Page 135 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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PRAGER / SHOLEM-ALEYKEM’S FIRST FEUILLETON SERIES
123
But even though he died at this most propitious time, he com­
plains that “Mayn toyt iz mir ober nit ayngegangen . . (But my
death didn’t please me at a l l . . .)9We then have a
Volpone
-like sit­
uation, where the protagonist observes his family’s callous
response to his death. Language is here a key element in the
humor in such expressions as “Kool fodert fun
mir
(italics
mine-L.P.) 2000 rubl kvure-gelt.” (The community is dunning
me for a burial fee of two thousand rubles). Reb Leybele in the
next world continues to see himself as a party to transactions
regarding his earthly remains. The motif of the extortionate
Khevre-kadishe
(burial society) appears here for the first time in
Sholem-Aleykhem’s works. It reappears later in the sixth letter
and in 1904 in the well-known story ‘Oylem-habe” (Eternal
Life)10
The deceased but still voluble Reb Leybele in
The Intercepted
Letters
starts out as an unreliable teller. His continued attachment
to time, matter and prestige is ridiculed. Thus, at this stage he can
hardly see “contemporary Jewish society . . . from the vantage
point of absolute objective truth as revealed to the soul after
death in the other world” (Miron)11. Reb Leybele’s pride suffers
any other time o f the year. Reb Leybele himself explains this: “Me geyt avek af
der emeser velt reyn, vi a toyb, vorem fun aveyres iz men shoyn gor reyn.”
(One departs for the next world as dean as a dove, for one has been cleansed
of all of his sins.) (p. 54).
9 Idem.
10 Rabinovitsh’s personal experiences surrounding his father-in-law’s funeral in
1885 may or may not have influenced his use o f the theme o f extortionate bur­
ial fees in
Oylem-habe
(1904). Ruth Wisse, in her penetrating analysis of the
story (in
Sholem Aleichem and the Art of Communication
(The B.G. Rudolph Lec­
tures in Judaic Studies, Syracuse University, March, 1979), writes that
Rabinovitsh is highly censorious o f the burial society and is satirizing it. I ques­
tion this view. Sholem-Aleykhem’s interest in the theme, as evidenced in
The
Intercepted Letters,
antedates his father-in-laws’s death. Note that
kool
(the com­
munity) wanted 100 rubles to bury Berele’s father. Berele resorted to the law
— which means he appealed to the Gentile authorities and went outside the
Jewish community — and three
gaboim
(wardens) went to jail.
11 Miron (p. 42) writes: “The author was using the correspondence of the mad­
man and the dead man to present his readers with a comprehensive satirical
view of contemporary Jewish society in its true colors, i.e. from the vantage
point o f absolute, objective truth as revealed to the soul after death in the
other world, which both in Hebrew and Yiddish is referred to as ‘the world o f
truth.’” The dead man Leybele is originally a knave. The more virtuous he
grows, the more tedious he becomes. Rabinovitsh finally abandons “the van­
tage point o f absolute, objective truth” for the more relative accounts of a band
o f reporters on the ground.