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The Frozen Rabbi: Week 9, Part 5

Overcoming his native skepticism, Mr. Karp accepts the rabbi’s offer

Steve Stern
April 30, 2010

“Julius,” began the rabbi. “May I call you Julius?” His ingratiating air fooled no one. “I ain’t talking your zayde’s study house. I’m talking Rabbi ben Zephyr’s House of Enlightenment, where I’m dispensing on demand ecstasy.”

Mr. Karp went livid. “You mean like drugs?”

Now it was the rabbi’s turn to sigh. “Julius,” there was the patronizing note again, “today religion is good business. Give a look by the gentile revivalist with his double-breast polyester in the stadium, and even the Jewish boys and girls, that they sacrifice to some barefoot swami all their possessions, who tells them, ‘Go dress in shmattes and dance in the street.’ And it ain’t even Simchat Torah! Wants to acquire everybody, along with the BVD and the satellite dish, a bissel the living God, but for the years discipline they ain’t got time. So now comes a tzaddik ha dor, which it’s yours truly, to give them in a few easy steps a taste sublime.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you intend to peddle . . . ,” Mr. Karp searched without success for the word, which the rabbi supplied:

“Be-a-ti-tude,” tasting every syllable on his glaucous tongue. Then he allowed that he might also sell a few specialty items on the side—books and talismans, red string to ward off the evil eye, everything marked up and elegantly repackaged of course . . .

“Slow down!” said Mr. Karp. “What’s a two-hundred-year-old greenhorn know about markup?”

“You would be surprised how much business deals is in Talmud. Take for instance the Tractate Baba Batra, which it tells us from dinei memonot that it is permitted to be given for a gift cash money.” He began to cite the avot, the principle categories, concerning partnership, sales, legal documents, and so forth. Judging himself a canny man of commerce, with a level head and an eye for the main chance, Mr. Karp cursed his own creeping credulity: How could he entertain for even an instant that such a cockeyed proposition might in fact have some sound fiscal basis? But the old man was relentless, rubbing together the dried kindling of his palms as he described the plans for his ecumenical prayer and meditation center where, for a fee that might be adjusted along a sliding scale, he would provide the tools by which his clients could obtain the practical means to regenerate their wretched lives. And if in the process the rabbi should himself make a tidy profit whose dividends his prudent investors would share, then where was the harm? All he needed was a little seed money that might be readily acquired by Julius Karp’s signature on a loan application from the bank.

Disinclined to relinquish an ounce of his native skepticism, Mr. Karp nevertheless had to admit that he was impressed with the rabbi’s mercantile savvy, so much so that he forgot he was talking to a freak of nature. Trying his best to rein in his own entrepreneurial instincts, he put it bluntly: “So you want me to put my reputation on the line to bankroll an illegal immigrant that don’t even have a green card?”

Flashing his few remaining teeth, the rabbi was unctuous. “You’re a man of integrity, Julius. Du farshteyst, you understand how it works, the system; you can put to the squeaky wheel the grease.”

Resist as he might, Mr. Karp found himself succumbing to the rabbi’s blandishments. Wasn’t this after all a way to kill two birds with one sharp bargain? He could get the seedy old specimen out of his hair while at the same time enjoying the benefits of a scheme that just might be crazy enough to work. Turning back toward the television, he tried to recover some vestige of his reasonable doubt, but aware that the rabbi (asking, “Have we got a deal?”) had proffered a talonlike hand across the end table, Julius Karp extended his own without looking. As they shook, the beleaguered TV husband, still dressed as a woman, had ventured into the street, where he was solicited by a very butch lady dressed as a man.

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.

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