All Who Go May Make for Dull Reading:
The Limits of Post-Chasidic Angst
A Parody by David Hartley Mark
It was Thursday, following the fall holidays, an ordinary Tuesday workday. I was reading an old copy of Mad Magazine from the early 1960s which Elazar the Backslider had given me, on the bus from Monsey to the Manhattan Diamond Exchange—I was hiding it behind a copy of the Talmudic Tractate on Passover—when Moishe Pupik, a Mallomar Chasid, sat down next to me.
“Ah Guten Tug Ah,” he said to me, using that peculiar way the Mallomar have of repeating the first word of their sentences at the end of the sentence the first word, “A good day A. What’s that you’re reading, what?”
“I am learning what you do if a dog digs into the plaster of your wall in your house in 1st-Century Israel, and drags out a piece of chametz, of leavened bread,” I said to him, hurriedly shoving the Mad in between the back part of the tractate, between the RiF and the RoSH, the Medieval Commentaries, who shrieked silently in protest, but only in my guilt-ridden mind. “This is a wonderful bit of Torah. Let me see what the commentary Tosafote says….”
“What’s that you hid in the back of the Shass there, what?” asked Moishe, suspiciously. He made a grab for the pages of the magazine, but I held the Talmud over my head, and began chanting the Triangular Chasidic nigun, the tune we sing when dancing with the Talmud, even though we were both sitting down. The bus reached the sharp curve prior to going through the Donald Trump Solid Gold-Lined Tunnel, and we both were forced to lean even farther to the right than we normally did.
“Give me the Shass, you—you—suspicious person!” Moishe yelled, and heads began to turn, sidelocks to sway, and I was highly embarrassed to see the entire busload of men turn in our direction. Suddenly, the Mad Magazine fell out of the Talmud—was this what G-d wanted? Was this my chosen punishment, for questioning why I was not allowed to use my cellphone to dial the Reform Movement? For asking why I was not allowed to download a times table onto my computer in my own home study, the better to improve my 6th-Grade Math? I felt my kishkess contract, and began to pray—but I could no longer pray to a G-d in Whom I no longer believed. I tried a favorite psalm, but got confused, trying to leave the G-d-parts out, and I lost the rhythm of the lines:
“To the blank belong the heavens and all they contain,
The world, and all that dwell therein;
For Nobody will save you from the arrow that flies at noonday,
And the plague that marches at noon”—
This was not working.
Meanwhile, Moishe had grabbed the Mad Magazine, and began to run wildly up-and-down the aisle, while the bus swayed back and forth, and all the Chasidim swayed along with it, like a wild parody of prayer.
“Look at this! See here!” called Moishe Pupik, “This man—this apikorus, this heretic—is defying the rules of the Rebbe! He has blackened his community, by smuggling such shtoos, such foolishness onto our sacred bus! He must be ostracized from the Mallomar!”
“Pupik,” said an older Mallomar Chasid, patiently, “He’s not one of ours. He’s a Triangular Chasid.”
“Oh,” said Pupik, stopped yelling and running, and dropped his arms, embarrassed. “Right.”
He dropped the Mad Magazine in my lap.
“Here,” he said, “But I still think you should be banned from the bus.”
Face blushing furiously through my beard, I took the magazine and dropped it onto the floor. Everyone was glaring at me: Triangulars, Mallomars, even a Perpendicular or two….
At 47th and 50th Streets, I got off with the other Chasidim, all of them avoiding me, as if I were an unclean thing. I went to my bench at You Shouldn’t Know From Such Diamonds, Ltd., and spent the day over my polishing wheel, listening to ostensibly “sacred tapes” on my Walkman, but my fellow Chasidim did not know—they could not know—that, unlike them, I was secretly listening to Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” along with other Motown hits.
Is this to be my fate? I said to myself silently, feeling, but ignoring, the hot, bitter tears that coursed down my face, to live a lie? Are these, truly—uttering a silent prayer to the G-d I no longer believed in—the Tears of a Clown?
After a silent bus ride home—my folly had preceded me, and I noticed how all the Chasidim stayed on the right side of the bus, leaving me all the seats on the left, all of which remained empty, except the one which I alone occupied—I debarked from the bus at my address, 613 Mitzvah Lane, in New Triangle. I stood before my house—and stared, horrified.
There, standing in my driveway, was the fifteen-year-old Suzuki van which Machalat and I had scrimped and saved for. Its windows were defaced with egg-whites (The yolks had been carefully removed, since our laws proclaimed that the yolks were meat, while the whites were pareve, and no Triangular Chasid, even when punishing a heretic like me, would subject our innocent, pure children to the eternal fate of riding in a fleishig/meat car, in case they ever rode in it eating milchig/dairy ice cream cones), its tires were not cut, but only slightly flattened—flattened for my sins, but left partly inflated for the z’chus, the merit, of my dear wife, Machalat, whose good deeds, sweetness, and generosity were well-known throughout the community.
And, what about graffiti? There was, thank G-d—no, I don’t believe in Him—none, but a carefully-lettered signboard had been hung over the doorway, stating:
WOE TO HERETICS!
MELUSH NEEDY BEN CHRAIN V’SUKARYA
DEPART OUR COMMUNITY NOW
OR AS SOON AS IT WOULD BE CONVENIENT
THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
GAE GEZINT/BE WELL
Surely, the threat of a heretic in their midst could not eradicate the age-old Triangular Tradition of Being Nice to People.
And so, I took leave of my humble home, leaving my dear Machalat in the care of her parents, along with our children, Sarai, Yevushai, Ashmedai, Chilonai, Toratai, Shmuel, Betuel, Reuel, Deuel, Devorah, Mevorah, Sechorah, and Jerry. I believe I missed Jerry the most: he was our Yoodle, a Yorkie-Poodle, who always sat in my lap when I studied the Sacred Scrolls, and, later, the Apocrypha. That was where I first began to question: how could Enoch have departed this life, without dying?
That was what first ignited my questions about questioning the unquestionable Rebbe—but alas, I could never have an audience with him. The only time I was able to even see our Rebbe, the Triangular Rebbe himself, was at the tisch, the Sacred Table, every Shabbos. From the time I was little, I would put on my kapote and streimel, the long white coat and fur hat, made from a beaver whose tail was exactly fourteen cubits long and tufted at the tip to a point resembling the top of Moses’s head when he descended from Sinai, as stipulated in Sefer HaMeshulash, the sacred tome authored by the first Triangular Rebbe, back in 1765, in Vayzmir, Poland.
The Rebbe, a small, wizened man, would sit at the head of the tisch at the table triangular, at a point equidistant between Safed and Jerusalem, with a nod to Tiberias. They would bring him a challah; he would tear it into twelve equal parts, and his Shammes, his Chief Serving-Rabbi, would tear that into twelve more parts. Then, we Chasidim would fight over the twelfth of the twelves.
They would bring him twelve pieces of sweetened Old Vienna Style gefilte fish, and he would take the age-old fishknife from his father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father, and carefully divide each of the twelve twelve twelves into twelfths, and we would pass it around, hoping for a tip of the tip from the top, in memory of the statement, “May you be the tip of the top and not the tip of the top of the tail.”
They would bring him the Big Bent-over Becher, the Silver Winecup of Whining—for he would whine, not sing, the Kiddush, the Blessing over the Wine, and he would sing and whine over the Wine. After whining over the wine, he would sing the Kiddush again, only backwards. And then, he would sing the Kiddush, upside down. Then, two of his prized talmidim, his disciples, would assist him in regaining his seat, by flipping him over and seating him carefully upright.
This part was where I had begun to doubt: for what difference did it make, if the Rebbe was upright, or upside down? And why was it necessary to whine over the Wine? But, quickly! For the wine was wound into horns of gold for the leading rabbis of the Rebbe, and into wax-paper cups laid up since Time Immemorial for us Minor Chasidim. And we would all sip our tiny bits of wine, and sing a merry tune:
“For when the Rebbe is upside down/ Then the World goes better ‘round/ And when the Rebbe is downside up/ Then Chasidim lift their cup/ Doi doi doi/ Dye dye dye/ All our troubles/ fly fly fly….”
But, even while singing, and klopping on the table, I felt like a hollow shell. And, even while sitting between my two best chaverim, my study partners and friends, Shlomo Himmelstein and Himmel Shlomostein, I could not disclose to them my Heart of Hearts, my Innermost Feelings, for they would renounce me as a heretic.
I had already come dangerously close in that episode on the Monsey Bus, and I could risk no more disgrace to myself, to Machalat, or to my family, and my beloved eleven children and dog. Machalat wished for another child, but I was beginning to think that my paltry salary of diamond-cutting was insufficient, and I aspired to take an online course to learn to become a computer programmer—that was my dream.
Still, could I risk going online, and run the chance of seeing half-clothed, semi—horrors!—naked women, such as that Karsashian—was that her name?—woman I had heard of, and seen vaguely in the margins of my Rebbe-approved Kosher Komputer, which had all of its chips bathed in our Community Mechashev-Mikvah, the Sacred Pool Dedicated to High-Tech Ritual Cleansing? (That was, perhaps, why it gurgled when I turned it on, and ran so terribly slowly.)
I had to give this some thought—oh, here came the pointy portion of challah….