Story type: Literature
There was a storm in Sudminster, not on the waters which washed its leading Jews their living, but in the breasts of these same marine storekeepers. For a competitor had appeared in their hive of industry–an alien immigrant, without roots or even relatives at Sudminster. And Simeon Samuels was equipped not only with capital and enterprise–the showy plate-glass front of his shop revealed an enticing miscellany–but with blasphemy and bravado. For he did not close on Friday eve, and he opened on Saturday morning as usual.
The rumour did not get round all Sudminster the first Friday night, but by the Sabbath morning the synagogue hummed with it. It set a clammy horror in the breasts of the congregants, distracted their prayers, gave an unreal tone to the cantor’s roulades, brought a tremor of insecurity into the very foundations of their universe. For nearly three generations a congregation had been established in Sudminster–like every Jewish congregation, a camp in not friendly country–struggling at every sacrifice to keep the Holy Day despite the supplementary burden of Sunday closing, and the God of their fathers had not left unperformed His part of the contract. For ‘the harvests’ of profit were abundant, and if ‘the latter and the former rain’ of their unchanging supplication were mere dried metaphors to a people divorced from Palestine and the soil for eighteen centuries, the wine and the oil came in casks, and the corn in cakes. The poor were few and well provided for; even the mortgage on the synagogue was paid off. And now this Epicurean was come to trouble the snug security, to break the long chain of Sabbath observance which stretched from Sinai. What wonder if some of the worshippers, especially such as had passed his blatant shop-window on their return from synagogue on Friday evening, were literally surprised that the earth had not opened beneath him as it had opened beneath Korah.
‘Even the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was stoned to death,’ whispered the squat Solomon Barzinsky to the lanky Ephraim Mendel, marine-dealers both.
‘Alas! that would not be permitted in this heathen country,’ sighed Ephraim Mendel, hitching his praying-shawl more over his left shoulder. ‘But at least his windows should be stoned.’
Solomon Barzinsky smiled, with a gleeful imagining of the shattering of the shameless plate-glass. ‘Yes, and that wax-dummy of a sailor should be hung as an atonement for his–Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ The last phrase Solomon suddenly shouted in Hebrew, in antiphonal response to the cantor, and he rose three times on his toes, bowing his head piously. ‘No wonder he can offer gold lace for the price of silver,’ he concluded bitterly.
‘He sells shoddy new reach-me-downs as pawned old clo,’ complained Lazarus Levy, who had taken over S. Cohn’s business, together with his daughter Deborah, ‘and he charges the Sudminster donkey-heads more than the price we ask for ’em as new.’
Talk of the devil—-! At this point Simeon Samuels stalked into the synagogue, late but serene.
Had the real horned Asmodeus walked in, the agitation could not have been greater. The first appearance in synagogue of a new settler was an event in itself; but that this Sabbath-breaker should appear at all was startling to a primitive community. Escorted by the obsequious and unruffled beadle to the seat he seemed already to have engaged–that high-priced seat facing the presidential pew that had remained vacant since the death of Tevele the pawnbroker–Simeon Samuels wrapped himself reverently in his praying-shawl, and became absorbed in the service. His glossy high hat bespoke an immaculate orthodoxy, his long black beard had a Rabbinic religiousness, his devotion was a rebuke to his gossiping neighbours.
A wave of uneasiness passed over the synagogue. Had he been the victim of a jealous libel? Even those whose own eyes had seen him behind his counter when he should have been consecrating the Sabbath-wine at his supper-table, wondered if they had been the dupe of some hallucination.
When, in accordance with hospitable etiquette, the new-comer was summoned canorously to the reading of the Law–‘Shall stand Simeon, the son of Nehemiah’–and he arose and solemnly mounted the central platform, his familiarity with the due obeisances and osculations and benedictions seemed a withering reply to the libel. When he descended, and the Parnass proffered his presidential hand in pious congratulation upon the holy privilege, all the congregants who found themselves upon his line of return shot forth their arms with remorseful eagerness, and thus was Simeon Samuels switched on to the brotherhood of Sudminsterian Israel. Yet as his now trusting co-religionists passed his shop on their homeward walk–and many a pair of legs went considerably out of its way to do so–their eyes became again saucers of horror and amaze. The broad plate-glass glittered nakedly, unveiled by a single shutter; the waxen dummy of the sailor hitched devil-may-care breeches; the gold lace, ticketed with layers of erased figures, boasted brazenly of its cheapness; the procession of customers came and went, and the pavement, splashed with sunshine, remained imperturbably, perturbingly acquiescent.
On the Sunday night Solomon Barzinsky and Ephraim Mendel in pious black velvet caps, and their stout spouses in gold chains and diamond earrings, found themselves playing solo whist in the Parnass’s parlour, and their religious grievance weighed upon the game. The Parnass, though at heart as outraged as they by the new departure, felt it always incumbent upon him to display his presidential impartiality and his dry humour. His authority, mainly based on his being the only retired shopkeeper in the community, was greatly strengthened by his slow manner of taking snuff at a crisis. ‘My dear Mendel,’ observed the wizened senior, flicking away the spilth with a blue handkerchief, ‘Simeon Samuels has already paid his annual subscription–and you haven’t!’
‘My money is good,’ Mendel replied, reddening.
‘No wonder he can pay so quickly!’ said Solomon Barzinsky, shuffling the cards savagely.
‘How he makes his money is not the question,’ said the Parnass weightily. ‘He has paid it, and therefore if I were to expel him, as you suggest, he might go to Law.’
‘Law!’ retorted Solomon. ‘Can’t we prove he has broken the Law of Moses?’
‘And suppose?’ said the Parnass, picking up his cards placidly. ‘Do we want to wash our dirty Talysim (praying-shawls) in public?’
‘He is right, Solomon,’ said Mrs. Barzinsky. ‘We should become a laughing-stock among the heathen.’
‘I don’t believe he’d drag us to the Christian courts,’ the little man persisted. ‘I pass.’
The rubber continued cheerlessly. ‘A man who keeps his shop open on Sabbath is capable of anything,’ said the lanky Mendel, gloomily sweeping in his winnings.
The Parnass took snuff judicially. ‘Besides, he may have a Christian partner who keeps all the Saturday profits,’ he suggested.
‘That would be just as forbidden,’ said Barzinsky, as he dealt the cards.
‘But your cousin David,’ his wife reminded him, ‘sells his groceries to a Christian at Passover.’
‘That is permitted. It would not be reasonable to destroy hundreds of pounds of leaven. But Sabbath partnerships are not permitted.’
‘Perhaps the question has never been raised,’ said the Parnass.
‘I am enough of a Lamdan (pundit) to answer it,’ retorted Barzinsky.
‘I prefer going to a specialist,’ rejoined the Parnass.
Barzinsky threw down his cards. ‘You can go to the devil!’ he cried.
‘For shame, Solomon!’ said his wife. ‘Don’t disturb the game.’
‘To Gehenna with the game! The shame is on a Parnass to talk like an Epikouros (Epicurean).’
The Parnass blew his nose elaborately. ‘It stands in the Talmud: “For vain swearing noxious beasts came into the world.” And if—-‘
‘It stands in the Psalmist,’ Barzinsky interrupted: ‘”The Law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.”‘
‘It stands in the Perek,’ the Parnass rejoined severely, ‘that the wise man does not break in upon the speech of his fellow.’
‘It stands in the Shulchan Aruch,’ Barzinsky shrieked, ‘that for the sanctification of the Sabbath—-‘
‘It stands in the Talmud,’ interposed Mendel, with unwonted animation in his long figure, ‘that one must not even offer a nut to allure customers. From light to heavy, therefore, it may be deduced that—-‘
A still small voice broke in upon the storm. ‘But Simeon Samuels hasn’t a Christian partner,’ said Mrs. Mendel.
There was an embarrassed pause.
‘He has only his wife to help him,’ she went on. ‘I know, because I went to the shop Friday morning on pretence of asking for a cuckoo-clock.’
‘But a marine-dealer doesn’t sell clocks,’ put in the Parnass’s wife timidly. It was her first contribution to the conversation, for she was overpowered by her husband’s greatness.
‘Don’t be silly, Hannah!’ said the Parnass. ‘That was just why Mrs. Mendel asked for it.’
‘Yes, but unfortunately Simeon Samuels did have one,’ Mrs. Mendel confessed; ‘and I couldn’t get out of buying it.’
There was a general laugh.
‘Cut-throat competition, I call it,’ snarled Solomon Barzinsky, recovering from his merriment.
‘But you don’t sell clocks,’ said the Parnass.
‘That’s just it; he gets hold of our customers on pretence of selling them something else. The Talmudical prohibition cited by Mendel applies to that too.’
‘So I wasn’t so silly,’ put in the Parnass’s wife, feeling vaguely vindicated.
‘Well, you saw his wife,’ said the Parnass to Mendel’s wife, disregarding his own. ‘More than I’ve done, for she wasn’t in synagogue. Perhaps she is the Christian partner.’ His suggestion brought a new and holier horror over the card-table.
‘No, no,’ replied Mrs. Mendel reassuringly. ‘I caught sight of her frying fish in the kitchen.’
This proof of her Jewishness passed unquestioned, and the new-born horror subsided.
‘But in spite of the fish,’ said Mr. Mendel, ‘she served in the shop while he was at synagogue.’
‘Yes,’ hissed Barzinsky; ‘and in spite of the synagogue he served in the shop. A greater mockery was never known!’
‘Not at all, not at all,’ said the Parnass judicially. ‘If a man breaks one commandment, that’s no reason he should break two.’
‘But he does break two,’ Solomon thundered, smiting the green cloth with his fist; ‘for he steals my custom by opening when I’m closed.’
‘Take care–you will break my plates,’ said the Parnass. ‘Take a sandwich.’
‘Thank you–you’ve taken away my appetite.’
‘I’m sorry–but the sandwiches would have done the same. I really can’t expel a respectable seat-holder before I know that he is truly a sinner in Israel. As it is written, “Thou shalt inquire and make search and ask diligently.” He may have only opened this once by way of a send-off. Every dog is allowed one bite.’
‘At that rate, it would be permitted to eat a ham-sandwich–just for once,’ said Solomon scathingly.
‘Don’t say I called you a dog,’ the Parnass laughed.
‘A mezaire!’ announced the hostess hurriedly. ‘After all, it’s the Almighty’s business, not ours.’
‘No, it’s our business,’ Solomon insisted.
‘Yes,’ agreed the Parnass drily; ‘it is your business.’
The week went by, with no lull in the storm, though the plate-glass window was unshaken by the gusts. It maintained its flaunting seductiveness, assisted, people observed, by Simeon Samuels’ habit of lounging at his shop-door and sucking in the hesitating spectator. And it did not shutter itself on the Sabbath that succeeded.
The horror was tinged with consternation. The strange apathy of the pavement and the sky, the remissness of the volcanic fires and the celestial thunderbolts in face of this staring profanity, lent the cosmos an air almost of accessory after the fact. Never had the congregation seen Heaven so openly defied, and the consequences did not at all correspond with their deep if undefined forebodings. It is true a horse and carriage dashed into Peleg, the pawnbroker’s, window down the street, frightened, Peleg maintained, by the oilskins fluttering outside Simeon Samuels’ shop; but as the suffering was entirely limited to the nerves of Mrs. Peleg, who was pious, and to the innocent nose of the horse, this catastrophe was not quite what was expected. Solomon Barzinsky made himself the spokesman of the general dissatisfaction, and his remarks to the minister after the Sabbath service almost insinuated that the reverend gentleman had connived at a breach of contract.
The Rev. Elkan Gabriel quoted Scripture. ‘The Lord is merciful and long-suffering, and will not at once awaken all His wrath.’
‘But meantime the sinner makes a pretty penny!’ quoth Solomon, unappeased. ‘Saturday is pay-day, and the heathen haven’t patience to wait till the three stars are out and our shops can open. It is your duty, Mr. Gabriel, to put a stop to this profanation.’
The minister hummed and ha’d. He was middle-aged, and shabby, with a German diploma and accent and a large family. It was the first time in his five years of office that one of his congregants had suggested such authoritativeness on his part. Elected by their vote, he was treated as their servant, his duties rigidly prescribed, his religious ideas curbed and corrected by theirs. What wonder if he could not suddenly rise to dictatorship? Even at home Mrs. Gabriel was a congregation in herself. But as the week went by he found Barzinsky was not the only man to egg him on to prophetic denunciation; the congregation at large treated him as responsible for the scandal, and if the seven marine-dealers were the bitterest, the pawnbrokers and the linen-drapers were none the less outraged.
‘It is a profanation of the Name,’ they said unanimously, ‘and such a bad example to our poor!’
‘He would not listen to me,’ the poor minister would protest. ‘You had much better talk to him yourself.’
‘Me!’ the button-holer would ejaculate. ‘I would not lower myself. He’d think I was jealous of his success.’
Simeon Samuels seemed, indeed, a formidable person to tackle. Bland and aloof, he pursued his own affairs, meeting the congregation only in synagogue, and then more bland and aloof than ever.
At last the Minister received a presidential command to preach upon the subject forthwith.
‘But there’s no text suitable just yet,’ he pleaded. ‘We are still in Genesis.’
‘Bah!’ replied the Parnass impatiently, ‘any text can be twisted to point any moral. You must preach next Sabbath.’
‘But we are reading the Sedrah (weekly portion) about Joseph. How are you going to work Sabbath-keeping into that?’
‘It is not my profession. I am a mere man-of-the-earth. But what’s the use of a preacher if he can’t make any text mean something else?’
‘Well, of course, every text usually does,’ said the preacher defensively. ‘There is the hidden meaning and the plain meaning. But Joseph is merely historical narrative. The Sabbath, although mentioned in Genesis, chapter two, wasn’t even formally ordained yet.’
‘And what about Potiphar’s wife?’
‘That’s the Seventh Commandment, not the Fourth.’
‘Thank you for the information. Do you mean to say you can’t jump from one Commandment to another?’
‘Oh, well—-‘ The minister meditated.
‘And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured. And it came to pass that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph….’
The congregation looked startled. Really this was not a text which they wished their pastor to enlarge upon. There were things in the Bible that should be left in the obscurity of the Hebrew, especially when one’s womenkind were within earshot. Uneasily their eyes lifted towards the bonnets behind the balcony-grating.
‘But Joseph refused.’
Solomon Barzinsky coughed. Peleg the pawnbroker blew his nose like a protesting trumpet. The congregation’s eyes returned from the balcony and converged upon the Parnass. He was taking snuff as usual.
‘My brethren,’ began the preacher impressively, ‘temptation comes to us all—-‘
A sniff of indignant repudiation proceeded from many nostrils. A blush overspread many cheeks.
‘But not always in the shape it came to Joseph. In this congregation, where, by the blessing of the Almighty, we are free from almost every form of wrong-doing, there is yet one temptation which has power to touch us–the temptation of unholy profit, the seduction of Sabbath-breaking.’
A great sigh of dual relief went up to the balcony, and Simeon Samuels became now the focus of every eye. His face was turned towards the preacher, wearing its wonted synagogue expression of reverential dignity.
‘Oh, my brethren, that it could always be said of us: “And Joseph refused”!’
A genial warmth came back to every breast. Ah, now the cosmos was righting itself; Heaven was speaking through the mouth of its minister.
The Rev. Elkan Gabriel expanded under this warmth which radiated back to him. His stature grew, his eloquence poured forth, polysyllabic. As he ended, the congregation burst into a heartfelt ‘Yosher Koach‘ (‘May thy strength increase!’).
The minister descended the Ark-steps, and stalked back solemnly to his seat. As he passed Simeon Samuels, that gentleman whipped out his hand and grasped the man of God’s, and his neighbours testified that there was a look of contrite exaltation upon his goodly features.
The Sabbath came round again, but, alas! it brought no balm to the congregation; rather, was it a day of unrest. The plate-glass window still flashed in iniquitous effrontery; still the ungodly proprietor allured the stream of custom.
‘He does not even refuse to take money,’ Solomon Barzinsky exclaimed to Peleg the pawnbroker, as they passed the blasphemous window on their way from the Friday-evening service.
‘Why, what would be the good of keeping open if you didn’t take money?’ naively inquired Peleg.
‘Behemah (animal)!’ replied Solomon impatiently. ‘Don’t you know it’s forbidden to touch money on the Sabbath?’
‘Of course, I know that. But if you open your shop—-!’
‘All the same, you might compromise. You might give the customers the things they need, as it is written, “Open thy hand to the needy!” but they could pay on Saturday night.’
‘And if they didn’t pay? If they drank their money away?’ said the pawnbroker.
‘True, but why couldn’t they pay in advance?’
‘How in advance?’
‘They could deposit a sum of money with you, and draw against it.’
‘Not with me!’ Peleg made a grimace. ‘All very well for your line, but in mine I should have to deposit a sum of money with them. I don’t suppose they’d bring their pledges on Friday night, and wait till Saturday night for the money. Besides, how could one remember? One would have to profane the Sabbath by writing!’
‘Write! Heaven forbid!’ ejaculated Solomon Barzinsky. ‘But you could have a system of marking the amounts against their names in your register. A pin could be stuck in to represent a pound, or a stamp stuck on to indicate a crown. There are lots of ways. One could always give one’s self a device,’ he concluded in Yiddish.
‘But it is written in Job, “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise.” Have a little of Job’s patience, and trust the Lord to confound the sinner. We shall yet see Simeon Samuels in the Bankruptcy Court.’
‘I hope not, the rogue! I’d like to see him ruined!’
‘That’s what I mean. Leave him to the Lord.’
‘The Lord is too long-suffering,’ said Solomon. ‘Ah, our Parnass has caught us up. Good Shabbos (Sabbath), Parnass. This is a fine scandal for a God-fearing congregation. I congratulate you.’
‘Is he open again?’ gasped the Parnass, hurled from his judicial calm.
‘Is my eye open?’ witheringly retorted Barzinsky. ‘A fat lot of good your preacher does.’
‘It was you who would elect him instead of Rochinsky,’ the Parnass reminded him. Barzinsky was taken aback.
‘Well, we don’t want foreigners, do we?’ he murmured.
‘And you caught an Englishman in Simeon Samuels,’ chuckled the Parnass, in whose breast the defeat of his candidate had never ceased to rankle.
‘Not he. An Englishman plays fair,’ retorted Barzinsky. He seriously considered himself a Briton, regarding his naturalization papers as retrospective. ‘We are just passing the Reverend Gabriel’s house,’ he went on. ‘Let us wait a moment; he’ll come along, and we’ll give him a piece of our minds.’
‘I can’t keep my family waiting for Kiddush’ (home service), said Peleg.
‘Come home, father; I’m hungry,’ put in Peleg junior, who with various Barzinsky boys had been trailing in the parental wake.
‘Silence, impudent face!’ snapped Barzinsky. ‘If I was your father—-Ah, here comes the minister. Good Shabbos (Sabbath), Mr. Gabriel. I congratulate you on the effect of your last sermon.’
An exultant light leapt into the minister’s eye. ‘Is he shut?’
‘Is your mouth shut?’ Solomon replied scathingly. ‘I doubt if he’ll even come to Shool (synagogue) to-morrow.’
The ministerial mouth remained open in a fishy gasp, but no words came from it.
‘I’m afraid you’ll have to use stronger language, Mr. Gabriel,’ said the Parnass soothingly.
‘But if he is not there to hear it.’
‘Oh, don’t listen to Barzinsky. He’ll be there right enough. Just give it to him hot!’
‘Your sermon was too general,’ added Peleg, who had lingered, though his son had not. ‘You might have meant any of us.’
‘But we must not shame our brother in public,’ urged the minister. ‘It is written in the Talmud that he who does so has no share in the world to come.’
‘Well, you shamed us all,’ retorted Barzinsky. ‘A stranger would imagine we were a congregation of Sabbath-breakers.’
‘But there wasn’t any stranger,’ said the minister.
‘There was Simeon Samuels,’ the Parnass reminded him. ‘Perhaps your sermon against Sabbath-breaking made him fancy he was just one of a crowd, and that you have therefore only hardened him—-‘
‘But you told me to preach against Sabbath-breaking,’ said the poor minister.
‘Against the Sabbath-breaker,’ corrected the Parnass.
‘You didn’t single him out,’ added Barzinsky; ‘you didn’t even make it clear that Joseph wasn’t myself.’
‘I said Joseph was a goodly person and well-favoured,’ retorted the goaded minister.
The Parnass took snuff, and his sneeze sounded like a guffaw.
‘Well, well,’ he said more kindly, ‘you must try again to-morrow.’
‘I didn’t undertake to preach every Saturday,’ grumbled the minister, growing bolder.
‘As long as Simeon Samuels keeps open, you can’t shut,’ said Solomon angrily.
‘It’s a duel between you,’ added Peleg.
‘And Simeon actually comes into to-morrow’s Sedrah‘ (portion), Barzinsky remembered exultantly. ‘”And took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.” There’s your very text. You’ll pick out Simeon from among us, and bind him to keep the Sabbath.’
‘Or you can say Satan has taken Simeon and bound him,’ added the Parnass. ‘You have a choice–yourself or Satan.’
‘Perhaps you had better preach yourself, then,’ said the minister sullenly. ‘I still can’t see what that text has to do with Sabbath-breaking.’
‘It has as much to do with Sabbath-breaking as Potiphar’s wife,’ shrieked Solomon Barzinsky.
‘”And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved. Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin.”‘
As the word ‘Simeon’ came hissing from the preacher’s lips, a veritable thrill passed through the synagogue. Even Simeon Samuels seemed shaken, for he readjusted his praying-shawl with a nervous movement.
‘My brethren, these words of Israel, the great forefather of our tribes, are still ringing in our ears. To-day more than ever is Israel crying. Joseph is not–our Holy Land is lost. Simeon is not–our Holy Temple is razed to the ground. One thing only is left us–one blessing with which the almighty father has blessed us–our Holy Sabbath. And ye will take Benjamin.’ The pathos of his accents melted every heart. Tears rolled down many a feminine cheek. Simeon Samuels was seen to blow his nose softly.
Thus successfully launched, the Rev. Elkan Gabriel proceeded to draw a tender picture of the love between Israel and his Benjamin, Sabbath–the one consolation of his exile, and he skilfully worked in the subsequent verse: ‘If mischief befall him by the way on which ye go, then shall ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.’ Yes, it would be the destruction of Israel, he urged, if the Sabbath decayed. Woe to those sons of Israel who dared to endanger Benjamin. ‘From Reuben and Simeon down to Gad and Asher, his life shall be required at their hands.’ Oh, it was a red-hot-cannon-ball-firing sermon, and Solomon Barzinsky could not resist leaning across and whispering to the Parnass: ‘Wasn’t I right in refusing to vote for Rochinsky?’ This reminder of his candidate’s defeat was wormwood to the Parnass, spoiling all his satisfaction in the sermon. He rebuked the talker with a noisy ‘Shaa‘ (silence).
The congregation shrank delicately from looking at the sinner; it would be too painful to watch his wriggles. His neighbours stared pointedly every other way. Thus, the only record of his deportment under fire came from Yankele, the poor glazier’s boy, who said that he kept looking from face to face, as if to mark the effect on the congregation, stroking his beard placidly the while. But as to his behaviour after the guns were still, there was no dubiety, for everybody saw him approach the Parnass in the exodus from synagogue, and many heard him say in hearty accents: ‘I really must congratulate you, Mr. President, on your selection of your minister.’
‘You touched his heart so,’ shrieked Solomon Barzinsky an hour later to the Reverend Elkan Gabriel, ‘that he went straight from Shool (synagogue) to his shop.’ Solomon had rushed out the first thing after breakfast, risking the digestion of his Sabbath fish, to call upon the unsuccessful minister.
‘That is not my fault,’ said the preacher, crestfallen.
‘Yes, it is–if you had only stuck to my text. But no! You must set yourself up over all our heads.’
‘You told me to get in Simeon, and I obeyed.’
‘Yes, you got him in. But what did you call him? The Holy Temple! A fine thing, upon my soul!’
‘It was only an–an–analogy,’ stammered the poor minister.
‘An apology! Oh, so you apologized to him, too! Better and better.’
‘No, no, I mean a comparison.’
‘A comparison! You never compared me to the Holy Temple. And I’m Solomon–Solomon who built it.’
‘Solomon was wise,’ murmured the minister.
‘Oh, and I’m silly. If I were you, Mr. Gabriel, I’d remember my place and who I owed it to. But for me, Rochinsky would have stood in your shoes—-‘
‘Rochinsky is lucky.’
‘Oh, indeed! So this is your gratitude. Very well. Either Simeon Samuels shuts up shop or you do. That’s final. Don’t forget you were only elected for three years.’ And the little man flung out.
The Parnass, meeting his minister later in the street, took a similar view.
‘You really must preach again next Sabbath,’ he said. ‘The congregation is terribly wrought up. There may even be a riot. If Simeon Samuels keeps open next Sabbath, I can’t answer that they won’t go and break his windows.’
‘Then they will break the Sabbath.’
‘Oh, they may wait till the Sabbath is out.’
‘They’ll be too busy opening their own shops.’
‘Don’t argue. You must preach his shop shut.’
‘Very well,’ said the Reverend Gabriel sullenly.
‘That’s right. A man with a family must rise to great occasions. Do you think I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t had the courage to buy a bankrupt stock that I didn’t see my way to paying for? It’s a fight between you and Simeon Samuels.’
‘May his name be blotted out!’ impatiently cried the minister in the Hebrew imprecation.
‘No, no,’ replied the Parnass, smiling. ‘His name must not be blotted out–it must be mentioned, and–unmistakably.’
‘It is against the Talmud. To shame a man is equivalent to murder,’ the minister persisted.
‘Yet it is written in Leviticus: “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”‘ And the Parnass took a triumphant pinch.
‘Simeon and Levi are brethren … into their assembly be not thou united: in their self-will they digged down a wall.’
The Parnass applauded mentally. The text, from Jacob’s blessing, was ingeniously expurgated to meet the case. The wall, he perceived at once, was the Sabbath–the Jews’ one last protection against the outer world, the one last dyke against the waves of heathendom. Nor did his complacency diminish when his intuition proved correct, and the preacher thundered against the self-will–ay, and the self-seeking–that undermined Israel’s last fortification. What did they seek under the wall? Did they think their delving spades would come upon a hidden store of gold, upon an ancient treasure-chest? Nay, it was a coffin they would strike–a coffin of dead bones and living serpents.
A cold wave of horror traversed the synagogue; a little shriek came from the gallery.
‘I don’t think I ever enjoyed a sermon so much,’ said the pawnbroker to the Parnass.
‘Oh, he’s improving,’ said the Parnass, still swollen with satisfaction.
But as that worthy elder emerged from the synagogue, placidly snuffing himself, he found an excited gentleman waiting him in the lobby. It was Lazarus Levy, whom his wife Deborah, daughter of S. Cohn (now of Highbury), was vainly endeavouring to pacify.
‘Either that Reverend Gabriel goes, Mr. Parnass, or I resign my membership.’
‘What is it, Mr. Levy–what is the matter?’
‘Everybody knows I’ve been a good Jew all my life, and though Saturday is so good for the clothing business, I’ve striven with all my might to do my duty by the Almighty.’
‘Of course, of course; everybody knows that.’
‘And yet to-day I’m pointed out as a sinner in Israel; I’m coupled with that Simeon Samuels. Simeon and Levy are brothers in their iniquity–with their assembly be not united. A pretty libel, indeed!’
The Parnass’s complacency collapsed like an air-ball at a pin-prick. ‘Oh, nonsense, everybody knows he couldn’t mean you.’
‘I don’t know so much. There are always people ready to think one has just been discovered keeping a back-door open or something. I shouldn’t be at all surprised to get a letter from my father-in-law in London–you know how pious old Cohn is! As for Simeon, he kept looking at me as if I was his long-lost brother. Ah, there comes our precious minister…. Look here, Mr. Gabriel, I’ll have the law on you. Simeon’s no brother of mine—-‘
The sudden appearance of Simeon through the other swing-door cut the speaker short. ‘Good Shabbos,’ said the shameless sinner. ‘Ah, Mr. Gabriel, that was a very fine sermon.’ He stroked his beard. ‘I quite agree with you. To dig down a public wall is indefensible. Nobody has the right to make more than a private hole in it, where it blocks out his own prospect. So please do not bracket me with Mr. Levy again. Good Shabbos!’ And, waving his hand pleasantly, he left them to their consternation.
‘What an impudent face!’ said the Gabbai (treasurer), who witnessed the episode.
‘And our minister says I’m that man’s brother! exclaimed Mr. Levy.
‘Hush! Enough!’ said the Parnass, with a tactful inspiration. ‘You shall read the Haphtorah (prophetic section) next Shabbos.’
‘And Mr. Gabriel must explain he didn’t mean me,’ he stipulated, mollified by the magnificent Mitzvah (pious privilege).
‘You always try to drive a hard bargain,’ grumbled the Parnass. ‘That’s a question for Mr. Gabriel.’
The reverend gentleman had a happy thought. ‘Wait till we come to the text: “Wherefore Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren.”‘
‘You’re a gentleman, Mr. Gabriel,’ ejaculated S. Cohn’s son-in-law, clutching at his hand.
‘And if he doesn’t close to-day after your splendid sermon,’ added the Gabbai, ‘you must call and talk to him face to face.’
The minister made a wry face. ‘But that’s not in my duties.’
‘Pardon me, Mr. Gabriel,’ put in the Parnass, ‘you have to call upon the afflicted and the bereaved. And Simeon Samuels is spiritually afflicted, and has lost his Sabbath.’
‘But he doesn’t want comforting.’
‘Well, Solomon Barzinsky does,’ said the Parnass. ‘Go to him instead, then, for I’m past soothing him. Choose!’
‘I’ll go to Simeon Samuels,’ said the preacher gloomily.
‘It is most kind of you to call,’ said Simeon Samuels as he wheeled the parlour armchair towards his reverend guest. ‘My wife will be so sorry to have missed you. We have both been looking forward so much to your visit.’
‘You knew I was coming?’ said the minister, a whit startled.
‘I naturally expected a pastoral visit sooner or later.’
‘I’m afraid it is later,’ murmured the minister, subsiding into the chair.
‘Better late than never,’ cried Simeon Samuels heartily, as he produced a bottle from the sideboard. ‘Do you take it with hot water?’
‘Thank you–not at all. I am only staying a moment.’
‘Ah!’ He stroked his beard. ‘You are busy?’
‘Terribly busy,’ said the Rev. Elkan Gabriel.
‘Even on Sunday?’
‘Rather! It’s my day for secretarial work, as there’s no school.’
‘Poor Mr. Gabriel. I at least have Sunday to myself. But you have to work Saturday and Sunday too. It’s really too bad.’
‘Eh,’ said the minister blankly.
‘Oh, of course I know you must work on the Sabbath.’
‘I work on–on Shabbos!’ The minister flushed to the temples.
‘Oh, I’m not blaming you. One must live. In an ideal world of course you’d preach and pray and sing and recite the Law for nothing so that Heaven might perhaps overlook your hard labour, but as things are you must take your wages.’
The minister had risen agitatedly. ‘I earn my wages for the rest of my work–the Sabbath work I throw in,’ he said hotly.
‘Oh come, Mr. Gabriel, that quibble is not worthy of you. But far be it from me to judge a fellow-man.’
‘Far be it indeed!’ The attempted turning of his sabre-point gave him vigour for the lunge. ‘You–you whose shop stands brazenly open every Saturday!’
‘My dear Mr. Gabriel, I couldn’t break the Fourth Commandment.’
‘Would you have me break the Fourth Commandment?’
‘I do not understand.’
‘And yet you hold a Rabbinic diploma, I am told. Does not the Fourth Commandment run: “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work”? If I were to close on Saturday I should only be working five days a week, since in this heathen country Sunday closing is compulsory.’
‘But you don’t keep the other half of the Commandment,’ said the bewildered minister. ‘”And on the seventh is the Sabbath.”‘
‘Yes, I do–after my six days the seventh is my Sabbath. I only sinned once, if you will have it so, the first time I shifted the Sabbath to Sunday, since when my Sabbath has arrived regularly on Sundays.’
‘But you did sin once!’ said the minister, catching at that straw.
‘Granted, but as to get right again would now make a second sin, it seems more pious to let things be. Not that I really admit the first sin, for let me ask you, sir, which is nearer to the spirit of the Commandment–to work six days and keep a day of rest–merely changing the day once in one’s whole lifetime–or to work five days and keep two days of rest?’
The minister, taken aback, knew not how to meet this novel defence. He had come heavily armed against all the usual arguments as to the necessity of earning one’s bread. He was prepared to prove that even from a material point of view you really gained more in the long run, as it is written in the Conclusion-of-Sabbath Service: ‘Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.’
Simeon Samuels pursued his advantage.
‘My co-religionists in Sudminster seem to have put all the stress upon the resting half of the Commandment, forgetting the working half of it. I do my best to meet their views–as you say, one should not dig down a wall–by attending their Sabbath service on a day most inconvenient to me. But no sacrifice is too great to achieve prayerful communion with one’s brethren.’
‘But if your views were to prevail there would be an end of Judaism!’ the minister burst forth.
‘Then Heaven forbid they should prevail!’ said Simeon Samuels fervently. ‘It is your duty to put the opposition doctrine as strongly as possible from the pulpit.’ Then, as the minister rose in angry obfuscation, ‘You are sure you won’t have some whisky?’ he added.
‘No, I will take nothing from a house of sin. And if you show yourself next Sabbath I will preach at you again.’
‘So that is your idea of religion–to drive me from the synagogue. You are more likely to drive away the rest of the congregation, sick of always hearing the same sermon. As for me, you forget how I enjoy your eloquence, devoted though it is to the destruction of Judaism.’
‘Me!’ The minister became ungrammatical in his indignation.
‘Yes, you. To mix up religion with the almanac. People who find that your Sabbath wall shuts them out of all public life and all professions, just go outside it altogether, and think themselves outside the gates of Judaism. If my father–peace be upon him–hadn’t had your narrow notions, I should have gone to the Bar instead of being condemned to shop-keeping.’
‘You are a very good devil’s advocate now,’ retorted the minister.
Simeon Samuels stroked his beard. ‘Thank you. And I congratulate your client.’
‘You are an Epikouros (Epicurean), and I am wasting my time.’
‘And mine too.’
The minister strode into the shop. At the street-door he turned.
‘Then you persist in setting a bad example?’
‘A bad example! To whom? To your godly congregation? Considering every other shop in the town is open on Shabbos, one more or less can’t upset them.’
‘When it is the only Jewish shop! Are you aware, sir, that every other Jew in Sudminster closes rigorously on the Sabbath?’
‘I ascertained that before I settled here,’ said Simeon Samuels quietly.
The report of the pastor’s collapse produced an emergency meeting of the leading sheep. The mid-day dinner-hour was chosen as the slackest. A babble of suggestions filled the Parnass’s parlour. Solomon Barzinsky kept sternly repeating his Delenda est Carthago: ‘He must be expelled from the congregation.’
‘He should be expelled from the town altogether,’ said Mendel. ‘As it is written: “And remove Satan from before and behind us.”‘
‘Since when have we owned Sudminster?’ sneered the Parnass. ‘You might as well talk of expelling the Mayor and the Corporation.’
‘I didn’t mean by Act of Parliament,’ said Mendel. ‘We could make his life a torture.’
‘And meantime he makes yours a torture. No, no, the only way is to appeal to his soul—-‘
‘May it be an atonement for us all!’ interrupted Peleg the pawnbroker.
‘We must beg him not to destroy religion,’ repeated the Parnass.
‘I thought Mr. Gabriel had done that,’ said the Gabbai.
‘He is only a minister. He has no worldly tact.’
‘Then, why don’t you go?’ said Solomon Barzinsky.
‘I have too much worldly tact. The President’s visit might seem like an appeal to authority. It would set up his bristles. Besides, there wouldn’t be me left to appeal to. The congregation must keep some trump up its sleeve. No, a mere plain member must go, a simple brother in Israel, to talk to him, heart to heart. You, Barzinsky, are the very man.’
‘No, no, I’m not such a simple brother as all that. I’m in the same line, and he might take it for trade jealousy.’
‘Then Peleg must go.’
‘No, no, I’m not worthy to be the Sheliach Tzibbur!’ (envoy of the congregation).
The Parnass reassured him as to his merits. ‘The congregation could not have a worthier envoy.’
‘But I can’t leave my business.’
‘You, with your fine grown-up daughters!’ cried Barzinsky.
‘Don’t beshrew them–I will go at once.’
‘And these gentlemen must await you here,’ said the President, tapping his snuffbox incongruously at the ‘here,’ ‘in order to continue the sitting if you fail.’
‘I can’t wait more than a quarter of an hour,’ grumbled various voices in various keys.
Peleg departed nervously, upborne by the congregational esteem. He returned without even his own. Instead he carried a bulky barometer.
‘You must buy this for the synagogue, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘It will do to hang in the lobby.’
The Parnass was the only one left in command of his breath.
‘Buy a barometer!’ he gasped.
‘Well, it isn’t any good to me,’ retorted Peleg angrily.
‘Then why did you buy it?’ cried the Gabbai.
‘It was the cheapest article I could get off with.’
‘But you didn’t go to buy,’ said the Parnass.
‘I know that–but you come into the shop–naturally he takes you for a customer–he looks so dignified; he strokes his beard–you can’t look a fool, you must—-‘
‘Be one,’ snapped the Parnass. ‘And then you come to us to share the expenses!’
‘Well, what do I want with a barometer?’
‘It’ll do to tell you there’s a storm when the chimney-pots are blowing down,’ suggested the Parnass crushingly.
‘Put it in your window–you’ll make a profit out of it,’ said Mendel.
‘Not while Simeon Samuels is selling them cheaper, as with his Sabbath profits he can well afford to do!’
‘Oh, he said he’d stick to his Sabbath profit, did he?’ inquired the Parnass.
‘We never touched on that,’ said Peleg miserably. ‘I couldn’t manage to work the Sabbath into the conversation.’
‘This is terrible.’ Barzinsky’s fist smote the table. ‘I’ll go–let him suspect my motives or not. The Almighty knows they are pure.’
‘Bravo! Well spoken!’ There was a burst of applause. Several marine-dealers shot out their hands and grasped Barzinsky’s in admiration.
‘Do not await me, gentlemen,’ he said importantly. ‘Go in peace.’
‘Good afternoon, Mr. Samuels,’ said Solomon Barzinsky.
‘Good afternoon, sir. What can I do for you?’
‘You–you don’t know me? I am a fellow-Jew.’
‘That’s as plain as the nose on your face.’
‘You don’t remember me from Shool? Mr. Barzinsky! I had the rolling-up of the Scroll the time you had the elevation of it.’
‘Ah, indeed. At these solemn moments I scarcely notice people. But I am very glad to find you patronizing my humble establishment.’
‘I don’t want a barometer,’ said Solomon hurriedly.
‘That is fortunate, as I have just sold my last. But in the way of waterproofs, we have a new pattern, very seasonable.’
‘No, no; I didn’t come for a waterproof.’
‘I didn’t come to buy anything.’
‘Ah, you wish to sell me something.’
‘Not that either. The fact is, I’ve come to beg of you, as one Jew to another—-‘
‘A Schnorrer!’ interrupted Simeon Samuels. ‘Oh, Lord, I ought to have recognised you by that synagogue beginning.’
‘Me, a Schnorrer!’ The little man swelled skywards. ‘Me, Solomon Barzinsky, whose shop stood in Sudminster twenty years before you poked your nose in—-‘
‘I beg your pardon. There! you see I’m a beggar, too.’ And Simeon Samuels laughed mirthlessly. ‘Well, you’ve come to beg of me.’ And his fingers caressed his patriarchal beard.
‘I don’t come on my own account only,’ Barzinsky stammered.
‘I understand. You want a contribution to the Passover Cake Fund. My time is precious, so is yours. What is the Parnass giving?’
‘I’m not begging for money. I represent the congregation.’
‘Dear me, why didn’t you come to the point quicker? The congregation wishes to beg my acceptance of office. Well, it’s very good of you all, especially as I’m such a recent addition. But I really feel a diffidence. You see, my views of the Sabbath clash with those of the congregation.’
‘They do!’ cried Barzinsky, leaping at his opportunity.
‘Yes, I am for a much stricter observance than appears general here. Scarcely one of you carries his handkerchief tied round his loins like my poor old father, peace be upon him! You all carry the burden of it impiously in a pocket.’
‘I never noticed your handkerchief round your waist!’ cried the bewildered Barzinsky.
‘Perhaps not; I never had a cold; it remained furled.’
Simeon Samuels’ superb insolence twitched Barzinsky’s mouth agape. ‘But you keep your shop open!’ he cried at last.
‘That would be still another point of clashing,’ admitted Simeon Samuels blandly. ‘Altogether, you will see the inadvisability of my accepting office.’
‘Office!’ echoed Barzinsky, meeting the other’s ironic fence with crude thwacks. ‘Do you think a God-fearing congregation would offer office to a Sabbath-breaker?’
‘Ah, so that was at the back of it. I suspected something underhand in your offer. I was to be given office, was I, on condition of closing my shop on Saturday? No, Mr. Barzinsky. Go back and tell those who sent you that Simeon Samuels scorns stipulations, and that when you offer to make him Parnass unconditionally he may consider your offer, but not till then. Good-bye. You must jog along with your present apology for a Parnass.’
‘You–you Elisha ben Abuyai!’ And, consoled only by the aptness of his reference to the atheist of the Talmud, Barzinsky rushed off to tell the Parnass how Simeon Samuels had insulted them both.
The Parnass, however, was not to be drawn yet. He must keep himself in reserve, he still insisted. But perhaps, he admitted, Simeon Samuels resented mere private members or committeemen. Let the Gabbai go.
Accordingly the pompous treasurer of the synagogue strode into the notorious shop on the Sabbath itself, catching Simeon Samuels red-handed.
But nothing could be suaver than that gentleman’s ‘Good Shabbos. What can I do for you?’
‘You can shut up your shop,’ said the Gabbai brusquely.
‘And how shall I pay your bill, then?’
‘I’d rather give you a seat and all the honours for nothing than see this desecration.’
‘You must have a goodly surplus, then.’
‘We have enough.’
‘That’s strange. You’re the first Gabbai I ever knew who was satisfied with his balance-sheet. Is it your excellent management, I wonder, or have you endowments?’
‘That’s not for me to say. I mean we have five or six hundred pounds in legacies.’
‘Indeed! Soundly invested, I hope?’
‘First-class. English Railway Debentures.’
‘I see. Trustee stock.’ Simeon Samuels stroked his beard. ‘And so your whole congregation works on the Sabbath. A pretty confession!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Runs railway trains, lights engine-fires, keeps porters and signal-men toiling, and pockets the profits!’
‘You, sir, in particular, as the financial representative of the congregation. How can any Jew hold industrial shares in a heathen country without being a partner in a Sabbath business–ay, and opening on the Day of Atonement itself? And it is you who have the audacity to complain of me! I, at least, do my own dirty work, not hide myself behind stocks and shares. Good Shabbos to you, Mr. Gabbai, and kindly mind your own business in future–your locomotives and your sidings and your stinking tunnels.’
The Parnass could no longer delay the diplomatic encounter. ‘Twas vain to accuse the others of tactlessness, and shirk the exhibition of his own tact. He exhibited it most convincingly by not informing the others that he was about to put it to a trial.
Hence he refrained from improving a synagogue opportunity, but sneaked one week-day towards the shop. He lingered without, waiting to be invited within. Thus all appearance of his coming to rebuke would be removed. His mission should pop up from a casual conversation.
He peeped into the window, passed and repassed.
Simeon Samuels, aware of a fly hovering on the purlieus of his web, issued from its centre, as the Parnass turned his back on the shop and gazed musingly at the sky.
‘Looks threatening for rain, sir,’ observed Simeon Samuels, addressing the back. ‘Our waterproofs—- Bless my soul, but it surely isn’t our Parnass!’
‘Yes, I’m just strolling about. I seem to have stumbled on your establishment.’
‘Lucky for me.’
‘And a pleasure for me. I never knew you had such a nice display.’
‘Won’t you come inside, and see the stock?’
‘Thank you, I must really get back home. And besides, as you say, it is threatening for rain.’
‘I’ll lend you a waterproof, or even sell you one cheap. Come in, sir–come in. Pray honour me.’
Congratulating himself on catching the spider, the fly followed him within.
A quarter of an hour passed, in which he must buzz about the stock. It seemed vastly difficult to veer round to the Sabbath through the web of conversation the spider wove round him. Simeon Samuels’ conception of a marine-dealer’s stock startled him by its comprehensiveness, and when he was asked to admire an Indian shawl, he couldn’t help inquiring what it was doing there.
‘Well,’ explained Simeon Samuels, ‘occasionally a captain or first mate will come back to England, home, and beauty, and will have neglected to buy foreign presents for his womenkind. I then remind him of the weakness of womenkind for such trophies of their menfolks’ travel.’
‘Excellent. I won’t tell your competitors.’
‘Oh, those cattle!’ Simeon snapped his fingers. ‘If they stole my idea, they’d not be able to carry it out. It’s not easy to cajole a captain.’
‘No, you’re indeed a honeyed rascal,’ thought the Parnass.
‘I also do a brisk business in chutney,’ went on Simeon. ‘It’s a thing women are especially fond of having brought back to them from India. And yet it’s the last thing their menkind think of till I remind them of it on their return.’
‘I certainly brought back none,’ said the Parnass, smiling in spite of himself.
‘You have been in India?’
‘I have,’ replied the Parnass, with a happy inspiration, ‘and I brought back to my wife something more stimulating than chutney.’
‘Yes, the story of the Beni-Israel, the black Jews, who, surrounded by all those millions of Hindoos, still keep their Sabbath.’
‘Ah, poor niggers. Then you’ve been half round the world.’
‘All round the world, for I went there and back by different routes. And it was most touching, wherever I went, to find everywhere a colony of Jews, and everywhere the Holy Sabbath kept sacred.’
‘But on different days, of course,’ said Simeon Samuels.
‘Eh? Not at all! On the same day.’
‘On the same day! How could that be? The day changes with every move east or west. When it’s day here, it’s night in Australia.’
Darkness began to cloud the presidential brow.
‘Don’t you try to make black white!’ he said angrily.
‘It’s you that are trying to make white black,’ retorted Simeon Samuels. ‘Perhaps you don’t know that I hail from Australia, and that by working on Saturday I escape profaning my native Australian Sabbath, while you, who have been all round the world, and have either lost or gained a day, according as you travelled east or west, are desecrating your original Sabbath either by working on Friday or smoking on Sunday.’
The Parnass felt his head going round–he didn’t know whether east or west. He tried to clear it by a pinch of snuff, which he in vain strove to make judicial.
‘Oh, and so, and so–atchew!–and so you’re the saint and I’m the sinner!’ he cried sarcastically.
‘No, I don’t profess to be a saint,’ replied Simeon Samuels somewhat unexpectedly. ‘But I do think the Saturday was meant for Palestine, not for the lands of the Exile, where another day of rest rules. When you were in India you probably noted that the Mohammedans keep Friday. A poor Jew in the bazaar is robbed of his Hindoo customers on Friday, of his Jews on Saturday, and his Christians on Sunday.’
‘The Fourth Commandment is eternal!’ said the Parnass with obstinate sublimity.
‘But the Fifth says, “that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” I believe this reward belongs to all the first five Commandments–not only to the Fifth–else an orphan would have no chance of long life. Keep the Sabbath in the land that the Lord giveth thee; not in England, which isn’t thine.’
‘Oho!’ retorted the Parnass. ‘Then at that rate in England you needn’t honour your father and mother.’
‘Not if you haven’t got them!’ rejoined Simeon Samuels. ‘And if you haven’t got a land, you can’t keep its Sabbath. Perhaps you think we can keep the Jubilee also without a country.’
‘The Sabbath is eternal,’ repeated the Parnass doggedly. ‘It has nothing to do with countries. Before we got to the Promised Land we kept the Sabbath in the wilderness.’
‘Yes, and God sent a double dose of manna on the Friday. Do you mean to say He sends us here a double dose of profit?’
‘He doesn’t let us starve. We prospered well enough before you brought your wretched example—-‘
‘Then my wretched example cannot lead the congregation away. I am glad of it. You do them much more harm by your way of Sabbath-breaking.’
‘Yes, my dear old father–peace be upon him!–would have been scandalized to see the burden you carry on the Sabbath.’
‘What burden do I carry?’
The Parnass almost dropped it. ‘That little thing!’
‘I call it a cumbrous, not to say tasteless thing. But before the Almighty there is no great and no small. One who stands in such a high place in the synagogue must be especially mindful, and every unnecessary burden—-‘
‘But snuff is necessary for me–I can’t do without it.’
‘Other Presidents have done without it. As it is written in Jeremiah: “And the wild asses did stand in the high places; they snuffed up the wind.”‘
The Parnass flushed like a beetroot. ‘I’ll teach you to know your place, sir.’ He turned his back on the scoffer, and strode towards the door.
‘But if you’d care for a smaller snuff-box,’ said Simeon Samuels, ‘I have an artistic assortment.’
At the next meeting of the Synagogue Council a notice of motion stood upon the agenda in the name of the Parnass himself:
‘That this Council views with the greatest reprobation the breach of the Fourth Commandment committed weekly by a member of the congregation, and calls upon him either to resign his seat, with the burial and other rights appertaining thereto, or to close his business on the Sabbath.’
When the resolution came up Mr. Solomon Barzinsky moved as an amendment that weekly be altered into ‘twice a week,’ since the member kept open on Friday night as well as Saturday.
The Parnass refused to accept the amendment. There was only one Sabbath a week, though it had two periods. ‘And the evening and the morning were one day.’
Mr. Peleg supported the amendment. They must not leave Mr. Simeon Samuels a loophole of escape. It was also, he said, the duty of the Council to buy a barometer the rogue had foisted upon him.
After an animated discussion, mainly about the barometer, the President accepted the amendment, but produced a great impression by altering ‘twice a week’ into ‘bi-weekly.’
A Mr. John Straumann, however, who prided himself on his style, and had even changed his name to John because Jacob grated on his delicate ear, refused to be impressed.
Committed bi-weekly by a member sounded almost jocose, he argued. ‘Buy! buy!’ it sounded like a butcher’s cry.
Mr. Enoch, the kosher butcher, rose amid excitement, and asked if he had come there to be insulted!
‘Sit down! sit down!’ said the Parnass roughly. ‘It’s no matter how the resolution sounds. It will be in writing.’
‘Then why not add,’ sarcastically persisted the stylist, ‘”Committed bi-weekly by a member by buying and selling.”‘
‘Order, order!’ said the Parnass angrily. ‘Those who are in favour of the resolution! Carried.’
‘By a majority,’ sneered the stylist, subsiding.
‘Mr. Secretary’–the President turned to the poor Reverend-of-all-work–‘you need not record this verbal discussion in the minutes.’
‘By request,’ said the stylist, reviving.
‘But what’s the use of the resolution if you don’t mention the member’s name?’ suddenly inquired Ephraim Mendel, stretching his long, languid limbs.
‘But there’s only one Sabbath-breaker,’ replied the Parnass.
‘To-day, yes, but to-morrow there might be two.’
‘It could hardly be to-morrow,’ said the stylist. ‘For that happens to be a Monday.’
Barzinsky bashed the table. ‘Mr. President, are we here for business or are we not?’
‘You may be here for business–I am here for religion,’ retorted Straumann the stylist.
‘You–you snub-nosed monkey, what do you mean?’
‘Order, order, gentlemen,’ said the Parnass.
‘I will not order,’ said Solomon Barzinsky excitedly. ‘I did not come here to be insulted.’
‘Insulted!’ quoth Straumann. ‘It’s you that must apologize, you illiterate icthyosaurus! I appeal to the President.’
‘You have both insulted me,’ was that worthy’s ruling. ‘I give the word to Mr. Mendel.’
‘But—-‘ from both the combatants simultaneously.
‘Order, order!’ from a dozen throats.
‘I said Simeon Samuels’ name must be put in,’ Mendel repeated.
‘You should have said so before–the resolution is carried now,’ said the President.
‘And a fat lot of good it will do,’ said Peleg. ‘Gentlemen, if you knew him as well as I, if you had my barometer to read him by, you’d see that the only remedy is to put him in Cherem‘ (excommunication).
‘If he can’t get buried it is a kind of Cherem,’ said the Gabbai.
‘Assuredly,’ added the Parnass. ‘He will be frightened to think that if he dies suddenly—-‘
‘And he is sure to take a sudden death,’ put in Barzinsky with unction.
‘He will not be buried among Jews,’ wound up the Parnass.
‘Hear, hear!’ A murmur of satisfaction ran round the table. All felt that Simeon Samuels was cornered at last. It was resolved that the resolution be sent to him.
‘Mr. Simeon Samuels requests me to say that he presents his compliments to the secretary of the Sudminster Hebrew Congregation, and begs to acknowledge the receipt of the Council’s resolution. In reply I am to state that Mr. Samuels regrets that his views on the Sabbath question should differ from those of his fellow-worshippers, but he has not attempted to impress his views on the majority, and he regrets that in a free country like England they should have imported the tyranny of the lands of persecution from which they came. Fortunately such procedure is illegal. By the act of Charles I. the Sabbath is defined as the Sunday, and as a British subject Mr. Samuels takes his stand upon the British Constitution. Mr. Samuels has done his best to compromise with the congregation by attending the Sabbath service on the day most convenient to the majority. In regard to the veiled threat of the refusal of burial rights, Mr. Samuels desires me to say that he has no intention of dying in Sudminster, but merely of getting his living there. In any case, under his will, his body is to be deported to Jerusalem, where he has already acquired a burying-place.’
‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ cried Barzinsky fervently, when this was read to the next meeting.
‘Order, order,’ said the Parnass. ‘I don’t believe in his Jerusalem grave. They won’t admit his dead body.’
‘He relies on smuggling in alive,’ said Barzinsky gloomily, ‘as soon as he has made his pile.’
‘That won’t be very long at this rate,’ added Ephraim Mendel.
‘The sooner the better,’ said the Gabbai impatiently. ‘Let him go to Jericho.’
There was a burst of laughter, to the Gabbai’s great astonishment.
‘Order, order, gentlemen,’ said the Parnass. ‘Don’t you see from this insolent letter how right I was? The rascal threatens to drag us to the Christian Courts, that’s clear. All that about Jerusalem is only dust thrown into our eyes.’
‘Grave-dust,’ murmured Straumann.
‘Order! He is a dangerous customer.’
‘Shopkeeper,’ corrected Straumann.
The Parnass glared, but took snuff silently.
‘I don’t wonder he laughed at us,’ said Straumann, encouraged. ‘Bi-weekly by a member. Ha! ha! ha!’
‘Mr. President!’ Barzinsky screamed. ‘Will you throw that laughing hyena out, or shall I?’
Straumann froze to a statue of dignity. ‘Let any animalcule try it on,’ said he.
‘Shut up, you children, I’ll chuck you both out,’ said Ephraim Mendel in conciliatory tones. ‘The point is–what’s to be done now, Mr. President?’
‘Nothing–till the end of the year. When he offers his new subscription we refuse to take it. That can’t be illegal.’
‘We ought all to go to him in a friendly deputation,’ said Straumann. ‘These formal resolutions “Buy! buy!” put his back up. We’ll go to him as brothers–all Israel are brethren, and blood is thicker than water.’
‘Chutney is thicker than blood,’ put in the Parnass mysteriously. ‘He’ll simply try to palm off his stock on the deputation.’
Ephraim Mendel and Solomon Barzinsky jumped up simultaneously. ‘What a good idea,’ said Ephraim. ‘There you have hit it!’ said Solomon. Their simultaneous popping-up had an air of finality–like the long and the short of it!
‘You mean?’ said the Parnass, befogged in his turn.
‘I mean,’ said Barzinsky, ‘we could buy up his stock, me and the other marine-dealers between us, and he could clear out!’
‘If he sold it reasonably,’ added Mendel.
‘Even unreasonably you must make a sacrifice for the Sabbath,’ said the Parnass. ‘Besides, divided among the lot of you, the loss would be little.’
‘And you can buy in my barometer with the rest,’ added Peleg.
‘We could call a meeting of marine-dealers,’ said Barzinsky, disregarding him. ‘We could say to them we must sacrifice ourselves for our religion.’
‘Tell that to the marine-dealers!’ murmured Straumann.
‘And that we must buy out the Sabbath-breaker at any cost.’
‘Buy! buy!’ said Straumann. ‘If you’d only thought of that sort of “Buy! buy!” at the first!’
‘Order, order!’ said the Parnass.
‘It would be more in order,’ said Straumann, ‘to appoint an executive sub-committee to deal with the question. I’m sick of it. And surely we as a Synagogue Council can’t be in order in ordering some of our members to buy out another.’
‘Hear, hear!’ His suggestion found general approval. It took a long discussion, however, before the synagogue decided to wash its hands of responsibility, and give over to a sub-committee of three the task of ridding Sudminster of its plague-spot by any means that commended itself to them.
Solomon Barzinsky, Ephraim Mendel, and Peleg the pawnbroker were elected to constitute this Council of Three.
The glad news spread through the Sudminster Congregation that Simeon Samuels had at last been bought out–at a terrible loss to the martyred marine-dealers who had had to load themselves with chutney and other unheard-of and unsaleable stock. But they would get back their losses, it was felt, by the removal of his rivalry. Carts were drawn up before the dismantled plate-glass window carrying off its criminal contents, and Simeon Samuels stood stroking his beard amid the ruins.
Then the shop closed; the shutters that should have honoured the Sabbath now depressed the Tuesday. Simeon Samuels was seen to get into the London train. The demon that troubled their sanctity had been exorcised. A great peace reigned in every heart, almost like the Sabbath peace coming into the middle of the week.
‘If they had only taken my advice earlier,’ said Solomon Barzinsky to his wife, as he rolled his forkful of beef in the chutney.
‘You can write to your father, Deborah,’ said Lazarus Levy, ‘that we no longer need the superior reach-me-downs.’
On the Wednesday strange new rumours began to circulate, and those who hastened to confirm them stood dumbfounded before great posters on all the shutters:
CLOSED FOR RE-STOCKING
THE OLD-FASHIONED STOCK OF THIS BUSINESS
HAVING BEEN SOLD OFF TO THE TRADE,
IS TAKING THE OPPORTUNITY
TO LAY IN THE BEST AND MOST UP-TO-DATE
LONDON AND CONTINENTAL GOODS
FOR HIS CUSTOMERS.
BARGAINS AND NOVELTIES IN EVERY DEPARTMENT.
RE-OPEN SATURDAY NEXT
A hurried emergency meeting of the Executive Sub-Committee was called.
‘He has swindled us,’ said Solomon Barzinsky. ‘This paper signed by him merely undertakes to shut up his shop. And he will plead he meant for a day or two.’
‘And he agreed to leave the town,’ wailed Peleg, ‘but he meant to buy goods.’
‘Well, we can have the law of him,’ said Mendel. ‘We paid him compensation for disturbance.’
‘And can’t he claim he was disturbed?’ shrieked Barzinsky. ‘His whole stock turned upside down!’
‘Let him claim!’ said Mendel. ‘There is such a thing as obtaining money under false pretences.’
‘And such a thing as becoming the laughing-stock of the heathen,’ said Peleg. ‘We must grin and bear it ourselves.’
‘It’s all very well for you to grin,’ said Solomon tartly. ‘We’ve got to bear it. You didn’t take over any of his old rubbish.’
‘Didn’t I, indeed? What about the barometer?’
‘Confound your barometer!’ cried Ephraim Mendel. ‘I’ll have the law of him; I’ve made up my mind.’
‘Well, you’ll have to bear the cost, then,’ said Peleg. ‘It’s none of my business.’
‘Yes, it is,’ shouted Mendel. ‘As a member of the Sub-Committee you can’t dissociate yourselves from us.’
‘A nice idea that–I’m to be dragged into your law-suits!’
‘Hush, leave off these squabbles!’ said Solomon Barzinsky. ‘The law is slow, and not even sure. The time has come for desperate measures. We must root out the plague-spot with our own hands.’
‘Hear, hear,’ said the rest of the Sub-Committee.
On the succeeding Sabbath Simeon Samuels was not the only figure in the synagogue absorbed in devotion. Solomon Barzinsky, Ephraim Mendel, and Peleg the pawnbroker were all rapt in equal piety, while the rest of the congregation was shaken with dreadful gossip about them. Their shops were open, too, it would seem.
Immediately after the service the Parnass arrested Solomon Barzinsky’s exit, and asked him if the rumour were true.
‘Perfectly true,’ replied Solomon placidly. ‘The Executive Sub-Committee passed the resolution to—-‘
‘To break the Sabbath!’ interrupted the Parnass.
‘We had already sacrificed our money; there was nothing left but to sacrifice our deepest feelings—-‘
‘But what for?’
‘Why, to destroy his advantage, of course. Five-sixths of his Sabbath profits depend on the marine-dealers closing, and when he sees he’s breaking the Sabbath in vain—-‘
‘Rubbish! You are asked to stop a congregational infection, and you—-‘
‘Vaccinate ourselves with the same stuff, to make sure the attack shall be light.’
‘It’s a hair of the dog that bit us,’ said Mendel, who, with Peleg, had lingered to back up Barzinsky.
‘Of the mad dog!’ exclaimed the Parnass. ‘And you’re all raging mad.’
‘It’s the only sane way,’ urged Peleg. ‘When he sees his rivals open—-‘
‘You!’ The President turned on him. ‘You are not even a marine-dealer. Why are you open?’
‘How could I dissociate myself from the rest of the Sub-Committee?’ inquired Peleg with righteous indignation.
‘You are a set of sinners in Israel!’ cried the Parnass, forgetting even to take snuff. ‘This will split up the congregation.’
‘The congregation through its Council gave the Committee full power to deal with the matter,’ said Barzinsky with dignity.
‘But then the other marine-dealers will open as well as the Committee!’
‘I trust not,’ replied Barzinsky fervently. ‘Two of us are enough to cut down his takings.’
‘But the whole lot of you would be still more efficacious. Oh, this is the destruction of our congregation, the death of our religion!’
‘No, no, no,’ said Solomon soothingly. ‘You are mistaken. We are most careful not to touch money. We are going to trust our customers, and keep our accounts without pen or ink. We have invented a most ingenious system, which gives us far more work than writing, but we have determined to spare ourselves no trouble to keep the Sabbath from unnecessary desecration.’
‘And once the customers don’t pay up, your system will break down. No, no; I shall write to the Chief Rabbi.’
‘We will explain our motives,’ said Mendel.
‘Your motives need no explanation. This scandal must cease.’
‘And who are you to give orders?’ shrieked Solomon Barzinsky. ‘You’re not speaking to a Schnorrer, mind you. My banking account is every bit as big as yours. For two pins I start an opposition Shool.’
‘A Sunday Shool!’ said the Parnass sarcastically.
‘And why not? It would be better than sitting playing solo on Sundays. We are not in Palestine now.’
‘Oh, Simeon Samuels has been talking to you, has he?’
‘I don’t need Simeon Samuels’ wisdom. I’m an Englishman myself.’
The desperate measures of the Sub-Committee were successful. The other marine-dealers hastened to associate themselves with the plan of campaign, and Simeon Samuels soon departed in search of a more pious seaport.
But, alas! homoeopathy was only half-vindicated. For the remedy proved worse than the disease, and the cutting-out of the original plague-spot left the other marine-stores still infected. The epidemic spread from them till it had overtaken half the shops of the congregation. Some had it in a mild form–only one shutter open, or a back door not closed–but in many it came out over the whole shop-window.
The one bright spot in the story of the Sudminster Sabbath is that the congregation of which the present esteemed Parnass is Solomon Barzinsky, Esq., J.P., managed to avert the threatened split, and that while in so many other orthodox synagogues the poor minister preaches on the Sabbath to empty benches, the Sudminster congregation still remains at the happy point of compromise acutely discovered by Simeon Samuels: of listening reverentially every Saturday morning to the unchanging principles of its minister-elect, the while its shops are engaged in supplying the wants of Christendom.