Romance, Old Age, and Even Comfort in the Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer

December 1, 2023 | Rokhl Kafrissen
About the author:

When one thinks of the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer, filled as it is with depictions of human frailty and depravity, and with demons real and imagined, neither comfort nor coziness are the first things that come to mind. Rokhl Kafrissen nonetheless reports that she has found a measure of solace in rereading his stories with their “absolute obsession with mourning, loss, [and] grief,” even if she “wouldn’t say that they were exactly comforting.”

Consider, for example, the married couple of Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe in “Short Friday.” Though they are still young, Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe have no children. As with many of Singer’s stories, this couple is mismatched: she was something of a beauty in her youth; he is shorter than she is and an object of mockery in their town. Nonetheless, the two are equally pious and snugly wrapped in a blanket of mutual admiration.

Though they are poor, and Shmul-Leibele isn’t much of a provider, on Shabbat, they live like royalty, especially during the winter. Rather than try to get everything ready during the short winter day, they would stay up all night on Thursday, making their Sabbath preparations. Shoshe kneads the dough, tends the oven, and even prepares the Shabbos chicken (or goose) by candlelight, while making little nibbles to feed Shmul-Leibele, who likes to climb up on top of the oven and watch Shoshe at her tasks.

The story itself is permeated with something . . . cozy, warm, sheltered, and held in love.

And even though the story’s ending can be read as tragic, it is closer to Ovid’s tale of Baucis and Philemon than to Romeo and Juliet.

Read more on Tablet: