Random Harvest: The Novellas of Bialik

By David Patterson; Ezra Spicehandler et al. | Go to book overview
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5
Short Friday

Short Friday is a tragicomic story about a pious provincial Rabbi who, because he succumbs to the temptations of good food, drink, and bonhomie, overstays his visit at a circumcision party and as a result is forced to violate the Sabbath.

European literature and folklore are replete with anecdotes about "straying" clergymen. Many of these are acerbic satirical attacks upon prêtres rusés (deceitful priests) or naive and ignorant clerics. These attacks appeared with greatest frequency during the Enlightenment. Other depictions of errant priests simply reflect the good-humored reaction of believers and skeptics to the all-too-human foibles of country priests and Rabbis.

As a budding poet, Bialik composed several light verses mocking the naive adulation of Hasidic holy men by their followers. In contrast, Short Friday has been characterized as a post-Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) story, devoid of any polemical intent. Its tone is tongue-in-cheek, modulated by a good-natured empathy with the pietistic concern of a simple Rabbi who stumbled unwittingly. The narrator lives at a time that is beyond the era of militant antireligious polemics. He is able to be objective.

In a postscript to this story, Bialik notes that its contents and "its course but not its manner of presentation were given to me by Mr. Eliyahu Levin." He apparently had read Eliyahu Levin's Yiddish story by the same name, published in 1899, about ten years before Bialik's story appeared. Levin was a minor Yiddish

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