[8/14/2011] Woody Allen Tonight: Part 1 of "Hassidic Tales" (from "Getting Even") (continued)
"Here the Rabbi is asked to make a value judgment between Moses and Abraham. This is not an easy matter, particularly for a man who has never read the Bible and has been faking it."
-- from the interpretation of tonight's second "Hassidic Tale"
"Hassidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar" appeared originally in The New Yorker of June 20, 1970.
(from Getting Even)
A man journeyed to Chelm in order to seek the advice of Rabbi Ben Kaddish, the holiest of all ninth-century rabbis and perhaps the greatest noodge of the medieval era.
"Rabbi," the man asked, "where can I find peace?"
The Hassid surveyed him and said, "Quick, look behind you!"
The man turned around, and Rabbi Ben Kaddish smashed him in the back of the head with a candlestick. "Is that peaceful enough for you?" he chuckled, adjusting his yarmulke.
In this tale, a meaningless question is asked. Not only is the question meaningless but so is the man who journeys to Chelm to ask it. Not that he was so far away from Chelm to begin with, but why shouldn't he stay where he is? Why is he bothering Rabbi Ben Kaddish -- the Rabbi doesn't have enough trouble? The truth is, the Rabbi's in over his head with gamblers, and he has also been named in a paternity case by a Mrs. Hecht. No, the point of this tale is that this man has nothing better to do with his time than journey around and get on people's nerves. For this, the Rabbi bashes his head in, which, according to the Torah, is one of the most subtle methods of showing concern. In a similar version of this tale, the Rabbi leaps on top of the man in a frenzy and carves the story of Ruth on his nose with a stylus.
* * *
Rabbi Raditz of Poland was a very short rabbi with a long beard, who was said to have inspired many pogroms with his sense of humor. One of his disciples asked, "Who did God like better -- Moses or Abraham?"
"Abraham," the Zaddik said.
"But Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land," said the disciple.
"All right, so Moses," the Zaddik answered.
"I understand, Rabbi. It was a stupid question."
"Not only that, but you're stupid, your wife's a meeskeit, and if you don't get off my foot you're excommunicated."
Here the Rabbi is asked to make a value judgment between Moses and Abraham. This is not an easy matter, particularly for a man who has never read the Bible and has been faking it. And what is meant by the hopelessly relative term "better"? What is "better" to the Rabbi is not necessarily "better" to his disciple. For instance, the Rabbi likes to sleep on his stomach. The disciple also likes to sleep on the Rabbi's stomach. The problem here is obvious. It should also be noted that to step on a rabbi's foot (as the disciple does in the tale) is a sin, according to the Torah, comparable to the fondling of matzos with any intent other than eating them.
* * *
A man who could not marry off his ugly daughter visited Rabbi Shimmel of Cracow. "My heart is heavy," he told the Rev, "because God has given me an ugly daughter."
"How ugly?" the Seer asked.
"If she were lying on a plate with a herring, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference."
The Seer of Cracow thought for a long time and finally asked, "What kind of herring?"
The man, taken aback by the query, thought quickly and said, "Er -- Bismarck."
"Too bad," the Rabbi said. "If it was Maatjes, she'd have a better chance."
Here is a tale that illustrates the tragedy of transient qualities such as beauty. Does the girl actually resemble a herring? Why not? Have you seen some of the things walking around these days, particularly at resort areas? And even if she does, are not all creatures beautiful in God's eyes? Perhaps, but if a girl looks more at home in a jar of wine sauce than in an evening gown, she's got big problems. Oddly enough, Rabbi Shimmel's own wife was said to resemble a squid, but this was only in the face, and she more than made up for it by her hacking cough -- the point of which escapes me.
* * *
TOMORROW IN WOODY ALLEN TONIGHT: Part 2 of "Hassidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar"
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