Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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white man could of their unique rhythms and outlook. He
molded this raw, poetic material into a series of lyric and ballad­
like works which he eventually published under the title
In the
of Cush.5
Biblical stories were often the background on which the folk­
lore material was superimposed, refashioned to meet current
needs and express by example the abstract ideals. The reinter­
preted facts furnished an updated lesson relevant to the time
and suffering of the black man.
“Israel in Shittim”6 is an example of one such updated relevant
midrash. The negro preacher retells the story of the Children of
Israel in the wilderness in terms meaningful to his flock. The
passage in Numbers 25 is a bland narrative of the people’s
whoring with the daughters of Moab. By contrast, the negro
preacher lays it on the line and tells it how it seemed to him.
The Israelites had been lured into saloons to get drunk, shoot
dice, play cards and fall for the pretty girls. The dice turn out
to be loaded, the cards marked, and the pretty girls mere prosti­
tutes selling services. Meantime, back at the encampment, the
sheep remain unmilked, the manna uncollected, and the families
and the Lord unattended.
Preachments and warnings of dire punishments to come by
Aaron and Eleazar are ineffective. Phinehas, Eleazar’s son, comes
up with a definite solution to the problem. He organizes the
ladies into a forerunner of the Women’s Temperance League
a la
Carry Nation’s style. The “gals” do a bang-up job with axes
and hammers on the bars and saloons, adding a special touch of
their own: Armed with razor blades, they slash their way to the
right among the whores and to the left among their faithless
menfolk. The latter, chastened and bleeding, are dragged off
tentward, all the more sober and wiser for the bloodletting.
The Faustian theme is adapted and exploited for homiletical
purposes in the story of Jacob’s struggle with a stranger (Exodus
32:25 ff.), entitled “And A Man Wrestled With Him.”7 The
stranger plies Jacob with a special brand of liquor called “moon­
shine” to put Jacob in the proper mood for being misled. Jacob
is worried about the meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning
5 Ephraim Lisitsky,
Be-Oholey Cush
(Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1953).
p. 96 ff.
p. 104 ff.