Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
one o f S inger’s most startling and shocking tales. I t utilizes and
exploits many sources o f Juda ism and Jewish cu ltural and reli­
gious habits. Singer shows us how yeshiva boys live, how and what
they study. He recreates a closed society and an old and un ique
way o f life. In to the pa tterns o f such a life, he th rusts sex, Les­
bianism and o the r suggestions o f perversity which, on the ir face,
seem unbelievable bu t which he forces us to accept.
Yentl, the daugh ter o f a learned Jew, had stud ied T o rah and
Ta lm ud with h e r father, who had wished she were a boy and who
once had said, “Yentl — you have the soul o f a m an .” T o which she
asks, “So why was I bo rn a woman?” H e r fa th e r replies, “Even
Heaven makes mistakes.” This is not an idle conversation, fo r its
theme is carried forward th roughou t this complex tale.
Following h e r fa the r’s dea th , Yentl undergoes a sexual and
psychological metamorphosis. She leaves h e r town, as a boy. She
had shed he r feminine garb and had assumed the clothing o f a
male. She travels — as a man — to ano the r town where she
declares herse lf to be a yeshiva student. No one challenges h e r
and , in effect, Yentl is now a male scholar. She studies with
Avigdor, an innocent young yeshiva boy, who does no t suspect
tha t he is dealing with a woman. T h e re is a complicated, tende r
and unfulfilled relationship between the two. O f course the re can
be no marriage between them — as they p resen t themselves to the
world. He eventually marries ano ther woman. With one o f the
grotesque tu rn s o f fo rtune we find often in Singer’s stories, Yentl
also marries — the innocent girl who had been destined fo r
Avigdor. How do they live toge ther as man and wife, this Yentl
and the virginal, unknow ing bride? Singer leaves it to his reade r
to imagine. Apparently, the new wife never discovers tha t h e r
husband is really ano ther female — which in itself suggests sexual
aberrations never met in Yiddish literature.
T he story is complicated, full o f plots and subplots, knotty and
always intriguing. It illustrates Singer’s fondness fo r almost im­
possible situations, depicted with seeming normalcy. T h e re al­
ways are underlying tensions in apparen tly “simple” tales, al­
though “Yentl” is far from simple.
In “T he Last Demon,” Singer weaves a sad and humorous
narrative which deals with the past yet has relevance to the de ­
struction o f the Jews o f Europe . T he n a r ra to r is a demon: “I, a
demon, bea r witness tha t th e re are no more demons left. Why
demons, when man himself is a demon? Why persuade to evil
someone who is already convinced? I am the last o f the persuad ­
ers.”