Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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RIBALOW / DEVILS, JEWS AND I. B. SINGER
15
abom ination in Frampol and even silver was looked at askance.”
T he devil had conquered Frampol.
Many o f Singer’s themes are to be found in this exceptional
tale: love and lust, sexuality and its a ttendan t orgies; the devil in
the guise o f a handsome, attractive man; crowd madness and, o f
course, the other-worldliness which recurs so frequently in Sing­
e r ’s work. In addition, o f course, it is a g ripp ing narrative, skill­
fully handled .
MORE DEMONS
In his collection,
The Spinoza o f Market Street,
Singer does not
ex tend his range bu t deepens it. Ag^in, his world is full o f devils.
His scholarly Jews fall u n d e r Satan’s spell and his men and women
are driven by sexual passion. T h e mood o f the volume is ex­
pressed most vividly in a b r ie f parable entitled “Shiddah and
Kuziba.”
Shiddah is an evil spirit. H e r body “was made o f cobwebs; her
hair reached to h e r anklebones; h e r feet were like those o f a
chicken; and she had the wings o f a bat.” H e r son Kuziba resem­
bled his mother, bu t also had “donkey’s ears and wax horns.”
They are hiding in the n e ther regions, bu t man may soon discover
the ir home. “Whatarc hum an beings, mother?” Kuziba asks. And
she replies, “They’re the waste o f creation, offal; where sin is
brewed in a kettle, man is the foam. Man is the mistake o f God.”
While this may sound melodramatic (and many readers may be
offended by such “talk”), it is often true tha t Singer believes tha t
man is a “mistake,” tha t life on ea rth is casual and without mean­
ing. Often enough , however, he discloses tha t he believes th e re is
a God, a plan and meaning o f life. T he re is ju s t enough paradox
in his outlook, in his world-view to keep the read e r o ff balance
and continuously in trigued — which is the mark o f a good
storyteller.
Om itting all others, I should like to complete this study by
discussing two stories which could only have been written by a
Jew. Like so many o f his stories and novels, they are uniquely his
and unlike any stories in all o f Jewish — and surely, in Yiddish —
literature.
One o f the stories is “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,”20 in some ways'
20 In another form, “Yentl” simplified and vulgarized, became a Broadway play.