Page 186 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

Basic HTML Version

1 7 8
Paradise, and you know how that ended up. Then nothing for six
thousand years” (p. 31). He alludes as well to the age o f
Methusaleh and to the story of the Ten Plagues. More impor­
tantly, he even “remembers” the Jews’ reactions at the time of the
Mendel reveals that he can no longer believe in God. He is,
however, constantly besieged by an uncontrollable urge to pray to
the God in whom he no longer believes. Blessings are constantly
on his lips. For example, he recites and explains the blessing for
“the variation of the aspect of his creatures” (p. 112) said in the
presence of giants and dwarfs. He acknowledges the power of the
God in whom he no longer believes by reciting the “miracles bless­
ing”: “Blessed be Thou, o Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who hast made for us a miracle in this place” (p. 179). Mendel’s
most protracted, most obscure, and most complex allusion has to
do with women. Even his sexual desire has biblical and rabbinic
resonances. His ambiguous feelings for Line, the heroine, are
described as follows by Levi, who does not fail to note that Line,
too, has a “way”:
Her ways were different from those o f other women, Jews or not,
that Mendel had encountered in the past. She showed no reticence
or false modesty, she didn’t playact or have whims; but when she
talked to someone, she moved her face close to his, as if to observe
his reactions intently; often she would place her strong little hand,
with its gnawed nails, on the shoulder or arm of the person facing
her. Was she aware o f the feminine charge in this gesture o f hers?
Mendel felt it deeply and was not surprised that Leonid followed
Line like a dog following his master. It was an effect o f long absti­
nence perhaps, but Mendel, when he observed Line, was
reminded of Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, and the other tempt­
resses of Talmudic legend. . . . Michal, who fascinated all who saw
her; Jael, the fatal partisan o f her time, who had driven a nail
through the temple o f the enemy general, but who seduced all men
with the mere sound o f her voice. Abigail, the sensible queen, who
seduced anyone who thought o f her. But Rahab was superior to
them all; a man who simply uttered her name spilled his seed
immediately, (pp. 129-130)
What is Jewish about the novel, therefore, is its context, and
this includes not only allusions to biblical narratives and rabbinic