Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
but to a limited degree. This zany persona is a long way from what
he was later to become. Dan Miron has written that “The ‘super­
natural’machinery . . . enabled the author to develop the charac­
teristics of his persona,” but the Sholem-Aleykhem persona
fails
to develop in
The Intercepted Letters
6. Moreover, Rabinovitsh him­
self progressively abandoned the supernatural framework.
NEGLECTED SERIES
To the best of my knowlege, nobody has yet described, much
less analyzed,
The Intercepted Letters.
The perfunctory references
to the series that one finds here and there tell us very little. These
feuilletons are an experimental workshop where we find the
monolog, the dramatic sketch, the secular sermon, the short
story, the gossip column, the epistolary genre and more7. The
series as a whole may be weak, but has many of good things.
Moreover, it helps us to understand the life and art of Sholem
Rabinovitsh
before
the Sholem-Aleykhem persona was fully devel­
oped. And, especially, it brilliantly illuminates the innovation
called
gazetn
in late-nineteenth-century Eastern European Yid­
dish culture.
Early in his career Rabinovitsh learned to tap humor from
disaster and crisis. Death and the family drama provide the sub­
stance for the first of
The Intercepted Letters.
Reb Leybele writes to
his good friend, Reb Velvele, in Finsternish: “Iz den do af der velt
nokh aza glik vi shtarbn motse-yin-kiper?” (Can anyone be
luckier than to die on the evening after the Day of Atonement?)8.
6
Miron, Dan.
Sholem-Aleykhem: Person, Persona, Presence,
New York: YIVO Insti­
tute o fJewish Research, 1972, p. 42 (+ Uriel Weinreich Memorial Lecture 1),
( + Miron).
7 Rabinovitsh’s chief source for the device of communication between the living
(who in this case is presumed to be mad) and the dead was contemporary
Hebrew writing. Moshe Leib Lilienblum for example (who is alluded to in the
suppressed ninth letter), was the author o f
Mishnat Elisha Ben-Avuyah
where
there is communication with a dead person via a letter from the other world.
Miron (p. 42) writes: “There was nothing new about the author’s choice o f this
satirical technique. Both the dead and the allegedly insane as truth-tellers are
as old as satire itself. Anti-traditional satire in nineteenth-century Yiddish and
Hebrew literature employed these conventional figures
ad nauseam .
. .”
8
Ale verk,
1948, Vol. 1, p. 54. On the evening after the Day o f Atonement one is
cleansed o f one’s last year’s sins and has not yet had a chance to commit any
sins during the new year, thus being more worthy of a seat in paradise than at