ZJB: One day, I’ll stop reblogging every post at Home of Schelmiel Theory. Just not yet. More on Walter Benjamin, and now Bataille. Is Benjamin a tragic schlemiel or a childish one?

Schlemiel Theory

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Chelm is a real place in Poland that some say has existed since the 9th century.  It is also a mythological place where, legend has it, all the Jews are schlemiels.

From the YIVO encyclopedia, we learn that Chelm-like stories have existed, in print, since 1597.  But the legend itself may go back further.  And as the encyclopedia points out, many Yiddish writers either cited these stories, retold them, or modeled their own mythic schlemiel cities on Chelm.

In America, the most well-known Chelm stories, The Fools of Chelm and Their History, come to us by way of I.B. Singer.  When I was a child, my Rabbi – who presided in a conservative synagogue in a small town in the Adirondacks named Knesseth Israel – used to read them to us every Saturday so as to inspire us before we had the “children’s minyan.”  (He would gather…

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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