The two pieces below (translated from the Yiddish by Channah Kleinerman) are accounts of actual incidents which ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER remembers from his childhood in Warsaw. His father was a rabbi in a particularly rough quarter of the city, and a great variety of types passed in and out of the elder Singer’s house, coming for rulings on points of Jewish law, for adjudication of their disputes, and for personal advice and comfort. Mr. Singer-using the evocative techniques of fiction, but keeping very close to actual fact-has written a whole series of these memoirs (of which two more will be appearing in a future issue of COMMENTARY); they were published originally in the Jewish Daily Forward and were later collected into a book under the title Mein Taten’g Bes-din Shtub (“My Father’s Courtroom”). Mr. Singer’s newest book is The Spinoza of Market Street (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy).
A Gruesome Question
The evening after the Sabbath always had a half-holiday air in our house, especially in winter. First, Father would sit with several other men to partake of the third Sabbath meal. The room was already almost totally dark as the men sang “The Sons of the Mansion” and other Sabbath hymns. The meal usually consisted of stale challah and a piece of fish or herring. My father had long dreamed of being a rebbe-a teacher and leader of disciples-and so he would expound some portion of the Law for his audience. I stood behind his chair and listened. He put to naught all worldly pleasures, and described the joys of the righteous in Paradise-how, with crowns on their heads, they recline on thrones, while the mysteries of the Torah are revealed to them. As he spoke, the stars began to glitter in the sky, and frequently the moon would also float past. Father’s words about the soul and the Throne of Glory became entwined in my imagination with the stars, with the moon’s pale face, with the strange shapes of clouds. The mysteries of the Torah became one with the mysteries of this world, which I never felt as intimately as in the last hours of the Sabbath, before the lights were lit. In the next room Mother would sit and softly murmur the prayer “God of Abraham.” In these twilight hours our house was filled with God, with angels and mysteries, and with a yearning inexpressible in words.
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