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The Frozen Rabbi: Week 9, Part 4

After sensing a business opportunity, the rabbi asks Mr. Karp to be his backer

Steve Stern
April 29, 2010

“Oh,” replied Mr. Karp. “I thought you might have something really ambitious in mind.” He sniggered over his witticism.

Unfazed, the rabbi went on. “A betmidrash, a study house I will establish, that they can come in it, both yehudim and goyim, and be born all over again. I got already my eye on a little place by the Rebel Yell Shopping Plaza . . .”

“Take it easy!” cautioned Mr. Karp, raising his hand like a traffic cop. “Now let me get this straight: You want to open up some kind of a religious institute where people come to study? Study what?”

“ ‘Study’ I don’t use in the traditional sense. More like, what you call them, exercises.”

“You mean like those Plottie classes my wife took once and went to bed for a week? Aren’t you a little out of shape for that sort of thing?” Again he chuckled.

“I’m talking spiritual exercises,” said the rabbi, with dignity. Then he complained that his feet were sore and asked if Mr. Karp would mind if he took a load off.

“Be my guest,” said the appliance merchant, though the invitation resonated unpleasantly in his gut.

The old man lowered himself with a grunt into the armchair that Mrs. Karp had vacated, so that both men now sat facing the TV. On its screen the put-upon family man, importuned by a marriage counselor to get in touch with his feminine side, had been moved to don his wife’s apparel in secret. An invisible audience guffawed like honking geese.

“‘There shall not be a man’s garment on a woman, nor a man wear a woman’s gear,’” cited the rabbi, like a wistful reminiscence; then returning to the matter at hand, he offered Mr. Karp the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in his enterprise. “On the ground floor I’m willing to let you.”

Mr. Karp turned down the volume with his remote, shoved his glasses back over the hump of his nose, and swiveled his chair in the direction of Rabbi Eliezer. “Whoa,” was all he said.

“You can take out from the bank a loan so you ain’t got to spend a shekel, and will come back to you the money in spades.”

The retailer was frankly dazzled by the rabbi’s command of the vernacular, let alone his loquacity. “Let me get this straight. You want me to risk my capital, to say nothing of my good name, so that you can start up a . . . whadidyoucallit? ”

“A betmidrash.”

Mr. Karp took a breath. “Look, Rabbi, I’m not an unreasonable man. If you wanted to open a little shop, say a mom-and-pop sundry, then maybe we could talk. But let’s face it, you’re maybe what, a century and a half past the age of retirement? And even if you weren’t, this idea of yours, excuse me, is pretty screwy.”

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of The Frozen Rabbi. Or, to get each day’s installment of The Frozen Rabbi in your inbox, sign up for the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest, and tell your friends.

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.