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 2, Part 4

Though weak with hunger, Salo takes a stand

Print Email
Illustration by Paul Rogers

Meanwhile he starved, though occasionally some sympathetic old baba yaga would scuttle forth from her kennel to spare him a stale pierogen or a potato as soft as a powder puff. These he would dine on for days, storing the leftovers under the burlap in the refrigerated casket to extend their relative freshness. Lightheaded from hunger, Salo sometimes daydreamed: The river he had just been ferried across (for the price of reading scripture aloud to an illiterate ferryman) was the lost Sambatyon, on the other side of which lay the land of the immortal red-headed Jews. Or had he strayed off the map of the known world entirely and crossed the border into Sitra Achra, the kingdom of demons, which was beyond God’s jurisdiction? But even as he indulged them, Salo recognized such notions as merely the shades of dead fancies, lingering vapors of the bubble-brained boy he had been only a short time ago. Moreover, with every meal he missed, a bit more of his vestigial baby fat melted from his bones, and although there were no available mirrors, Salo could feel that he was becoming somebody else: He was a young man transporting a sacred burden through a menacing winter landscape, the hero of his own unfolding story, who had no need of encumbering himself any longer with superstition and grandmothers’ tales.

Sometime during the third week after the departure from his native shtetl, Salo came across a thickset peasant in sheep pelts shambling along the road, clutching one end of a rope that trailed over his shoulder. At the other end of the rope was a noose that circumscribed the neck of a woman whose haggard features—nose protruding like a cucumber from the folds of a ragged shawl—identified her as a suffering Jewess. Salo’s first impulse was to nod deferentially to the peasant and pass by. The journey had taken a toll: His empty belly whistled to rival the flatus of his rattle-boned mare, and his feet ached as if he were trampling glass; to say nothing of how the relentless cold froze his brain. But prey to a stronger urge than self-preservation, Salo addressed the man in the Polish he’d heard since birth, and scarcely recognized his own brash voice.

“What’s that you got there, friend?”

“Are you blind, friend?” said the peasant, giving the salutation a hostile emphasis as he continued to walk on.

At that Salo gripped Bathsheba’s bridle to halt her, and turned to inquire in as diplomatic a tone as he could muster, “Beg pardon, but has no one challenged your right to the woman?”

The peasant abruptly paused and turned about, bristling, his flat face as flushed as a purple onion. “I found her in the village of Plok,” he barked. “She’s mine.”

“Who’s arguing?” said the young man, conciliatory, then gently submitted, “But isn’t she, excuse me, a human being?”

The peasant peered at Salo as if he were a half-wit. “I knew she wasn’t a goat.”

Salo grinned, deciding to try another tack. He cleared his throat and assumed an attitude he thought of as strictly business. “So what’ll you take for her?”

The peasant cocked an ear. “Is she for sale?”

Shrugging what he supposed was a mercantile shrug, Salo replied, “Everything’s for sale, friend.”

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.

Captain Pissgums says:

Katie Breytspraak (sp?) for sale as well? Love Sambatyon. A real place?

Alexander Diamond says:

Egads! Captain Pissgums lives?


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 2, Part 4

Though weak with hunger, Salo takes a stand
More on Tablet:

Kerry Links Rise of ISIS With Failed Peace Talks

By Lee Smith — Secretary of State: ‘I see a lot of heads nodding’