I. L. Peretz (1852 to 1915, Poland) is one of the best known of Yiddish writers. (There is background information on him and Yiddish literature in my prior posts on his work.) His stories range from tragic accounts of the lives of Yiddish Jews in Poland to comic stories. All of work is meant to teach a lesson and to help keep alive a culture that was already under threat in Peretz's life. As far as I know, the best and perhaps only place to read his short stories in English is in the Yale Press The I. L. Peretz Reader, a superb book introduced by a foremost scholar in the field, Ruth Wisse.
The story opens on a traditional high holy day, Yom Kipper. The story is set in Hell. The devil has noticed something seems wrong. There is a town in eastern Poland of 25,000 thousand or so people that has never had any one sent to Hell. The devil dents some minions to investigate. They report back that the town has it share of sinners. The devil soon finds out there is a cantor there whose voice is so beautiful that when God hears where a person is from, he automatically lets them in heaven no matter how they have lived. Of course this outrages the Devil who sends demons to bring the cantor back to Hell.
Peretz gives us a vivid picture of a traditional hell. I have left the twist close of the story untold so readers can enjoy it. This is a comic story, fun to read and culturally informative.
My thanks to Yale University Press for a very generous gift of books.