2: Short story excerpt, I. L. Peretz's “A Conversation,” 1900, in Yiddish with English translation.
I. L. Peretz (1852-1915) is one of the founding and most important writers of modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature. In this story, two older Hasidim, Shakhne and Zerakh, followers of different Hasidic sects, have a conversation about competing religious values and beliefs. Because the conversation takes place during Passover, it focuses on the relative importance of the Haggadah — the book read aloud during the Passover seder — and knaidlach. To the men, these two items serve as stand-ins for the soul, represented by the book, and the body, represented by the dumpling. Their conversation, based as it is on the tangible objects of the Haggadah and knaidlach, simplifies abstract religious concepts, taking them out of the realm of Rabbinical texts and placing them into the day-to-day speech of friends.
In this excerpt, Shakhne says of his sect, the Hasidim of Kotsk, that they “don’t care much for the Haggadah, only for the knaidlach,” referencing the Yiddish aphorism "Me meynt nisht di hagode, nor di kneydlekh" ("One thinks not of the Haggadah, but rather of the knaidlach"), used to refer to a person who concentrates only on pleasures and not on responsibilities. Though Zerakh laughs at such a disorder of priorities, Shakhne turns the phrase on its head, insisting on the value of the knaidlach. Ultimately, the two men are not arguing about food and text but rather about what it means to be a Jew, and whether a Jew must, or even should, engage in celebration.
Suggested Activity: Ask your students the following questions: what point is Shakhne trying to make to Zerakh with this reference to the Torah: "You shall not return a runaway slave to his master"? What does does the knaidel represent to Shakhne? What does the Haggadah represent?
Ask students: how do you weigh the relative importance of the Haggadah and the knaidlach in your own conception of Passover? Divide your class in half and ask one half to list reasons why the Haggadah is more important, and the other half to list reasons in favor of knaidlach. Have the class conduct a Haggadah vs. knaidlach debate.
Sources: I. L. Peretz, "A shmues," in Khsidish (In the Hasidic Manner) (Vilna: Vilna farlag fun b. kletskin (Vilna Publisher of B. Kletskin), 1915), 148-149, digitzed by the Yiddish Book Center at <https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yiddish-books/spb-nybc204311/peretz-isaac-leib-hsidish>, 148-152, accessed March 1, 2018.
I. L. Peretz, “A. Conversation,” trans. Ruth R. Wisse, in The I. L. Peretz Reader, ed. Ruth R. Wisse (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 181-184.