Page 238 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Desperate, he banged his chained arms on the table. Thereupon
he was beaten by the authorities and taken back to his cell. Sud­
denly the door of the cell opened and there entered a man
holding a stone charity box, wearing a kind o f smile on his
lips. He said to the old man, “Hold on to me and I will bring
you to any place you want to go.” The old man held tight to
“that man’s” (
oto ha-ish
= Jesus) neck while “that man” smiled
and said, “I will bring you immediately to Eretz Yisrael.” They
made their flight in several stages. During the first flight the
smile left “that man’s” face. In the second flight the old man’s
hands froze. During the third flight he felt that he was em­
bracing stone. Becoming discouraged, his arms went slack, and
he fell off onto the ground. That night there was heard a knock
on the door of a house of study in Jerusalem. Those inside
came out to see a band of angels carrying a human being. He
was buried that night, because burials are never delayed in J e ­
rusalem.
PUZZLING TALE
The interpretation of this story is enigmatic. Lapide, from
whose valuable study I have derived much,19 interprets it in
a generally positive vein. He fits the story into the genre of
Elijah-type miracle tales but admits that there is some ambiv­
alence: “The contradiction between the disparaging anonymity
of “that man” (a holdover from medieval polemics) and the
hero’s role played here by Jesus is characteristic not only of
Agnon but also of the gradual rethinking of Jesus in the ranks
of the older generation of Hebrew writers in Israel.”20 I cannot,
however, agree with Lapide in this instance. There is none of
the affirmation of kinship with Jesus which occurs in Leivick’s
poem and the warm identification which we shall see in the
poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg. Jesus is repeatedly referred to
as “that man,” which was the traditional Jewish way of avoiding
identification with him. His smile is always inscrutable and cold.
Only because of his total naivete and ignorance did the old man
believe his meager funds were safe in the charity box in the
hands of the Jesus statue. Jesus does come and offer to transport
19. Pinhas Lapide,
Israelis, Jews and Jesus.
20.
Ibid.,
19.