Page 136 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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124
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
after his death, when he is buried next to people of low prestige.
Rabinovitsh combines social satire and humor, indirectly evoking
shtetl society with its pecking order, here seen as stronger than
death. Leybele objects to being buried next to a non-observant
Maskil on one side and a bankrupt on the other — and to paying
two thousand rubles to boot! Reb Leybele wants to know
immedi­
ately wha t e ffec t
his will has had: Vos zogtdivelt (read: the Jews of
Finsternish) un vos tuen mayne kinder?”12 His interest in what
people will say takes precedence over what his children will do.
This dead commentator, in his first appearance, generates a
good deal of unconscious humor. Lying on the floor awaiting
burial, he thought: “Nor vos helft dos, az me ken zikh nit rirn fun
dem ort.” (What good is it if you can’t move from this place?)13
Language here magically dissolves the absolute fact of extinction
by focusing on the relative difficulty of moving. The humor of
the concluding sentences is not the work of a mere apprentice.
Reb Leybele writes “fun yener velt”: “Vos hert zikh af der birzhe
mit tsuker? Ka gazetn geyen aher nit, un me zet do nit ka lebedikn
menshn . . (How is sugar doing on the commodity exchange?
We don’t see newspapers here and we never get to see anybody
. . .)14. The otherworldly context literalizes the expression
lebe-
diker mentsh
(living person), which in normal usage simply means
‘a person’. Behind Leybele’s plaint we can imagine the author’s.
Whereas Hell has had its literary successes, Heaven is a notori­
ously intractable subject for writers. Leybele may have died
motse-
yin-kiper
(on the evening after the Day of Atonement), but he is, as
the
gabe
(warden) of the burial society has said, a
khazer
(a pig). He
doesn’t deserve Heaven and a humorist cannot put characters in
Hell, a very unfunny place. The solution will be to keep Leybele
in the limbo of
oylem-hatoye
(the vain world), but once he has had
his trial, he will be through as a source or subject of humor.
TELLING THE TRUTH
If the first letter of
The Intercepted Letters
exploited the mecha­
nism of the corpse observing his own funeral, the second, Reb
Velvele’s response to Reb Leybele, is based on the well-known
12
Ale verk,
1948, p. 57.
13 Idem, p. 56.
14 Idem, p. 58.