Thursday, August 12, 2010

Modern Lamedvovniks

Question: Please refer me to modern literary works based on the Jewish folktale of the 36 lamedvovniks.

Answer: According to the lamedvovnik folktale, in each generation there are 36 humble and righteous people, whose goodness is so profound, that the entire world is sustained for the sake of their merit. The identity of these 36 is unknown, and thus they are considered hidden saints.

Two of the sources of this folktale are from the Talmud: Sanhedrin 97B and Sukkah 45B. The tale developed more fully from the 16th – 18th centuries in kabbalistic and chassidic communities.

Andre Schwartz-Bart’s The Last of the Just (1959) is probably the most famous modern work based on this theme. However he twisted the concept and added the idea of martyrdom.

Other works based on the lamedvovniks are:

The "Legend of the Three Nephites" in the Book of Mormon.
Nelly Sach's play "Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel," included in the O the Chimneys (1967).
Hans Jose Rehfisch’s play Nickel und die 36 Gerechten (1925).
Marilyn Satlof argues that Saul Bellow has modified the traditional lamedvovnik into a character who saves the world through his intellect rather than through his mitzvot, in Him With His Foot in His Mouth And Other Stories (1984)
Screenwriter Henryk Bojm’s Lamedvovnik, a 1925 film
Aleksandr Sollzhenitsyn’s Matryona’s Home (1959)
Ben-Zion Weinman’s The 36 Unknown: Thirty-Six Etchings (1975) (poetry and art)

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