Page 197 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

GOLDMAN /AN UNKNOWN AMERICAN HEBREW-YIDDISH POLEMIC
189
commentary on the
Song o f Songs
in which the biblical text is
embedded in a larger narrative and in which American Jewry
is taken to task for abandoning tradition.
USE OF BIBLE
Realizing that his use of the biblical text is unabashedly po­
lemical, Harkavy, at the end of the book’s introduction, apol­
ogizes to the reader: “I have titled my book
Vehu Shaul,
to re­
mind you that I have merely borrowed the words of ‘The Song’
to cloak my ideas in them. (Translator’s note: This is an elab­
orate Hebrew pun — the author’s name Saul/Shaul means “bor­
rowed”: the phrase “vehu shaul” — “and it was borrowed” is
from II Kings 6:5 and it refers to the ax that one of Elisha’s
followers borrowed in order to construct a place for them to
live). And while the ‘sharp ax’ of (criticism) might be mine, re­
member that it is borrowed from the
Song o f Songs.
Reader,
I do not mean to imply that the words of Holy writ were waiting
for thousands of years so that I could put them to use in this
way . . . but I do feel that I have put them to good use in this
volume.”11
Harkavy was within the Jewish religious and literary tradition
in employing biblical texts in a parodic manner. Because of the
brevity and popularity of the Five Megillot — and the fact that
each Megillah is assigned to be read on a Jewish holiday —
they often provided raw material for satire and parody. Parody,
“satire’s most powerful weapon,” was the hallmark of the Purim-
inspired literature of mockery whose most famous exemplar
is the mock-talmudic
Massekhet P u r im .12
But not only
Esther
was
used in parody, even the most melancholy of the Megillot,
Lam­
entations
was considered grist for the satirist’s mill. In one of
his many epigrams satirizing the state of American Jewish life
Gershon Rosenzweig castigated the leadership which had per­
mitted “hatred and contention to defile the synagogue and to
corrupt it.” Here Rosenzweig was aided by a pun on the biblical
phrase “
tumata be-shuleha”
— “her uncleanliness clings to her
skirts” (Lamentations 1:9). He playfully derives the word
be­
l l .
Ibid., p. 2.
12. A.Z. Ben-Yishai, “Parody, Hebrew,”
EncyclopediaJudaica
(Jerusalem, 1972),
vol. 13, pp. 124-39.