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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes) A story about Jewish traveling salesman

Here I wished to tell a story written by the well known Latvian author Rudolfs Blaumanis (1863-1908), the story that deals with an episode in the life of a traveling Jewish salesman in Vidzeme [Livland]. This story is not a very popular piece of the classic of Latvian literature, it is not analyzed in the school programs or in the studies of literature history, it was just published in a volume of the complete works of the author where I found it when I read them about 50 years ago. Do not think I remember all stories I read then, but this one I do remember, though I can not guarantee I remember it very precisely. I have not taken any efforts to find the story now, to publish it in full content how it was written by the author, I wanted to tell it in the form it lived in my memory all these years.

Please, imagine a rather large Latvian farm in a remote place in the middle of a large forest some 120 years ago. The nearest neighbors live about 5-10 kilometers apart. It is late autumn. It is cold, rainy and windy. But the farm people feel themselves well, they have been working hard all summer and autumn, now the harvest is gathered in, and it is clear that there will be enough of food for all the coming winter. They think they have right to relax a bit.

A pig was slaughtered that day. It was rather rare event. In this farm, like in many others, pigs lost their lives in autumn. The event gave a happy occasion to taste some fresh pork. Later on in winter only salted meat (if any) was normally available, or in a much better case - smoked ham. I should add that fresh meat cooked right after slaughtering is much more tasty than the frozen and then de-frozen meat we consume nowadays.

So all of the farm-dwellers gathered in the evening in the big room of the farm around the table with dishes full of cooked pork, and enjoyed the tasty meal. They felt themselves merry and happy.

Then somebody knocked at the door. A traveling Jewish salesman arrived. He had lost his way and had been wandering for a long time along the forest roads until he spotted a light and approached the farm. He wanted to spend the night here.

No problems could arise. Usually a traveler might count on a shelter in any of farms. However in this case the young guys of the farm secretly from the salesman decided to make fun with him. They said to him something like this:

"We, living in the middle of the forest, are not like others, we are non-educated and a bit wild. We want our customs should been respected. And so you may stay here only if you eat our pork like everybody here. If not, you may go, we do not insist you stay here. Yes, we are so bad."

A serious problem now arose for the Jew. On the one hand, he was pushed to violate the rules of his religion. On the other hand, tired after a long walk he had a perspective to go out back in darkness, rain, wind and to step along muddy roads for hours carrying his heavier and heavier parcel with goods for selling.

He decided to stay here and to obey what he was insisted to. He was given a dish with cooked pork, and he began to eat it. Everybody in the room looked at him and watched how he ate. How he put the pieces of the meat in mouth, how the fat dropped in his beard, how he chewed and swallowed and how repulsive was the food for him.

And the friendly chat in the room stopped, everybody became silent and gazed to the eating Jew. The revelation came to the minds that it is really bad to force anybody to do something against his will even if it goes on the eating of absolutely harmless tasty fresh fatty pork.

The stress was relieved by the hostess of the farm, who gave a scolding to the fellows that invented the fun, took away the dish with the pork and found other food that contained no pork.

And this is the end of the story.

I think that Rudolfs Blaumanis did not know the life of Jews and Jewish salesmen very well. The story seems to be very fictitious, as far as Jews are considered. First - to my opinion a typical Jew of that time valued his religion very high and in the described situation would went out in darkness and rain without much hesitations. The only exception would be, if he were very ill, then his religion allowed not to obey the prescriptions. Second - I do not imagine the traveling Jews like oppressed driven people, who obeyed everything that was told them. I think their everyday business brought them good knowledge of various people in the countryside and taught them to contact with the people in farms and, say, to persuade them to buy something for a good price. In the above described situation a discussion could also be started. If it were not possible to stay at farmer's living house, there were other buildings, where one could find a place for sleeping, much worse than in the house, no doubt, but a traveling salesman should not be accustomed to great comfort. Even if permission was not given, it was possible to find such a place and to sleep for a night. And so on.

There are no needs to discuss the realism of the story, however. I hope you realize that the author had in mind quite other goals. Using the tools he possessed, he wanted to prove a theorem for the then non-existing Theory of Human Rights. One of the corollary of the theorem sounds:

A Jew has right not to eat pork even if it is very tasty!


© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002