A System for Wandering

Ornament

16 April 2006, 22.48 CET

. . . They [the beggars] had some system in their wandering; they divided the country into fifty-two sections, one for each week in the year. And to each section they gave the name of the particular division of the Pentateuch which was read that Sabbath in the synagogue. Thus they avoided visiting the same village twice in one year. But thus it also came about that they knew no names of villages: they knew only the Pentateuchal divisions attached to them.

“My Genesis is a bit of all right,” one said, sighing. “Fish and calves’ foot jelly and good pudding and stewed carrots and cake and as much whiskey as I want. And lots of beet soup and potatoes. I wouldn’t sell that Genesis for three gulden.”

“My Leviticus,” said another, bitterly, “is lousy. I hope to God it burns up. A piece of fish as big as your finger nail, white bread just enough for the benediction, and after that nothing but black bread.”

Toward one side, taking no part in the conversation, sat a young beggar in flimsy, tattered clothes. His face was white and hollow; a thin beard outlined rather than covered it. He held in his lap an old prayer-book, and chanted, in a continuous monotone, passages from the Psalms.

All day long he had been seated there, indifferent to the commerce around him. . . .

—Israel Joshua Singer, Yoshe Kalb. New York: Schocken Books, 1988. pg. 123.

Translated from the Yiddish by Maurice Samuel. First English edition published in 1933 as The Sinner by Liveright, Inc.