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In my father's court by Isaac Bashevis…
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In my father's court (original 1956; edition 1966)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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6541027,262 (4.11)22
Like Isaac Bashevis Singer's fiction, this poignant memoir of his childhood in the household and rabbinical court of his father is full of spirits and demons, washerwomen and rabbis, beggars and rich men. This rememberance of Singer's pious father, his rational yet adoring mother, and the never-ending parade of humanity that marched through their home is a portrait of a magnificent writer's childhood self and of the world, now gone, that formed him.… (more)
Member:littyhoops
Title:In my father's court
Authors:Isaac Bashevis Singer
Info:New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux [1966]
Collections:Your library
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In My Father's Court by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1956)

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» See also 22 mentions

English (6)  Finnish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (10)
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In My Father’s Court is Isaac Bashevis Singer's memoir about his childhood in Poland in the years leading up to, and during, World War One. Singer’s father was a Hasidic rabbi and the court of the title was the Beth Din, the traditional court in the Singers' home to which community members came to have their divorces, lawsuits and other disputes arbitrated and their questions about Jewish holy books and law answered and illuminated. As Singer wrote in his Author’s Note to his book, “The Beth Din could exist only among a people with a deep faith and humility, and it reached its apex among the Jews when there were completely bereft of worldly power and influence.”

The book is presented as a series of short vignettes, each from five to seven pages in length, told more or less in chronological order, with Singer’s narrative evolving as the small boy begins to grow and to question his surroundings. In the early remembrances, the perspective is kept very tightly on his father’s fierce devotion to God and to Jewish biblical and rabbinical law, custom and mysticism. The tales told are about the people who arrive in the Singers' home, what their problems are, and how his father deals with them. There is a somewhat otherworldly glow about it all, the result, I thought, of Singer’s representing the viewpoint of a small and overawed boy as well as the effect of the author’s journey back through decades of his life.

Soon enough, however, the outside world begins gradually to intrude. The family moves from a small town to the crowded streets of a Jewish Warsaw slum. Next come rumors and then the realities of World War One, with its uncertainties and sharp deprivations. Singer’s older brother becomes more worldly, and young Isaac begins asking questions himself and longing for information about the outside world. Zionism and socialism begin to be discussed among the young, further eroding the hold of the old ways over the community as a whole.

Also, about halfway through, Singer begins dropping in reminders of what we all know will be the ultimate fate of this community. The chapter “Reb Asher the Dairyman” ends thusly:

“After we had left Warsaw (during the First World War), we continued to hear news of him from time to time. One son died, a daughter fell in love with a young man of low origins and Asher was deeply grieved. I do not know whether he lived to see the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. He probably died before that. But such Jews as he were dragged off to Treblinka. May these memoirs serve as a monument to him and his like, who lived in sanctity and died as martyrs.”

The reader is brought up sharply by this passage, because it is the first time Singer raises his focused view from the era he's describing to the greater disasters awaiting. After that, though, perhaps every third tale ends with a notation about the fate of one or more figures in the coming whirlwind.

The stories are all told with affection, humor, with a delightful touch for detail and phrasing. Throughout, we experience Singer’s deep love and respect for the faith of his father and grandfathers, of their longing for the coming of the Messiah, and of their certainty that this miracle will only occur if Jews hold firmly to the path laid out for them by their God. Petty disputes are interlaced with genuine compassion. As Singer’s father often says of the poorest wretch who comes to his chamber, “Who knows? She may be a hidden saint, one of heaven’s elect.” ( )
  rocketjk | Dec 23, 2019 |
This was my first Singer work, and it floored me. WOW! His memoir describing his family's life in Warsaw before WWI is such a beautiful blend of humor and tragedy that I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Absolutely stunning book. ( )
  silva_44 | Oct 10, 2012 |
Mayn Tatn Bes-din-shtub
  Folkshul | Jan 15, 2011 |
Extraordinari ( )
  ebruc | May 25, 2009 |
Singer, Isaac Bashevis, 1904-1991.
  icm | Oct 3, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaac Bashevis Singerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gottlieb, ElaineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Julià Ballbé, JosepTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kleinerman-Goldstein… ChannahTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pela, RosannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singer, JosephTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Like Isaac Bashevis Singer's fiction, this poignant memoir of his childhood in the household and rabbinical court of his father is full of spirits and demons, washerwomen and rabbis, beggars and rich men. This rememberance of Singer's pious father, his rational yet adoring mother, and the never-ending parade of humanity that marched through their home is a portrait of a magnificent writer's childhood self and of the world, now gone, that formed him.

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