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Author Topic: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer  (Read 994 times)

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Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« on: June 12, 2013, 12:31:00 PM »
I am Gimpel the fool. I don't think myself a fool. On the
contrary. But that's what folks call me. They gave me the
name while I was still in school. I had seven names in all:
imbecile, donkey, flax-head, dope, flump, ninny, and fool.
The last name stuck. What did my foolishness consist of? I
was easy to take in. They said, "Gimpel, you know the
rabbi's wife has been brought to childbed?" So I skipped
school. Well, it turned out to be a lie. How was I
supposed to know? She hadn't had a big belly. But I never
looked at her belly. Was that really so foolish? The gang
laughed and hee-hawed, stomped and danced and chanted a
good-night prayer. And instead of the raisins they give
when a woman's lying in, they stuffed my hand full of goat
turds. I was no weakling. If I slapped someone he'd see
all the way to Cracow. But I'm really not a slugger by
nature. I think to myself: Let it pass. So they take
advantage of me.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln


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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2013, 12:31:50 PM »
I was coming home from school and heard a dog barking. I'm
not afraid of dogs, but of course I never want to start up
with them. One of them may be mad, and if he bites there's
not a Tartar in the world who can help you. So I made
tracks. Then I looked around and saw the whole market place
wild with laughter. It was no dog at all but Wolf-Leib the
thief. How was I supposed to know it was he? It sounded
like a howling bitch.

When the pranksters and the leg-pullers found that I was easy
to fool, every one of them tried his luck with me. "Gimpel
the Czar is coming to Frampol: Gimpel, the moon fell down
in Turbeen; Gimpel, little Hodel Furpiece found a treasure
behind the bathhouse." And I like a golem believed
everyone. In the first place, everything is possible, as it
is written in the Wisdom of the Fathers. I've forgotten
just how: Second, I had to believe when the whole town came
down on me! If I ever dared to say, Ah, you're kidding!"
there was trouble. People got angry. "What do you mean!"
You want to call everyone a liar?": What was I to do? I
believed them, and I hope at least that did them some good.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2013, 12:32:28 PM »
I was an orphan. My grandfather who brought me up was
already bent toward the grave. So they turned me over to a
baker, and what a time they gave me there! Every woman or
girl who came to bake a batch of noodles had to fool me at
least once. "Gimpel, there's a fair in heaven; Gimpel, the
rabbi gave birth to a calf in the seventh month; Gimpel, a
cow flew over the roof and laid brass eggs." A student from
the yeshiva came once to buy a roll, and he said, "You,
Gimpel, while you stand here scraping with your baker's
shovel, the Messiah has come. The dead have arisen."
"What do you mean?" I said. "I heard no one blowing the
ram's horn!" He said, "Are you deaf?" And all began to
cry, "We heard it, we heard!" Then in came Rietze the
Candle-dipper and called out in her hoarse voice, "Gimpel
your father and mother have stood up from the grave.
They're looking for you."

To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing of the sort
had happened, but all the same, as folks were talking, I
threw on my wool vest and went out. Maybe something had
happened. What did I stand to lose by looking? Well, what
a cat music went up! And then I took a vow to believe
nothing more. But that was no go either. They confused
me so that I didn't know the big end from the small.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2013, 12:35:43 PM »
I went to the rabbi to get some advice. He said, "It is
written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour
to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For
he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise
himself." Nevertheless the rabbi's daughter took me in. As
I left the rabbinical court she said, "Have you kissed the
wall yet?" I said, "No what for?" she answered, "It's the
law; you've got to do it after every visit." Well, there
didn't seem to be any harm in it. And she burst out
laughing. It was a fine trick. She put one over on me,
all right.

I wanted to go off to another town, but then everyone got
busy matchmaking, and they were after me so they nearly tore
my coat tails off. They talked at me and talked until I got
water on the ear. She was no chaste maiden, but they told
me she was virgin pure. She had a limp, and they said it
was deliberate, from coyness. She had a bastard, and they
told me the child was her little brother. I cried, "You're
wasting your time. I'll never marry that whore." But they
said indignantly. "What a way to talk! Aren't you ashamed
of yourself? We can take you to the rabbi and have you
fined for giving her a bad name." I saw then that I
wouldn't escape them so easily and I thought: They're set on
making me their butt. But when you're married the
husband's the master, and if that's all right with her it's
agreeable to me too. Besides, you can't pass through life
unscathed, nor expect to.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2013, 12:36:27 PM »
I went to her clay house, which was built on the sand, and
the whole gang, hollering and chorusing, came after me.
They acted like bear baiters. When we came to the well they
stopped all the same. They were afraid to start anything
with Elka. Her mouth would open as if it were strung from
wall to wall and clothes were drying. Barefoot she stood
by the tub, doing the wash. She was dressed in a worn
hand-me-down gown of plush. She had her hair put up in
braids and pinned across her head. It took my breath away.
Almost, the reek of it all.

Evidently she knew who I was. She took a look at me and
said, "Look who's here! He's come, the drip. Grab a seat."

I told her all; I denied nothing. "Tell me the truth, " I
said," are you really a virgin, and is that mischievous
Yechiel actually your little brother? Don't be deceitful
with me, for I'm an orphan."
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2013, 12:37:01 PM »
"I'm an orphan myself," she answered, "and whoever tries to
twist you up, may the end of his nose take a twist. But
don't let them think they can take advantage of me. I want
a dowry of fifty guilders, and let them take up a collection
besides. Otherwise they can kiss my you-know-what." She
was very plainspoken. I said, "It's the bride and not the
groom who gives a dowry." Then she said, "Don't bargain
with me. Either a flat 'yes' or a flat 'no'-Go back to where
you came from."

I thought: No bread will ever be baked from this dough. But
out is not a poor town. They consented to everything and
proceeded with the wedding. It so happened that there was a
dysentery epidemic at the time. The ceremony was held at
the cemetery gates, near the little corpse washing hut. The
fellows got drunk. While the marriage contract was being
drawn up I heard the most pious high rabbi ask, "Is the
bride a widow or a divorced woman?" And the sexton's wife
answered for her, "Both a widow and divorced." It was a
black moment for me. But what was I to do, run away from
under the marriage canopy?
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2013, 12:37:41 PM »
There was singing and dancing. An old granny danced
opposite me, hugging a braided white chalah. The master of
revels made a "God'a mercy" in memory of the bride's parents.
The schoolboys threw burrs, as on Tishe b'Av fast day. There
were a lot of gifts after the sermon: a noodle board, a
kneading trough, a bucket, brooms, ladels, household articles
galore. Then I took a look and saw two strapping young men
carrying a crib. "What do we need this for?" I asked. So
they said, "Don't rack your brains about it. It's all
right, it'll come in handy." I realized I was going to be
rooked. Take it another way though, what did I stand to
lose? I reflected: I'll see what comes of it. A whole
town can't go altogether crazy.

At night I came where my wife lay, but she wouldn't let me
in. "Say, look here, is this what they married us for?" I
said. And she said, "My monthly has come."

"But yesterday they took you to the ritual bath, and that's afterward,
isn't it suppose to be?"
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2013, 12:38:17 PM »
"Today isn't yesterday," said she, "and yesterday's not
today. You can beat it if you don't like it." In short, I
waited.

Not four months later she was in childbed. The townsfolk
hid their laughter with their knuckles. But what could I
do? She suffered intolerable pains and clawed at the walls.
"Gimpel," she cried, "I'm going. Forgive me." The house
filled with women. They were boiling pans of water. The
screams rose to the welkin.

The thing to do was to go to the House of Prayer to repeat
Psalms, and that was what I did.

The townsfolk liked that, all right. I stood in a corner
saying Psalms and prayers, and they shook their heads at me.
"Pray, pray!" they told me, "Prayer never made any woman
pregnant." One of the congregation put a straw to my mouth
and said, "Hay for the cows." There was something to that
too, by God!
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2013, 12:38:48 PM »
She gave birth to a boy, Friday at the synagogue the sexton
stood up before the Ark, pounded on the reading table, and
announced, "The wealthy Reb Gimpel invites the congregation
to a feast in honor of the birth of a son." The whole House
of Prayer rang with laughter. My face was flaming. But
there was nothing I could do. After all, I was the one
responsible for the circumcision honors and rituals.

Half the town came running. You couldn't wedge another soul
in. Women brought peppered chick-peas, and there was a keg
of beer from the tavern. I ate and drank as much as anyone,
and they all congratulated me. Then there was a
circumcision, and I named the boy after my father, may he
rest in peace. When all were gone and I was left with my
wife alone, she thrust her head through the bed-curtain and
called me to her.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2013, 12:39:26 PM »
"Gimpel," said she, "why are you silent? Has your ship gone
and sunk?"

"What shall I say?" I answered. "A fine thing you've done
to me! If my mother had known of it, she'd have died a
second time."

She said, " Are you crazy or what?"

"How can you make such a fool," I said, "of one who should
be the lord and master?"

"What's the matter with you?" she said. "What have you
taken it into your head to imagine?"

I saw that I must speak bluntly and openly. "Do you think
this is the way to use an orphan?" I said. "You have born
a bastard."

She answered, "Drive this foolishness out of your head.
This child is yours."

"How can he be mine?" I argued. "He was born seventeen
weeks after the wedding."
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #10 on: June 12, 2013, 12:40:09 PM »
She told me then that he was premature. I said, "Isn't he a
little too premature?" She said, she had had a grandmother
who carried just as short a time and she resembled this
grandmother of hers as one drop of water does another. She
swore to it with such oaths that you would have believed a
peasant at the fair if he has used them. To tell the plain
truth, I didn't believe her; but when I talked it over next
day with the schoolmaster he told me that the very same thing
happened to Adam and Eve. Two they went up to bed and four
they descended.

"There isn't a woman in the world who is not the
granddaughter of Eve," he said.

That was how it was; they argued me dumb. But then, who
really knows how such things are?
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2013, 12:40:44 PM »
I began to forget my sorrow. I loved the child madly, and
he loved me too. As soon as he saw me he'd wave his little
hands and want me to pick him up, and when he was colicky I
was the only one who could pacify him. I bought him a
little bone teething ring and a little gilded cap. He was
forever catching the evil eye from someone, and then I had
to run to get one of those abracadabras for him that would
get him out of it. I worked like an ox. You know how
expenses go up when there's an infant in the house. I don't
want to lie about it; I didn't dislike Elka either, for that
matter. She swore at me and cursed, and I couldn't get
enough of her. What strength she had! One of her looks
could rob you of the power of speech. And her orations!
Pitch and sulfur, that's what they were full of, and yet
somehow also full of charm. I adored her every word. She
gave me bloody wounds though.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2013, 12:41:19 PM »
In the evening I brought her a white loaf as well as a dark
one, and also poppy seed rolls I baked myself. I thieved
because of her and swiped everything I could lay hands on:
macaroons, raisins, almonds, cakes. I hope I may be
forgiven for stealing from the Saturday pots the women left
to warm in the baker's oven. I would take out scraps of
meat, a chunk of pudding, a chicken leg or head, a piece of
tripe, whatever I could nip quickly. She ate and became fat
and handsome.

I had to sleep away from home all during the week, at the
bakery. On Friday nights when I got home she always made an
excuse of some sort. Either she had heartburn, or a stitch
in the side, or hiccups, or headaches. You know what
women's excuses are. I had a bitter time of it. It was
rough. To add to it, this little brother of hers, the
bastard, was growing bigger. He'd put lumps on me, and when
I wanted to hit back she'd open her mouth and curse so
powerfully I saw a green haze floating before my eyes. Ten
time a day she threatened to divorce me. Another man in my
place would have taken French leave and disappeared. But
I'm the type that bears it and says nothing. What's one to
do? Shoulders are from God and burdens too.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #13 on: June 12, 2013, 12:41:57 PM »
One night there was a calamity in the bakery; the oven
burst, and we almost had a fire. There was nothing to do
but go home, so I went home. Let me, I thought, also taste
the joy of sleeping in bed in midweek. I didn't want to
wake the sleeping mite and tiptoed into the house. Coming
in, it seemed to me that I heard not the snoring of one but,
as it were, a double snore, one a thin enough snore and the
other like the snoring of a slaughtered ox. Oh I didn't
like that! I didn't like it as at all. I went up to the bed,
and things suddenly turned black. Next to Elka lay a man's
form. Another in my place would have made an uproar, and
enough noise to rouse the whole town, but the thought
occurred to me that I might wake the child. A little thing
like that - why frighten a little swallow, I thought. All
right then, I went back to the bakery and stretched out on a
sack of flour and till morning I never shut an eye. I
shivered as if I had had malaria. "Enough of being a
donkey, " I said to myself. " Gimpel isn't going to be a
sucker all his life. There's a limit even to the
foolishness of a fool like Gimpel."
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2013, 12:42:37 PM »
In the morning I went to the rabbi to get advice, and it
made a great commotion in the town. They sent the beadle
for Elka right away. She came, carrying the child. And
what do you think she did? She denied it, denied everything,
bone and stone! "He's out of his head," she said. I know
nothing of dreams of divinations." they yelled at her,
warned her, hammered on the table, but she stuck to her
guns: it was a false accusation, she said.

The butchers and the horse-traders took her part. One of
the lads from the slaughterhouse came buy and said to me,
"We've got our eye on you, you're a marked man." Meanwhile
the child started to bear down and soiled itself. In the
rabbinical court there was an Ark of the Covenant, and they
couldn't allow that, so they sent Elka away.

I said to the rabbi, "What shall I do?"

"You must divorce her at once," said he.

"And what if she refuses?" I asked.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #15 on: June 12, 2013, 12:43:12 PM »
He said, "You must server the divorce. That's all you'll
have to do."

I said, "Well, all right Rabbi. Let me think about it."

"There's nothing to think about," said he. "You mustn't
remain under the same roof with her."

"And what if she refuses?" I asked.

"Let her go, the harlot," said he, "and her brood of
bastards with her."

The verdict he gave was that I mustn't even cross her
threshold - never again, as long as I should live.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #16 on: June 12, 2013, 12:43:44 PM »
During the day it didn't bother me so much. I thought: It
was bound to happen, the abscess had to burst. But at night
when I stretched out upon the sacks I felt it all very
bitterly. A longing took me, for her and for the child.
I wanted to be angry, but that's my misfortune
exactly, I don't have it in me to be really angry. In
the first place - this was how my thoughts went - there's
bound to be a slip sometimes. You can't live without
errors. Probably that lad who was with her led her on and
gave her presents and what not, and women are often long on
hair and short on sense, and so he got around her. And then
since she denies it so, maybe I was only seeing things?
Hallucinations do happen. You see a figure or a mannikin or
something, but when you come up closer it's nothing, there's
not a thing there. And if that's so, I'm doing her an
injustice. And when I got so far in my thoughts I started
to weep. I sobbed so that I wet the flour where I lay. In
the morning I went to the rabbi and told him that I had
made a mistake. The rabbi wrote on with his quill, and he
said that if that were so he would have to reconsider the
whole case. Until he had finished I wasn't to go near my
wife, but I might send her bread and money by messenger.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #17 on: June 12, 2013, 12:44:22 PM »
Nine months passed before all the rabbis could come to an
agreement. Letters went back and forth. I hadn't realized
that there could be so much erudition about a matter like
this.

Meanwhile Elka gave birth to still another child, a girl this
time. On the Sabbath I went to the synagogue and invoked a
blessing on her. They called me up to the Torah, and I
named the child for my mother-in-law - may she rest in
peace. The louts and loudmouths of the town who came into
the bakery gave me a going over. All Frampol refreshed it's
spirits because of my trouble and grief. However, I resolved
that I would always believe what I was told. What's the
good of not believing? Today it's your wife you don't
believe; tomorrow it's God Himself you won't take stock in.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #18 on: June 12, 2013, 12:44:54 PM »
By an apprentice who was her neighbor I sent her daily a
corn or a wheat loaf, or a piece of pastry, rolls or bagels,
or, when I got the chance, a slab of pudding, a slice of
honeycake, or wedding strudel-whatever came my way. The
apprentice was a goodhearted lad, and more than once he
added something on his own. He had formerly annoyed me a
lot, plucking my nose and digging me in the ribs, but when
he started to be a visitor to my house he became kind and
friendly, "Hey, you , Gimpel," he said to me, "you have a
very decent little wife and two fine kids. You don't
deserve them."

"But the things people say about her," I said.

"Well, they have long tongues," he said, "and nothing to do
with them but babble. Ignore it as you ignore the cold of
last winter."
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
« Reply #19 on: June 12, 2013, 12:45:28 PM »
One day the rabbi sent for me and said, "Are you certain,
Gimpel, that you were wrong about your wife?"

I said, "I'm certain."

"Why, but look here! You yourself saw it."

"It must have been a shadow," I said.

"That shadow of what?"

"Just of one of the beams, I think."

"You can go home then. You owe thanks to the Yanover rabbi.
He found an obscure reference in Maimonides that favored
you."

I seized the rabbi's hand and kissed it.
...than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln


 

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