Publication Content

KNAFO Asher 2010 A Cantor at the Mikveh, Hebrew

A Cantor at the Mikveh, 52 Rhymed Fun-stories
KNAFO Asher 2010
[Hebrew] Kedem Publishing, 22 Mapu Street, Tel Aviv 63434, Israel
Asher Knafo again has produced an unusual and revealing work on Moroccan Jewry.
While the book looks entertaining and simple, it is sophisticated and often additional readings are needed to understand the message, and fable. Asher provides footnotes for clarifications of concepts and terms not necessarily understood to the reader, and adds the source of the story; usually a Moroccan rabbi, relative, friend, or acquaintance. With the cartoon-like drawings, sketches, and reiterations by Albert Almosnino, the book is further amusing and clarified.
Knafo presents numerous stories about a figurative character named Scha, who at first seems like the humorous Sephardi bafoon Joha, the absurd and comical ignorant Ashkenazi Chelm figures, or the literary Eastern-European village idiot, but while being often simple, Scha can be crafty, devious, and accomplished in adding to his pocket material wealth, possessions, or accomplishing for his benefit successful actions and missions for his betterment or in aiding cohorts. Scha borrowed a pot from his neighbor and lost it. In order to save face, he made up a story that the pot died, but that it was in the process of being reborn. Quaint stories included about two hunchbacks who sought to remove their lifetime humped backs via the devil. In the public bath, the bachelor paytan succeeded while his savory friend Hanania pleaded with the angels after the success of the other, but was punished with an additional hump in the front of his body to complement the hump on his back. Asher encompasses the life cycle with stories on Moroccan Jewry. He portrays difficulties in life, in making a living, of putting food on the table, jealousies, and also joys and humor. He includes the unwanted guest, the overstayed guest, the gluttonous meal guest, the cunning guest and more. Frequently when the new couple has their first child, all sides fight for the name of their respective grandfather; but usually named after the living paternal grandfather. In Asher’s tale, both sides won since the baby was named Yosef and both living grandfathers were named Yosef (so the maternal side wasn’t insulted by the outcome and also felt they fared victoriously). Asher has a classic story about a older husband who out of the blue decides to leave his wife for a younger beautiful maiden. The latter actually falls in love with his son, but it’s too late since the young woman is engaged with the father and the wedding is set. The old father’s wife refuses to accept the idea of divorce. The father convinces the wife to divorce on the condition he can get remarried for a day and then remarry the former wife. In the end the young woman plays a trick on the old man and at the wedding, the bride turns out to be the original wife. After the son gets married to the young girl and everything turns out right. Asher’s story here was converted into an amusing play adapted and performed by Yitzhak Goren Gormezano in Israel. Asher included numerous tales about donkey. In one case, the owner has the misfortune of his donkeys dieing on him and he goes to a holyman for advice. Each time, the many says the prescribed prayer or gives the specified potions, the donkey dies. In one of the stories at the end the holy soothsayer throws out a flipant remark, “who do you believe the donkey or me?”
An unusual set of stories dealt with friendships between a Jew and a Muslim. They physically fought, but also enjoyed each other’s company and humor. They had an argument over which religion had better festivities. The Jew won on the issue by noting that Shabbat was weekly affair that involved much culinary preparation. In the process of the argument the Jew emphatically used his knife to emphasize each stage of the preparations and the “superior” quality of the food. Many of the stories involve trickery, and excessive drinking, but others deal with the advice of the religious Haham to people with problems, Sabbath observance, and religious fear. The stories also touch on the fringe, the man who doesn’t go to synagogue, but eventually does so when pressured by his wife, or those who are dirt poor, are perpetually single, disadvantaged, and miserable.
The end of the book contains some classic stories about Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Righteous, and Balaam. Asher enters traditional Jewish Moroccan terms in the stories. Not every story has a happy end, but people mostly managed. The young groom moved all of the possessions to his new residence because he wanted to save money, and often a handyman never shows up to finish (or even start) a job. Sometimes items are never returned and at the brit mila (circumcision) of a grandson, a person promises the grandfather that in the third generation he’ll return the item. Part of the East is also putting aside more trivial things and concentrated on more cardinal issues in life like family, earning a living, and keeping tradition. Congratulations to Asher on this work and we wait for the next one with excitement!

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