Knowledge vs religion

Yiddish writer S. An-sky portrays a character caught in the clash between the yeshiva world and secular culture.

June 22, 2017 17:36
4 minute read.
Trzebinia Jews

Students at a yeshiva in Trzebinia, Poland. (photo credit: YAD VASHEM)


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As Pioneers: The First Breach begins, Zalmen Itzkowitz, a freethinker, has left his yeshiva in Vitebsk to earn his living in the shtetl town of Miloslavka, teaching students the Russian language and other secular subjects. When he asks Chana Leah, the wife of his innkeeper, to put in a good word for him with the townswomen, she shrugs: “Well, honestly, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to learn all those things. Can’t people get by without knowledge?”

Her husband, Reb Leivik, is convinced that the rabbis will chase anyone teaching “such nonsense” out of town. But when he learns that Itzkowitz has promised a few rubles for her help, he tells Chana Leah to go ahead, throws the tutor “a contemptuous glance,” and heads out the door “to Baruch to tear out his beard.”


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