The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer

By Marcia Allentuck | Go to book overview

Singer's Apocalyptic Town
Satan in Goray

EDWIN GITTLEMAN

According to the old Jewish storytelling tradition, Chelm was a Polish town remarkable only because of the large number of fools who lived there. A well- known Chelm story is told about a pious and prosperous Jew who one day startled his wife by rushing into her kitchen and excitedly announcing that he had just learned from neighbors that the Messiah was coming and would arrive in their town within a few hours. Instead of being overjoyed by this prospect of the long-awaited "End of Days," the husband was distraught. He moaned and beat his breast. The wife was puzzled by his sorrowful reaction to this wondrous news until he reminded her that they had recently built a comfortable house, had invested all their hard- earned money in livestock, and had just finished planting their fields. She thought for a moment, and then her face brightened. "Don't despair!" she cried out joyfully. "Just think of all the calamities we Jews have endured throughout the ages. With the help of the good Lord we have managed to overcome the most dreadful tribulations. With just a little more help from Him we can overcome the Messiah, too!"

Comic ironies are the only imperatives in the legendary world of Chelm. No alternative to incongruity is possible. In Chelm, it must be absurd for anyone to

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