Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #52, The Book

Video caption: The Aleppo Codex, Ha’azinu: video produced by the author, using a public domain image the opening lines of Deuteronomy, Chapter 32 (Ha’azinu), of the Aleppo Codex, obtained from the online source Wikimedia Commons, modified and colorized by the author. Other images and footage in the video were taken by the author himself.
video at YouTube:

In this episode, some of Israel’s finest art…

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Thirteenth Era, Part 1., 1100 C.E., Tiveria

Minkhah ends and I expect now Arvit*, But no! Brief chats and onward home. Soon as everyone’s gone, I says,
“ Why aren’t we continuin’ with Mariv** prayers?”
“That’s a Rabbinate perversion of Torah law. Our prayers replace sacrifices and there weren’t no sacrifices at night. We ain’t lost in Talmud like you’s. We’re real Jews followin’ Torah strict.”
Like I just been thrown in an icy pond; can’t catch my breath, can’t say a word.
* evening prayers; ** another name for Arvit

I resolve to leave this house of sins soon as I find Batkol and Rakhov. Guess my revulsion is seepin’ outa my eyes, or maybe it’s givin’ off a nasty smell, or it’s rubbin’ him like a stingin’ thorn. Once or twice he starts to talk or point out a house or man of note. But I got nothin’ to say to him and walks with my mouth screwed up in a scowl.

Comin’ near to the edge of town. No more stone houses, just little shacks along a dusty lane. Suspicions grow that he’s walkin’ me outa Tiveria and he’s taken the women captive someplace, when I spies Rakhov and then Batkol under an arbor of figs and grapes enjoyin’ the first of the evening breeze. Their laughin’ is makin’ its own breeze.

“Meet my wife Mariam, her sister Ya-el, and these, our neighbors, Shifrah and Tamar.” Silent, I nods my head to each. Rakhov, she keeps on chirpin’ away but Batkol immediately sees I’m stewed.

I motion with my head, ‘Let’s get outa here,’ so she stands up and claps her hands, all smiles,
“Looks like the men are hungry too. The coals are a-glow, the fish is clean. Let’s get them sizzlin’ and ready to eat.”
I roll my eyes with a look of, ‘what?!’, So she turns on the girls with a wink and a shrug.
“Hungry men can be cranky boys.”
Could have grilled the fish on my burnin’ neck.

Right there I shouts like an ignorant clod,
“Batkol, what the hell are you tryin’ to do?”
With that, her smile fades right quick.
“Who died and left you in charge?”
she growls. Cockin’ her head, hands on her hips, and a look that says she’ll take me on.
She-it,’ I think, and turns away. I heave a loud and disgusted sigh and twist my lips off to the side as I’m thinkin’, ‘How can I get outa this?’
“Sorry, I ain’t et this day or two. Batkol’s right. I’m a hungry boy.”

Well, they probably all knew I’m honkin’ out lies but it give everyone room to breathe.

Our dinner is modest. Hummus and dates, fresh baked pitas, raw onions and beets, and enough fish to last for days. But abundant singin’ and clappin’ of hands and a potful of fanciful, amusin’ tales that we finish with a raucous birkat ha-mazon*.
* blessings after a meal

Layin’ our blankets beneath the vines, stars a-twinkle like clusters of grapes, like I’m able to reach up and pluck a bunch. Me and Batkol whisper back and forth, her a-praisin’ their open hearts, me accusin’ their corrupt minds.
“Apostates they are, defyin’ the Law!”
“Jews they be in a hostile world!”
“Haters of Talmud and the rabbis of light.”
“Lovers of Torah and the Prophets of truth.”
And then we slept, to dream our dreams.

Thirteenth Era, Part 2.

These were glorious days for Rakhov and Batkol. This poor commune of Karaite Jews, outcast, livin’ on the margin of town, on the margins of survival and the margin of the Lor. Strict in observin’ their homemade rites, their unshaped customs like mis-spelled words; like shipwrecked sailors on an unmapped coast, so full of cares and sympathies, each for all, and so full of faith that the Lor will take note of their errant ship, and breathe a Ruakh* to guide them home.
* Hebrew for wind, spirit

Me, I’m standin’ off to the side, neither rejectin’ nor acceptin’ their way, but allowin’ Batkol to see this through, bringin’ Rakhov a step nearer to the Lor Of All through the lore of us. And more than that; *she’s leadin’ prayers; her voice so fine, and her perfect tropes.** And she’s teachin’ in a school for elder children, trope, of course, and history too*. I begins to join the minyans*** as well. Shakhrit in morning and Minkhah, afternoon. And I also helps them improve their tropes by chantin’ Torah. Much they forgot.
*-* If you’re thinkin’, women weren’t allowed to do them things, you’re wrong.
Later rabbis closed them doors, bringin’ shame upon themselves.
** musical motifs for chanting each word in Torah and other texts
*** prayer group; 10 or more men; required to say certain prayers

And what a Torah it were to read! Each letter shaped like a sparkle of light, each word like an angel risin’ from mist. I would start to read and soon I would find the Torah’s words were readin’ into me — landscapes, like Moshe lookin’ down from Sinai, or over an ocean’s stormy waves. Or like peerin’ into the deeps of the soul, the darkness turns light, the hidden revealed. God were in there in many a voice, still and small, or thunderin’ in fear, or sometimes like icy winds from the north, callin’, coaxin’, cajolin’ us on to lead us out of our Egypty straits.

Seems that scroll were sent to this world thru the greatest scribe and Masorete*, Aaron ben Moses, the son of Asher, and these people say he’s a Karaite! I never met him so I can’t say, but everyone likes to bind the greats into the folds of their own folk, even if the threads be scanty and frayed.
* redactors of Torah in 9th C.

And they say Gideon is descended from him, and all the light and holiness of Aaron has passed, father to son, like a treasure hidden in the wall of a hut, like an unpolished gem, like a fertile seed yet to be sown, waitin’ to sprout. I seen that light in Gideon’s eye.

And I seen a similar light in Rakhov, like a break in the clouds and the sun bursts through, then gone, and again, as the cloud-banks heave and all the pieces of her former life, driven by winds from the mountain top, pour out their rains, and spent, disperse. And she looks around her in a new light and everything’s different and yet everything’s the same.

“Like, all my life I was comin’ this way though I couldn’t see the direction in me. Nor path nor purpose were known to me, and I’m sheddin’ off skins but thinkin’ I’m the same. And every barrier and authority that bent my thoughts and forced my steps, now seems like the workin’ of an unseen cause. While churchmen and headmen, family and friends had wanton and wicked words on the Jew, me, I was hearin’ a kindly voice that ever I was hidin’ and ever ashamed of. Now tell me, where does that voice come from? Here I sits with my mishpakhah.* after travelin’ so long. But I’m finally home.”
* Hebrew: family


In the next episode, dragoons come marching in.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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