Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

The Frozen Rabbi: Week 7, Part 3

Dressed in one of Mr. Karp's jackets, the rabbi makes his entrance

Print Email
Illustration by Paul Rogers

Came the evening meal when Mr. Karp asked his son if he knew anything about certain books that had been checked out of the library at Congregation Felix Frankfurter. It seemed he had had a phone call from Rabbi Tommy Birnbaum expressing concern about some volumes of “mysticalism” (the rabbi could scarcely contain his distaste at pronouncing the word) that Miss Ribalow had brought to his attention, which had yet to be returned.

“He wanted me to know I should always feel free to talk to him, called me Julius, this Rabbi Whosits who don’t know me from Adam. Then he asks me do I think it’s appropriate that I should send a boy to fetch such books. Son, you got something to say to me?”

There had, of course, been other clues to the effect that all was not as it had been in the Karp household. For one thing, while Bernie continued to clean his plate each night and ask for more, the kid had begun to lose weight, his amorphous body assuming a more recognizably human form. Moreover, his pimples had started to retreat like a defeated army from his forehead and cheeks, leaving behind a pitted visage revealing rudimentary traces of character. But Julius Karp and his wife, otherwise engaged, had never been especially sensitive to changes in their son’s physiognomy. What Mr. Karp was aware of, however, was that certain items of his own sartorial wardrobe—a bathrobe, a shirt, a houndstooth jacket, a pair of Dacron slacks—had gone missing, an absence he attributed to the newly hired schwartze’s presumed kleptomania; and he had duly ordered his wife (who ignored him) to confront Cleopatra, the maid.

“Well, young man,” pressed Mr. Karp, slightly uncomfortable in the role of interrogator, “I’m all ears.” Which he flapped Dumbo fashion to ease the tension. “So what’s the story?”

Bernie assured him there was no story, then muttered some excuse about researching a social studies paper on the Jews.

“Jews?” Mr. Karp made a face as if sampling some foreign dish. Bernie’s school, whose season had recommenced, was in any case largely run by Southern Baptists who gave short shrift to the very idea of Jews, let alone inviting papers on their habits and mores. “Isn’t that an awfully broad topic?”

“Yessir,” said Bernie, which was a bit of a give-away, since nowhere in memory had he ever said “sir” to his father. “But I only have to name the main attractions,” digging himself a deeper hole. To try and climb out of it, he began to cite highlights from the Judaic tradition in both its normative and antinomian aspects, remarking upon the influence of various saints and religious geniuses. In the midst of a discourse that threatened to run away with him, he realized that his parents’ mouths were hanging open in response to their son’s unnatural erudition, so Bernie shut up. Still the jaws of Mr. and Mrs. Karp remained mutually agape, though their eyes had shifted from the boy to the middle distance beyond Bernie’s left shoulder. Bernie swiveled in his seat to follow their gaze, which lit upon Rabbi Eliezer ben Zephyr himself, standing squarely beneath the dining room’s proscenium arch. He was wearing a felt fedora and a houndstooth jacket several sizes large, a burgundy shirt with a parrot necktie fastened about his wattled throat (visible now beneath his unevenly trimmed beard) in a combination of a Windsor and a Gordian knot.

“I think,” announced the old man, his flesh as translucent as beeswax, marsupial pouches beneath his rheumy eyes, “I will like now to see for mayn self the Golden Land.”

Oscillating between horror and disbelief, Mr. Karp turned again to his son. “You knew all the time he was still around?”

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of The Frozen Rabbi. Or, to get each day’s installment of The Frozen Rabbi in your inbox, sign up for the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest, and tell your friends.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Frozen Rabbi: Week 7, Part 3

Dressed in one of Mr. Karp's jackets, the rabbi makes his entrance
More on Tablet:

Wolf Blitzer Explores His Jewish Roots

By David Meir Grossman — CNN host visits Yad Vashem and Auschwitz for the network’s ‘Roots’ series