spite of his absten-
tion from the required practices of Judaism, Morris Bober “was
to me a true Jew because he lived in the Jewish experience, which
he remembered, and with the Jewish heart. . . . He was true to
the spirit of our life—to want for others that which he wants also
for himself. He followed the Law which God gave to Moses on
Sinai . . .” Like Morris, the rabbi seems to believe in the golden
rule. Morris did not keep the Sabbath, nor the dietary laws; none-
theless, this rabbi concludes that Morris “followed the Law which
God gave to Moses on Sinai . . . ” I am not arguing either for or
against strict legalism here. Rather, I simply want to underline
the absurdity of the rabbi’s position in first showing his awareness
of Morris’s “deviant” behavior and then insisting that Morris
followed the Law. Both Morris and the rabbi cling to what may
be called sentimental cliches of Jewishness: a true Jew has a
“Jewish heart.” Moreover, this sentimentalism is pervasive in the
book, in the sense that Morris’s suffering, which is supposed to be
the definitive characteristic of his Jewishness, is only peripherally
related to it. Let us grant that Morris is a Jewish man who suffers;
still, he does not suffer
his Jewishness. His Jewishness is aside
from his suffering. For example, he does not observe Jewish holi-
days because, in his own words, “Sometimes . . . to have to eat,
you must keep open on holidays.” He puts economic necessity
above the commandments of the Law he so ardently espouses
(“. . . If a Jew don’t suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing.”)
Morris, then, suffers not because he is a Jew, but because he is
the victim of an economic system. He does not suffer for the
Mosaic Law which he can choose to obey or disobey but because
of economic laws beyond his control.
There are those who feel that in his novel
The Fixer
has found the objective correlative he needed to portray Jewish
suffering in all its fullness. I happen not to be one of them. A
central weakness in the novel is Malamud’s inability to find lan-
guage adequate to convey the experience of a Jew being persecuted
in Russia. The syntactic inversions that work so brilliantly for
his American Jews fall flat when transferred to the East European
hamlet, as for example Bok’s statement to his father-in-law: “To-
rah I had little of and Talmud less. . . .״״ Presumably, this is a
simple villager speaking Yiddish, not Brooklynese. Yet, the state-
ment sounds more like a mangling of Ben Jonson describing
Shakespeare. If, however,
The Fixer
is indeed Malamud’s greatest