Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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you know how that ended up. Then nothing for six thousand
years” (p. 31). He alludes as well to the age of Methusaleh and to
the story of the Ten Plagues. More importantly, he even “remem­
bers” the Jews’ reactions at the time of the Exodus.
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 de­
scribed 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 Men­
del 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 i f to observe his reaction intendy; often she would place her
strong litde hand, with its gnawed nails, on the shoulder or arm o f the person
facing her. Was she aware o f the feminine charge in this gesture of hers? Men­
del felt it deeply and was not surprised that Leonid followed Line like a dog
following his master. It was an effect o f long abstinence perhaps, but Mendel,
when he observed Line, was reminded o f Rahab, the harlot o fJericho, and the
other temptresses o f Talmudic legend.. . . Michal, who fascinated all who saw
her. Jael, the fatal partisan of her time, who had driven a nail through the tem­
ple 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 of her.
But Rahab was superior to them all; a man who simply uttered her name spilled
his seed immediately, (pp. 129-130)
Primo Levi's Judaism