Sholem Aleichem and Others: Laughing Off the Trauma of History

Roskies, David G.

Sholem Aleichem lived just long enough to see his comic muse tested to the limit. As we follow his writings in chronological order, in a time span of escalating violence, we see an ever-growing tension between what is being narrated and the way it is narrated. The greater the pain, the greater the discrepancy. This, strange to say, is the stuff of his humor. By drawing on folk tradition, on concepts of normalcy and on models of communication, Sholem Aleichem perfected an art of the incongruous to take on the vicissitudes of modern times. It was a comic paradigm which could be followed by very few because so few could sustain a vision of human inviolability as the divergence between catas trophe and the tongue became ever more extreme. How Sholem Alei chem trained to walk the tightrope and who it was among the survivors of later cataclysms that followed his precarious lead are the questions that concern us, as we set out to write a garrulous chapter in the modern Jewish literary response to catastrophe.


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Jewish Theological Seminary
Published Here
November 13, 2012