Page 137 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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PRAGER / SHOLEM-ALEYKEM’S FIRST FEUILLETON SERIES
125
comic formula of the man who tells the truth and is disbelieved.
This situation has great comic potential, but Rabinovitsh uses it
mainly for maskilic social satire and mainly against Hasidim.
Miron finds in
The Intercepted Letters
“the softening of the anti-
traditional line”15. This needs qualification, since Hasidim in this
work are consistently pictured as debauched. However, as a tac­
tical concession to
klal-yisroel
(the Jewish community),
harping
on
this theme is discouraged. Reb Leybele writes to Reb Velvele: “I
have so much news to tell you that I don’t know where to begin. If
I were on earth now, I would publish a newspaper called
Truth
; I
have enough material for three years. You, dear Velvl, would be
my coworker. I would write news articles and stories, including
stories about the local stock exchange . . . and you, Velvl, would
write stories about Jewish life. But I beg you to leave the Hasidim
alone: ‘Leave the drunkard alone, he will fall by himself!’— they
are an affliction on the Jewish community, and it is not worth­
while at this time to open old wounds. You would do better to
observe other facets of Jewish life among the upper classes,
among uncovered heads and beardless faces. Perhaps you will
find more interesting material there . . .”16 Again we are
reminded of the journalistic mentality of the dramatis personae
in this series. Leybele’s program for himself and Velvele coin­
cides with Rabinovitsh’s actual choice of themes in his subsequent
literary career.
Just as the press seeks wider and more varied fields of cover­
age, so does the feuilleton form itself demand narrative freedom.
It is a medium in which anecdotes, short stories, dramatic
sketches, and other short forms are easily embedded. In his limbo
world, Leybele becomes a reporter who hears stories from new
15 Miron, p. 42.
16 In referring to the “gute-yidn” (hasidic leaders) Sholem-Aleykhem uses the
expression, “shavke leravyo dememeyle nofeyl.” The Aramic-origin expres­
sion is given in Avraham Even-Shoshan’s
Ha-Millon He-;hHadash
and in Reu­
ben Alcalay’s
The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary,
as “Shavkei leravyo
deminafshey nofeyl.” Alcalay’s translation is: ‘Do not try to convince an obsti­
nate man he is wrong, he will find out himself!’The Soviet text
(Ale verk,
Vol. 1,
p. 79) has
shavko
and
demimeylo.
The expression is from the talmudic tractate
Sabbath,
32b. In the third letter Reb Leybele reports his trial. The main point
of its maskilic moralizing is that orthodox ritual observances are worthless in
God’s eyes in the absence o f decent behavior. This, o f course, is Rabinovitsh’s
position. Though timely in its day, this material tends to bore today’s reader.