Page 199 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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GOLDMAN /AN UNKNOWN AMERICAN HEBREW-YIDDISH POLEMIC
191
assigns blame for the sorry state of Jewish affairs to the rabbis.
Their congregants are exonerated on the grounds that they are
ignorant of the law — they are, in talmudic terms
“tinokot
shenishbu bein ha-goyim”
— like Jewish children who have been
taken into gentile captivity and are therefore not culpable for
their ignorance of tradition. Harkavy’s excoriation of the rab­
binate reaches its height towards the end of
Vehu Shaul,
where
in a comment on the
Song of Songs
6:8, “There are sixty queens,
and eighty concubines, and maidens without number,” he
writes: “There are three types of women: the ‘queen,’ the prop­
erly married woman; the ‘concubine,’ a common-law wife; ‘the
maiden,’ a ‘strange’ or forbidden woman. The ‘queen’ is the
true rabbi, the ‘concubine’ is the rabbi of the German Jews,
the ‘maiden’— the Reform Rabbi. For they, the Reform rabbis,
are estranged from the Jewish religion.. .and they too are called
‘rabbis’!”17
Though the rabbis make claims to leadership, they lack au­
thority. In America, power is vested in the president of the
congregation and his underlings. Reiterating the complaint
voiced in Weinberger’s book and Rosenzweig’s satires, Harkavy
portrays these communal functionaries as ignoramuses who are
willing to make any concession necessary in order to maintain
their power. In an autobiographical fragment embedded in his
commentary, Harkavy notes:
‘Before I knew it, my desire set me mid the chariots of Ammi-
nadib’ (6:12). Before
I
was aware —
I
was set down in a place
I did not know, and I didn’t know what to say or what to
th ink .. .For in a city with a hundred Jewish families
I
found
no rabbi or teacher. . . and who was on ‘the chariot?’ Who was
the prince who ruled my people? A wealthy ‘nadiv’ (benefactor)
elected by the community. He knew nothing of Judaism, and
that is who they picked as their president. . . and he decides all
matters in the Jewish community and the synagogue.18
In the subsequent long excursus on synagogue life, Harkavy
again employs the erotic imagery of the
Song of Songs
to make
his point:
‘Your breasts are like two fawns.’ (7:4)19
17.
Harkavy,
p. 73 .
18.
Ibid.,
p. 78 .
19.
Ibid.,
p. 82 .