Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first collection of stories, Gimpel the Fool, is a landmark work that has attracted international acclaim since it was first published in GIMPEL THE FOOLby Isaac Bashevis Singer, The best work of Isaac Bashevis Singer is found in his short fiction, and “Gimpel the Fool” is one of his. “Gimpel the Fool,” which first appeared in English translation in a edition of the Partisan Review, is considered one of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s most notable.

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They gave me the name while I was still in school. I had seven names in all: The last name stuck. What did my foolishness consist of? I was easy to take in. Well, it turned out to be a lie. How was I supposed to know? But I never looked at her belly.

Gimpel the Fool |

Was that really so foolish? The gang laughed and hee-hawed, stomped and danced and chanted a good-night prayer. I was no weakling. I think to myself: So they take advantage of me. I was coming home from school and heard a dog barking. So I made tracks. Then I looked around and saw the whole market place wild with laughter.

It was no dog at all but Wolf-Leib the thief. How was I supposed to know it was he? It sounded like a howling bitch.

When the pranksters and leg-pullers found that I was easy to fool, every one of them tried his luck with me. Second, I had to believe when the whole town came down on me! You want to call everyone a liar? I believed them, and I hope at least that did them some good.

I was an orphan. My grandfather who brought me up was already bent toward the grave. So they turned me over to a baker, and what a time they gave me there! Every woman or girl who came to bake a batch of noodles had to fool me at least once.

The dead have arisen. Maybe something had happened. What did I stand to lose by looking? Well, what a cat music went up! And then I took a vow to believe nothing more. But that was no go either. I went to the rabbi to get some advice. You are not a fool.


Gimpel the Fool

They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself. And she burst out laughing. It was a fine trick. She put one over on me, all right. I wanted to go off to another town, but then everyone got busy matchmaking, and they were after me so they nearly tore my coat tails off. They talked at me and talked until I got water on the ear.

She was no chaste maiden, but they told me she was virgin pure. She had a limp, and they said it was deliberate, from coyness.

She had a bastard, and they told me the child was her little brother. We can take you to the rabbi and have you fined for giving her a bad name. I went to her clay house, which was built on the sand, and the whole gang, hollering and chorusing, came after me. They acted like bear-baiters. When we came to the well they stopped all the same. They were afraid to start anything with Elka.

Her mouth would open as if it were on a hinge, and she had a fierce tongue. I entered the house. Lines were strung from wall to wall and clothes were drying. Barefoot she stood by the tub, doing the wash.

She was dressed in a worn hand-me-down gown of plush. She had her hair put up in braids and yimpel across her gool. It took my breath away, almost, the reek of it all. Evidently she knew who I was. I want a dowry of fifty guilders, and let them take up a collection besides. Otherwise they can kiss my you-know-what.

Either a flat yes or a flat no. Go back where you came from. No bread will ever be baked from this dough. But ours is not a poor town. They consented to everything and proceeded with the wedding. It so happened that there was a dysentery epidemic at the time.

The ceremony was held at the cemetery gates, near the little corpse-washing hut. The fellows got drunk. But what was I to do, run away basevis under the marriage canopy?


There was singing and dancing. An old granny danced opposite me, hugging a braided white hallah. There were a lot of gifts after the sermon: Then I took a look and saw two strapping young men carrying a crib. Take it another way though, what did I stand to lose? Not four months later, she was in childbed. The townsfolk hid their laughter with their knuckles.

But what could I do?

Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories

She suffered intolerable pains foil clawed at the walls. They were boiling pans of water. The screams rose to the welkin. The thing to do was to go to the house of prayer to repeat psalms, and that was what I did. The townsfolk liked that, all right. I stood in a corner saying psalms and prayers, and they shook their heads at me. She gave fiol to a boy. My face was flaming. But there was nothing I could do. Bashsvis all, I was the one responsible for the circumcision honors and rituals.

Half the town came running. Women brought peppered chick-peas, and there was a keg of beer from the tavern. I ate and drank as much as anyone, and they all congratulated me.

Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Then there was a circumcision, and I named the boy after my father, may he rest in peace. When all were gone and I was left with my wife alone, she thrust her head through the bed-curtain and called me to her. Has your ship gone and sunk? The child is yours. She swore to it with such oaths teh you would have believed a peasant at the fair if singsr had used them.

Two they went up to bed, and four they descended. That was how it was; they argued me dumb. But then, who really knows how such things are?

I began to forget my sorrow.